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The Maginot Mentality

In response to:

Sovietizing US Policy from the February 2, 1984 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Nuclear War, Nuclear Peace [NYR, February 2], Mr. George Ball agrees with the author, Mr. L. Wieseltier, that those who stress the differences between US and Soviet nuclear strategies and want the US to adapt itself to the latter, are engaged in the “Sovietization of US policy.” In the 1930s, Colonel Charles de Gaulle and Capt. Liddell Hart urged (in vain, it turned out) the Allies to abandon the Maginot Line mentality and adapt their forces to meet the mechanized armies of Hitler. Were they writing at that time, Messrs. Wieseltier and Ball would presumably have charged de Gaulle and Liddell Hart with trying to “Nazify Allied policy.”

Richard Pipes

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

George Ball replies:

In the spate of diaries that emerged after the war, not only Guderian and Rommel but other German generals acknowledged their strategic indebtedness to both Liddell Hart and De Gaulle. Thus, Allied strategy failed not because France and Britain did not ape the Germans, but because they failed to listen to their own prophets.

Of course, it makes sense to borrow a potential enemy’s good ideas, but a military plan that contemplates an exchange of nuclear weapons and a nuclear night is remarkably unattractive and in view of the existing overkill, the compulsion to match the Soviets system-for-system and weapon-for-weapon makes no sense at all.

Finally, isn’t it time we stopped talking about the “Maginot Line mentality”? Contrary to myth, the Maginot Line was, as far as it went, quite effective in blocking a German attack. France’s failing was that it had not finished the line and extended it to the sea or modernized its army units on the left flank.

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