1930s >> 1939 >> no-419-july-1939

Editorial: The Armament Illusion

One of the ironical aspects of a world given over to war preparations is the undying illusion of the Militarist that the country to which he belongs can secure immunity from attack by building armaments which will be so overwhelming as to frighten the enemy. Not only does each country enter the competition, thus upsetting the calculation, but nobody can possibly foretell with accuracy who “the enemy” is finally going to be, for it is no exaggeration to say that the eternal friends of international politics mistrust each other as much as they mistrust the nations in rival groups. Japan, bound to the Axis, nevertheless hopes to do a deal with Britain over China, but fears lest Russia may drift again into association with Germany. Italy, as in 1914, may at any moment desert one gang for the other, and Chamberlain’s Government is likely to come to terms with Germany should opportunity arise. France is the eternal ally now, but things were different ten years ago before the German revival. It has been said that British air strength was then based not on the possibility of air attack from Germany but from France.

In the armaments race itself the story is one of constant change in relative strength. No country for long holds a predominant position without provoking competitive building abroad or the formation of rival groupings. Not long ago it was the French Air Force which was the threatening “shadow over Europe,” now it is the German and Italian, but Britain and Russia are fast catching up—unless the Germans are equally rapidly expanding to keep their lead.

An air correspondent of the Daily Telegraph remarks that Germany’s present strength ”is more than double the number that Britain and France aspire to possess next year. What Germany will have then can only be conjectured.” (Daily Telegraph, June 12th, 1939.) So he says “we have . . . to consider whether the programme itself is sufficient in face of what is taking place abroad.”

The British Navy is being added to at the rate of more than one warship a week. In the matter of battleships Britain and France together are building nine new vessels. This ought to frighten the Axis? But no! according to the naval correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (May 11th, 1939) the Axis Powers are also in the game, with eight new battleships under construction.

As regards cruisers Germany is building five new 10,000-ton armoured vessels, with another five planned.’ (Daily Telegraph, May 30th, 1939.) The naval correspondent says that “on paper these ships correspond to our 13 County cruisers . . . but in fact the German ships are much more formidable. . . . It would seem, therefore, common prudence that we should lay down armoured cruisers at once of a type at least equal in all-round fighting power to the new German ship.”

By that time, of course, the Germans, Italians, Japs or some other Power will have produced something bigger and better, and “common prudence” will still be asking for more.