By Robert A. Vella
With the rise of nationalism, fascism, and re-militarization in Germany following World War I, France greatly feared another bloody conflict with its archenemy to the east. On its own, France could not compete with Germany militarily, having barely half the population, a fact which was well appreciated by its leaders. For it to survive a new war, France would need the support of WWI ally Britain who frequently opposed French moves inside Germany designed to keep that nation from resurrecting back into an economic and military juggernaut.
France thought that it had no other practical choice. It was compelled to prepare for a defensive conflict. The strategy France’s leadership chose was to build a line of in-depth fortifications along its border with Germany from Switzerland to Belgium which ran about 450 miles. Known as the Maginot Line, this very costly system of fortifications were both a state-of-the-art technical marvel and a formidable defense against a direct attack. Nazi Germany’s generals were well aware of the line’s capabilities, so they simply went around it. In May 1940, the Wehrmacht invaded the Low Countries (Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg), soundly defeated the mobile Anglo-French armies using Blitzkrieg tactics, marched deep into France, and outflanked the Maginot Line from behind. France was finished. It surrendered in mid-June.
During the Allies’ assault on Germany in 1944, American general George S. Patton, Jr. reportedly said the following when considering the strength of Germany’s western defenses known as the Siegfried Line:
“Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.”
This lesson has been repeated over and over throughout history. Medieval castles couldn’t prevent their towns from being starved to death by siege warfare; and, later, its thick walls couldn’t withstand the punishment delivered by the advent of artillery. Likewise, the Great Wall couldn’t prevent the Mongol conquest of China.
Despite this lesson, fear keeps compelling people to build bigger and better fortifications against enemies both real and imagined. Today, President Trump is feeding the growing xenophobia and alarm over terrorism which have consumed America in recent years. He is now threatening to shutdown the federal government if Congress doesn’t fund his plan for building an expensive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
When the walls come tumblin’ down
When the walls come crumblin’ crumblin’
When the walls come tumblin’ tumblin’ down