On Point: Two Septembers: 1939 and 2001

by Austin Bay
September 1, 2009

Unleashed in the early hours of Sept. 1, 1939, Germany's "lightningwar" -- the blitzkrieg -- quickly pierced Poland's border forces andsliced through the Danzig Corridor. As the German Luftwaffe hammered Poland'sair force, panzer divisions smashed Poland's army, leaving its units scatteredand surrounded.

YetPoland continued to resist. Britain and France joined the war on Sept. 3. Sept.17, however, sealed Poland's fate, as Russian forces invaded eastern Poland --the "stab in the back" by Joseph Stalin. Poland collapsed.

Thesensation, however, that Poland had succumbed to a "new kind of war"shocked a world still mired in World War I, where bunkers, trenches andfirepower stymied offensive operations. From 1919 to 1939, France and Britainhad prepared for a repeat of "the last war," with France's MaginotLine the literally concrete expression of that preparation. The Maginot Linewas a bunker complex perfected, complete with underground train lines and turretedartillery covering broad minefields.

GermanNazis touted the blitzkrieg's success as an example of Teutonic superiority.They also delighted in the terror blitzkrieg sowed.The Stuka divebomber had a siren that emitted a piercingscream as the plane plunged toward the earth -- a psychological weapon intendedto frighten troops beyond the blast of the bomb.

German"storm troop" infiltration tactics used in 1918 are a blitzkriegpredecessor. However, improved communications was the key to "newwar." Radios linked the tank on the ground with the aircraft and withcommanders. During the interwar years, officers in several nations (includingBritain, France and Italy) understood the power of this network.Germany, however, acted on the ideas.

To theawed press and stunned populations, the blitzkrieg that devastated Polandappeared to be a "magic bullet." When Germany attacked France in May1940 and flanked the Maginot Line by invading the Low Countries, the dark magicworked again. In 1941, the magic seemed to work in Russia, as panzer spearheadsapproached Moscow.

Thenthe magic began to fade.

Britainadapted. The combined arms terror of blitzkrieg couldn't bridge the EnglishChannel. The British withstood the "London blitz" (of aircraft only).Russia adapted, employing General Winter and forcing the Germans to besiege bigcities. The United States -- surprised by Japan -- adapted. The U.S. and Russiadeveloped mobile forces supported by overwhelming firepower. In 1945, Germanybecame a Poland crushed between superior armored and air forces. Germany circaSeptember 1939 never anticipated that outcome.

Atechnological or organizational edge in warfare (a "magic bullet" orperfect weapon) is always sought, but the advantage is never permanent. From1945 to 1950, the U.S. thought it had the ultimate weapon, the A-bomb, but thenRussia got one.

Thefraternal twin of the magic bullet quest is "the last war"mentality, for both can distort a government's (orterrorist cell leader's) estimate of an emerging challenge. Wounds physical andsocial from World War I traumatized the French public, so France built theMaginot Line, the ultimate weapon for that "Great War."

There isa segment of the U.S. population that sees every U.S.war as "Vietnam," which is ludicrous but hasemotional traction and hence political effects. Many Russians still view theWest through a Cold War lens, and at times Vladimir Putin's sly government encouragestheir fears.

The Waron Terror has given the U.S. military and intelligence services another lessonin anticipation and adaptation. America did not anticipate 9-11. That Septemberday, al-Qaida attempted a "psychological blitzkrieg" when it usedjumbo jets as ICBMs then followed up with a global propaganda campaign designedto magnify the terror (global media providing the siren on the Stuka).

Thatcampaign asserted unshakeable international Muslim support for al-Qaida andtried to exploit American "last war" fears of Vietnam and Somalia.America, however, shook off the shock and adapted. The Predators circlingal-Qaida's mountain hideouts target terrorists daily -- Osama bin Laden neveranticipated fighting missile-armed robots. Predators still have magic, but notechnological advantage ensures victory.

Germany's blitzkrieg was trumped after a long, hard slog that requiredblood, sweat, toil and tears. Al-Qaida's psychological blitz failed -- we arein another hard slog.

The wars the Nazis and al-Qaida launched bothchanged in ways their leaders never anticipated. The Nazis underestimatedBritish, Russian and Yugoslav adaptation and perseverance. Al-Qaida completelymisunderstood American capabilities and stamina, but also grossly misjudged itsown political appeal. Moreover, the psychological edge of their Septembersurprises eventually eroded.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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