Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maginot Line

A brief note today, in WSJ, on an important issue:

Metaphorical references to the Maginot Line  often raise my hackles (and you know what hackles can be like, when they get raised), because usually the wrong conclusion is drawn.  Namely, that it is useless to think ahead and put up strong defensive fortifications along your border with a hostile and heavily-armed neighbor  (and thus, more generally, useless to plan ahead in general), because after all, when war broke out, the Nazis flooded into France regardless.  Only… they did not overrun the line, which  so far as I know  was a perfectly sound work of military engineering;  they simply went around it, since, for craven political reasons, the line had been deliberately left incomplete, and thus pointless, the  border with Belgium being left undefended, on the grounds that, well, granted that was exactly the invasion-route the Germans took last time around, but surely they would never do that again … surely they would choose instead to hurl themselves against heavily fortified defenses….

However, in the present case, General Alexander was right on target in selecting this comparison:  because indeed, once again, for political/psychological reasons, our defenses against the growing and potentially devasting cyber threat, are full of holes and (barring some radical restructuring of our society) always will be.  Thus, there will always be a weakest link;  and since that link is itself linked laterally -- Katie bar the door.  The conclusion he draws is that passive wait-and-see defense is not enough.

I myself shall not comment, having no expertise in this area at all.  But check out the readers’ comments on the WSJ site -- vox populi, quite informative.


  1. I’ve read that the Maginot Line was not extended to cover the entire French frontier to the English Channel out of fiscal considerations; doing so would have more than doubled the cost and left nothing over to provide the mobile forces that the French would have needed to contain local penetrations of the Line. I’d be interested to know what the “craven political reasons” were. Planning for the next war with Germany, the French presumed that the Germans would come through Belgium and Luxembourg and possibly Holland. The French and British therefore deployed most of the French Army and the entire British Expeditionary Force to advance into Belgium once the German violated the neutrality of the BENLUX states. They lost to the Germans because they were incredibly inept at handling those forces. But that’s another story. Incidentally, when the Germans attacked Maginot Line fortifications at the end of their 1940 campaign in France, they were not all that successful. The forts in general held out until French government surrendered and sent emissaries out to the Line with news of the surrender. See the chapters on fortifications and the Summer 1940 campaign in John Mosier’s The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II.

    I presume that General Alexander, being a general, knows the full story of the Germany’s defeat of France in 1940 and was using the Maginot metaphor to make a point with the general public.

  2. Thank you very much for these clarifications!
    As for the hypothetical political reasons, I'm not well-read in this area, but if memory serves, they were said to have to do with (a) not offending Belgium (and leaving her helpless *outside* the Line) and possibly (b) a defeatism on the part of certain French generals and others, later visible in the widespread Collaboration. But I could certainly stand corrected on these points.