That 1938 Feeling…A scent of trouble in the air


by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

It’s feeling a little like 1938.  There’s not a great power shooting war going on, but you can smell one coming.  There’s the Ukraine war, which involves Russia (kindasorta a great power, but not really nowadays), and which seems to fill the role that the Spanish Civil War played in the 1930s – a testing ground for new technologies and tactics, and an indication of just how destructive, and expensive, modern war can be, but not a main event.

Meanwhile, the main antagonists – this time around, that’s the United States and the People’s Republic of China – are arming up, seeking allies, and thinking strategy and tactics.

The U.S. didn’t really begin to arm up until the massive naval expansion begun (a bit late) in 1940.  But weapons development (e.g., the B-17) had begun earlier, and although the politicians continued to talk as if war was unlikely, by 1938 the military and naval folks were expecting a war in the near future.

Chairman Xi, we’re told, has ordered his generals to be ready to invade Taiwan in 2027.  Perhaps not coincidentally, rumors are that the Defense Department expects a war, presumably with China, also in 2027, and is preparing for it.

Well, it’s the Defense Department’s job to prepare for war all the time, though these days I suppose I should be grateful they’re still paying some attention to that task instead of pronouns and diversity.  And of course it’s entirely possible – probably even some flavor of likely – that this will blow over without World War III.  So far pundits and military analysts have predicted something like 11 of the last 0 World Wars since 1945.

But if today is the equivalent of 1938, what should we be doing?  Well, let’s break that down into the multiple versions of “we” that could mean.

1.  We the Nation.

The United States of America, in other words, though secondarily this includes allies, treaty organizations like NATO, etc.  In short, we need to finally begin executing the “pivot to Asia” that the Obama Administration announced, but never really implemented.  This means both increased diplomatic efforts to organize China’s neighbors into a containment sphere, and increased military efforts to build up our response capability.

We’re actually making some ground on the first of these, not least because China’s neighbors saw the problem before we did – and also because they’ve lost a lot of confidence in the United States in its role as protector.  Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, even the Philippines (which for a while was drifting into China’s orbit) have begun resisting Chinese encroachments, and arming up, while talking to each other (even South Korea and Japan) about presenting a united front.

Militarily, well, these countries are arming up, as I said, and the United States is kindasorta working on it, though we lack the shipbuilding capability to expand our navy as we should, and our woke army seems to be unable to convince enough people to sign up, especially for combat positions.

There’s a fair amount of economic decoupling going on, though less than there needs to be if a war is coming.  It’s not just in shipbuilding that domestic production capability is weak.  We rely very heavily on Chinese and Taiwanese electronics production, neither of which will be available in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, successful or otherwise.  Our production lines for manufacturing drones, missiles, smart bombs, etc. are all much too small to meet wartime demands.  Even the Ukraine war has put a strain on some of them.

As Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan said years ago in How to Make War, a major modern conflict will demonstrate how absurdly, and probably unsustainably, expensive modern warfare with modern weapons has become.  (But see below for some alternatives.)  But you can’t fight without bullets, and the more modern equivalents.  (We still need actual bullets too, though, and supplies of those could be better as well.)

If we’re serious about preparing for a war, the production lines for important weapons, sensors, and the like should be running around the clock.  They’re not.

The Army has started doing something about recruitment, replacing “woke” recruiting ads featuring diversity with more traditional ads featuring white men jumping out of airplanes, which led some wags to suggest – probably correctly – that this means they expect to have to fight soon.  But it won’t be easy to undo the damage of recent years, including the wanton betrayal of Americans, and foreign allies, in Afghanistan.  People noticed, and you can’t turn on a dime after something like that.

One thing I would be doing is studying Ukraine closely.  In particular, Ukraine’s use of cheap homemade drones in the air and at sea is worth a close look.  Invading Taiwan across a hundred miles of water isn’t an easy task; Ukraine, despite lacking a navy, has basically neutralized the Russian Black Sea Fleet with a combination of ship-killer missiles and cobbled-together drones.  It has also made up for the lack of an effective air force by using drones to make deep strikes into Russian territory.

But if you wanted to distill what the U.S. could do into one brief phrase it would be this:  “get serious.”  That means, among other things, a defense secretary who’s up to the job (we don’t have one of those) and a commander in chief who takes things seriously, and isn’t on the Chinese payroll.  (Oops.)  Well, that’s what Iwould do, and what the U.S. should do, not what the Biden Administration will do.  We will pay a price for that, if things come to a head.

2.  We the People.

What would you have done in 1938 if you had known that war was coming in 1941?  If you had been of an age and inclination to serve, you might have signed up early for one of the service branches, so as to get a leg up on the training process and acquire some seniority.  If you had been of the age and resources to invest, you might have put money into war-related industries (which would include obvious things like arms and oil, as well as less obvious things like medical equipment and agriculture).  If you had been a member of Congress you might have sought membership on war-related committees.  If you were an attorney you might have acquired expertise on government contracts and procurement.  If you were a nuclear scientist, you might have started having quiet discussions with trusted peers, as in fact was done.  Etc., etc.

What are the equivalents today?  Well, some are the same – investing in oil or medical supplies or agriculture, for example.  Others are new:  Cyberwar will be a big thing and while nobody’s really fought one on a grand scale, it’s likely that Chinese efforts would be gigantic, and quite possibly very destructive.

What else should people be thinking about?  Talk about it in the comments below, please!

3.  Taiwan.

Taiwan is likely to be China’s first major target –but see the Philippines – and having had the advantage of decades to prepare for a Chinese invasion.  I don’t know how well they’ve put that to use.  My daughter was in Taipei last year and reported a surprisingly lackadaisical attitude on the part of the ordinary Taiwanese she talked to; what that says about the scope and scale of government efforts I don’t know.

Certainly my advice about learning from Ukraine goes double or triple for the Taiwanese.  It’s entirely possible that they could bloody or even neutralize a Chinse invasion fleet with a bunch of low-budget swarming drones.  It helps that, unlike Ukraine, they have a huge electronics industry already.  If there aren’t Taiwanese observers studying Ukraine’s technology, or Ukrainian consultants teaching their tactics to the Taiwanese military, then somebody has really dropped the ball.

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China’s economic problems will only make them more desperate and dangerous. Like Nazi Germany, they will have to put their military to work before it bankrupts them. I guess all those leftists who complained about the “waste” of having, for instance, 11 carrier strike groups look, as usual, pretty stupid now. But unless they can defend themselves against hypersonic weapons, they might be sitting ducks. Attitude and morale is important as well and the most effective fighting personnel have been treated like shit by our woke leadership, keeping recruitment at an all-time low.

If they aren’t attacking now, before Robin Ware/Robert L. Peters/JRB Ware/Pedo Peter/idiot Biden is gone, the Chinese must be having serious problems.

MSM “experts”
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