One of the greatest feats of 20th-century military engineering, has gone down in history as a byword for futility. During the 1930s the French government, preparing for a resurgent Germany, created a massive system of fixed fortifications along its border with Germany that became known as the Maginot Line.
All of the lessons of World War I’s trench warfare were incorporated in the creation of these impressive fortifications, and improvements in artillery and in aerial attack were also taken into account. Dug deep into the earth and manned by elite soldiers, the system far outclassed the defenses that rival armies had created during the Great War. As the Hitler madness seized Germany and began to look outward, Frenchmen sat secure and confident behind their Maginot Line.
That is, until the enemy went around it. Driving through Belgium, the German Blitzkrieg went straight for France’s power centers. Soon, though the line remained intact (its guns perfectly laid, in the wrong direction), the nation it was meant to defend had been lost.
The lesson of the Maginot Line, however, is not simply that—as Patton said, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of mankind.” It is that we cannot always anticipate where our enemies will attack next.
Arguably, after all, the Line did its job: it did keep the enemy from assaulting along the most logical and traditional line of approach. But enemies often know better than to repeat the patterns of past wars.
There’s a parallel here, with our American political defenses against the onslaught of progressivism. It’s not just that our institutions have been carefully designed to protect us (as the American Legion preamble says) “against the autocracy of the classes and the masses.” For decades the American Right has marshaled logical arguments against all likely assaults on our freedoms. Our rhetorical guns have been trained upon every approach across the ground of reasoned argument; statistics are piled up like so many high-explosive shells ready for fuzing. Irrefutable historical precedents and careful explications of our principles provide us with precise maps of the ideological debating ground—a battlefield upon which, unfortunately, the enemy has no intention of fighting. He knows as well as we do, that we’re unbeatable there.
Our logic and their sentimentality (what the youngsters call “da feelz”) are not colliding head-on. Rather, “da feelz” are a flanking movement.
This week’s predictable replay of the gun control script or the immigration psychodrama (one can’t accurately call either one a “debate”) will illustrate this dynamic yet again. Our arguments are always formidable, as formidable as the Maginot Line. However, logical arguments are of little use when opponents are too shrewd to allow the quality of arguments actually to be compared. Manipulation of public emotions, from the creation of fear and frenzy to the shameless promotion of maudlin sentimentality, goes right around our Maginot Line (the “Buckley Bulwark”?) to occupy great swathes of the society we were ostensibly trying to protect. And there we sit, on our great piles of facts behind our impenetrable walls of principle, sighted in on approach lanes the foe bypassed long ago. Too late, we realize that the debates we handily would have won, are never going to occur.
Unlike the “blitz,” the progressive strategy has been a double envelopment. Not only do they employ sentimentality to get into the cultural rear areas, well behind our logical defenses, they’ve also unscrupulously secured partisan power bases by corrupting trusted institutions. The courts, the universities, bureaucratic agencies and the media; we’ve blithely ignored defense of all of that critical cultural terrain over the years, trusting that all was well with them just as France (for two wars in a row!) trusted in the inviolable neutrality of Belgium. Now, we must contend for ground we never should have ceded.
What might have prevented the fall of France in 1940? Not neglect of the Maginot Line. Control of the obvious approaches to the homeland was a strategic necessity. It was, however, only a first step. More flexible thinking, a better understanding of the enemy, and avoidance of panic certainly would have helped. (To manage that, ditching some portion of the pre-war military establishment might have been necessary.) Then, shrewd counterattacks when the Wehrmacht became overextended might even have resulted in an Axis army cut off from support, instead of an Allied one that had to reclaim lost ground from a position of weakness.
Fortunately, the American Right has been learning faster than the French Army of 1940 did—and at much less cost. Our arguments are still strong, but we’re getting better at protecting our flanks, too. No longer are we surprised by unscrupulous approaches; no longer are we routed by sudden emotional manipulation tactics.
Better yet, the Trump Administration goes beyond merely recognizing these threats, to effective counter-thrusts which sow panic among the aggressors. The cultural blitz is finally faltering, if only the defenders will stand firm. The shrill Stuka-sirens of the media are losing their power to terrify. And as confronting “da feelz” increasingly is integrated into our strategy, we experience the satisfaction of watching the Panzers of sentimentality tumble into tank ditches of scorn.
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