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Books: Democratic War

4 minute read

THROUGH THE FOG OF WAR—Liddell Hart—Random House ($2.50).

THE RAMPARTS WE WATCH—George Fielding Eliot—Reynal & Hitchcock ($3).

Military writing bulks large in U. S. literature. There is excellent reading in Admiral Mahan, in Grant (although his sentences sometimes march like exhausted infantry), in Sherman. But since the World War, military men have generally confined their writing to official journals, with only Captain Liddell Hart winning both a popular following and the respect of experts. Now wars are again making military commentaries popular. Last week Liddell Hart published Through the Fog of War, contributing little new material, but .including a moving epilogue as fine as anything he has written. People who talk of preventing war are already two years out of date, he says; the second great war of the 20th Century started in 1936; and in Spain, in Central Europe, in the Far East, the powers are maneuvering for strategic positions before delivering the decisive stroke.

Bigger news to U. S. readers was the appearance of Major George Fielding Eliot’s The Ramparts We Watch, which outlines an intelligent policy of national defense, warns of the menace of war and yet manages to be reassuring. Major Eliot confidently, convincingly affirms that the U. S. can build an impregnable military force without endangering her democratic traditions, without becoming a warlike power.

Veteran. Big, stoop-shouldered George Fielding Eliot got his baptism of fire as a second lieutenant of Australian infantry. He began to write, however, as a major of the U. S. military intelligence reserve. Behind this shift of allegiance lay a long story: born in Brooklyn 44 years ago, he migrated to Australia with his parents at eight, returned to the U. S. to school, was in college at Melbourne when the War broke out. He fought at the Dardanelles from May through August 1915, was transferred to the Western front, where he went through the battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Arras, Amiens.

Back in the U. S., Lieutenant Eliot became a reserve officer (the courts decided that his oath to the King did not count because he had been under 21 when he made it). Like many a veteran he drifted, like many a veteran pored over military history to find out what had happened during the battles that had been only nightmares of confusion. In Kansas City in 1926 he picked up a pulp magazine, War Stories, decided he could do as well, typed out an account of a war experience, got $100 for it.

Fluent, forthright, well-informed, Major Eliot’s ordinary conversation is a blend of profanity, military terminology and rolling oratorical flourishes. It brought him success as a lecturer; magazine contributions gave him a reputation; and in 1937 he collaborated with Major Richard Ernest Dupuy in writing // War Comes, a survey of potential war zones.

The tone of George Fielding Eliot’s The Ramparts We Watch is one of guarded optimism. He says that the U. S. needs a military and naval force able to defend Canada and South America against the combined attacks of Germany, Italy and Japan. But this need, which he considers urgent, does not demand an enormous expansion of the army and navy, does not require industrial mobilization, with regimentation of labor, and paralyzing control of business.

Some concrete recommendations:

¶ Average pay of an Army enlisted man ($437.29 per year) should be increased to that of a Navy enlisted man ($826.81).

¶ In the Navy, repair ships should be brought up to date; a large minelayer is urgently needed; the submarine fleet should be increased from 56 to 80; promotions should be reconsidered.

¶ The National Guard, now a first-rate fighting force, should not be employed for police duty in labor disputes. This restriction would speed the recruiting of union members and the army needs skilled mechanics, trained workmen.

More impressive than its recommendations is the confidence in the U. S. Army and Navy underlying The Ramparts We Watch. With no military caste, U. S. officers get a more thorough training, says Major Eliot, than the officers of militaristic nations. Their power watchfully curbed by a democracy that has been afraid of militarism from the start, they nevertheless have a long tradition of loyalty to democratic government—”and they will be loyal,” says Major Eliot. One of the most heartening books to appear in a season filled with disheartening ones. The Ramparts We Watch discusses war without sword rattling, remains genuinely patriotic without a hint of chauvinism.

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