FDR’s Lessons from WWI

Friday, December 9th, 2011

FDR wanted a provocation, Joseph Fouché notes, but not one that inflicted significant damage on his beloved navy, which he needed to win the war he was asking for:

FDR’s preferred outcome would have been a Japanese (or, better yet, German) sneak attack on Mom, Home, and Apple Pie. An attack on Mom, Home, and Apple Pie would have been a massive symbolic blow, but it would’ve left America’s core war-fighting power untouched.

The critical decision in the care and feeding of a black swan is what you do afterward. This is where faith and fable meet contingency: statecraft sees opportunity or peril in a black swan through the lenses of the truths, assumptions, theories, hypotheses, and guesses that it brings to the scene of the crash. Many of the actions that leaders in this warring states period took were based on the faiths and fables they took away from their fighting the last war.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt took away several lessons from his experience during World War I. These were the lessons that led his actions following Pearl Harbor:

  1. The need to preemptively keep a single power from dominating Europe. Thomas Woodrow Wilson intervened against Germany because he feared that the threat of a victorious Germany meant the permanent militarization (“Prussianization” is what Wilson called it) of the United States of America. Wilson’s intervention, for all of its flaws, kept the U.S from Prussianization for another 19 years.
  2. The need to beat Germany (and anyone else) totally into the ground so they’re left with absolutely no illusion that they’d lost the war.
  3. The need for an unconditional postwar settlement that left the defeated no wiggle room to get out from under its treaty obligations.
  4. The need for more robust international security arrangements. FDR wanted the four quarters of the globe patrolled by the “four policemen”: the US, USSR, UK, and China. The facade of this four way division was a more muscular League of Nations 2.0 in the new United Nations. The reality of this four way partition was based on America running China as a puppet, reducing Britain to a compliant poodle shorn of its empire, and mesmerizing the USSR with personal charm.

Zenpundit adds some amusing thoughts on doctrine:

  • For the US Army, doctrine is really “Doctrine”, akin to Holy Writ. Not only do you need to be following Doctrine as a C.O., it sure as hell better be the right one of the moment, or it is your ass.
  • To the Marines, doctrine is a set of suggestions in a book on the shelf of the C.O.’s office.
  • To the Air Force, it is a checklist.
  • To the Navy, it is an acquisitions appropriation.
  • To the Office of the Secretary of Defense it is a record of what the armed services are supposed to do whenever the deputy assistant Secretary for Cool Task Force Acronyms is asked by a Member of Congress during a hearing or Mike Wallace shows up with a TV camera.
  • To a member of Congress, it is what their priest or minister talks about on Sunday.

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