“Strategic Surrender”

Oct. 1, 1958

Are some US defense officials thinking of our national position after a nuclear attack in which 15,000,000 to 90,000,000 Americans might be killed Does their thinking extend to consideration of the conditions under which America might surrender On August 8, almost thirteen years to the day after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a Washington news correspondent reported that “three nonprofit scientific agencies working for the Defense Department” were studying the conditions that might prevail after an all-out nuclear attack. Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phillips, USA (Ret.), the military analyst of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote that one agency was “studying the conditions when surrender would be advisable, rather than to try to continue a war that is already lost.”

This news story caused a tremendous furor through out high officialdom in Washington, and one correspondent said that for two hours the top officials of the Pentagon did nothing but try to locate the sources from which General Phillips could have drawn his conclusions. President Eisenhower himself was reported to be incensed, and he assured the world that we had no plans for surrender and that if any government money had been spent on any such project it would be stopped immediately. Capitol Hill erupted into 500-odd mushroom clouds of oratory, and the Congressional Record was filled with vivid pose maintaining that the US never had lost a war and that under no conceivable conditions would this nation surrender.

A few days later it had become apparent that there was no such “report” as General Phillips implied. The book to which he referred, Strategic Surrender, was entirely separate from other studies done on nuclear attack on the US, and most of the oratory had been, therefore, expended on a target which did not really exist.

The storm apparently subsided completely as quickly as it had come up. A few thoughtful people went to the trouble of securing a copy of the book, and later editorial comment found the book itself to be what the editors of Air Force believe it to be, a worthwhile discussion of victory and surrender policies and therefore a contribution to consideration of the means by which the US might achieve its goal if war were forced upon it.

The following review was written by Michael Amrine, a Washington science writer and editor. He is former managing editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has been a publications consultant to the Air Research and Development Command, and has previously contributed to this magazine. He is the author of a forthcoming book, The Great Decision, which tells the story of the policy meetings and decisions in dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and arranging the surrender of Japan. This book will be published in November by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. – The Editors

Strategic Surrender, The Politics of Victory and Defeat, by Paul Kecskemeti, a Rand Corporation Research Study (published by Stanford University Press, $5).

War is a continuation of politics by other means. This statement has become a crashing cliché in the years since Von Clausewitz first uttered it, but it has not become untrue. Wars begin where politics have failed.

When wars end, politics must begin again. And at that point, which is never so neat as a line on a map, there must be a time when the military and the political objectives of warfare thoroughly mixed together – if by any chance they are not already completely homogenized. Whether there is a negotiated surrender, a revolution, or anarchy, somehow the military must phase out and the civil power phase in, or so it has been in the wars of the twentieth century.

And therefore – or so it must have seemed to the powers who manage Rand Corporation – it would appear to be logical that a research organization which studies war should study that blend of power and parley with which one comes to the end of violence.

How do you end a war

In the book, Strategic Surrender, subtitled, “The Politics of Victory and Defeat,” a member of the Social Science Division of Rand Corporation reports on a research study pointed at end-of-war questions. For the most part, any high-ranking staff officer could well consider the questions and answers raised by the author, Paul Kecskemeti. This most study does not purport to tell anyone just how to end a war, but it does ask many of the side questions relevant to this large and probably unanswerable one.

The author of Strategic Surrender does not spend much of his time on the ponderable and imponderable factors of the future. What he does do, for the most part, is set forth some fresh thinking on the subject of goals and methods in war and in victory, backed up by a study of recent history. In most of the book, he reports, with the high degree of objectivity, on four important surrenders of World War II.

There is simply no comparison possible between this study, and what was said about it, on the floors of Congress and by government spokesmen in the White House and the Pentagon. Many persons erroneously believed – that somewhere, somehow, a “government agency,” or perhaps two or three agencies, were working on plans for ways and means to engineer the future surrender of the United States. Under what conditions anyone was thinking of surrender, the critics never specified.

Some cool-headed persons may suggest that somewhere, somehow, in all good faith, the Defense Department ought to have some planners giving thought to this surrender contingency. In the past. It has been standard doctrine contingencies; for example, that under some conditions the British might once again come down on us – from Canada. So, without being a Benedict Arnold, some military planners might suggest a study of a possible US surrender. This review will not go into that subject, for two reasons; One, there is no use in further stirring up the animals, and two, this book does not happen to mention the subject of a United States surrender.

As the Rand Corporation said in a public statement prepared following the publicity brannigan on Capitol Hill, “Nowhere does the study or the book deal with any hypothetical US surrender. The question of negotiation with an opponent of the US in a wartime situation is treated solely in the context of a termination of a war in which the US would be victorious.”

Mr. Kecskemeti, who is an exceptionally clear writer, and therefore a rare bird indeed among social scientists, has written straightforwardly about two subjects. One is the historical record of four surrender-victories, which takes 184 of his 258 pages. The other subject is the general conclusions, which he personally draws from his analysis of that record.

Like most human beings, Mr. Kecskemeti seems to have some biases, and like all social scientists and historians, he deals with subjects in which there must be interpretation. But on ironic note in this episode of charges and countercharges about “plotting to surrender’ is that there is nothing invidious or devious about the style of this book. The author is lucid and explicit in what he says. When he is critical of a policy, as he is of “unconditional surrender,” Kecskemeti bluntly says so, without any academic circumlocutions.

If a military reader disagrees completely with Kecskemeti’s conclusions, he may still find the absorbing story of the four surrenders worth the price of admission.

Now there are some of the things that Mr. Kecskemeti does talk about:

Allied strategy in World War II was dominated by the concept of surrender.

This is the opening sentence of the book and Mr. Kecskemeti says that both the Axis and the Allies took for granted that final defeat would take the shape of mass surrender of forces. Mr. Kecskemeti holds that this is a new idea in the modern era – that previously people had thought that wars ended in other ways, perhaps with the conquest of the enemy’s capital, perhaps with the “battle of annihilation.” He holds that World War I did end in a final mass surrender, but we came to the strategy by trial and error and the terms of capitulation “came as a surprise.” He says one of his purposes is to “throw some light on why surrender became such a dominating concept in the last war.” He says the second purpose was to show why “planning of postwar political arrangements was influenced by the Allies’ preoccupation with surrender as the epitome of victory.”

Why is surrender and how does it differ from rout or disruption

Kecskemeti says that “surrender means that winner and loser agree to dispense with a last round of fighting.” He says that when a loser’s forces still have some semblance of order but the handwriting is on the wall, it is a rational decision for the loser to save himself the losses of the last battle or the last few battles. By the same token, accepting surrender is a rational decision for the winner. To a great extent then he sees surrender “as an act by which one side renounces any further use of a residual fighting capability,” and he distinguishes between tactical surrender, when surrounded or starved-out units give up, from strategic surrender, in which the entire hostilities are brought to an end. He describes the German surrender to the Allies as one in which successive tactical surrenders added up to a strategic surrender. And the German surrender was the only truly unconditional surrender of the examples he gives. Besides the German surrender to the Allies he studies the surrender of Italy, the surrender of France to Germany, and of Japan.

Offering and accepting surrender is a negotiation in which the losers’ bargaining power is not absolutely nil.

Kecskemeti says that it is natural that the winner, who is operating emotionally as well as logically, should tend to think that the loser has no strength worth considering, but in this reviewer’s opinion he documents very well his thesis that all of these losers, even shattered Germany and demoralized France, had bargaining counters in their surrenders. He says that “it is possible to pay too much for victory and even for stalemate,” a concept which he gives new meaning in the nuclear age. But in this reviewer’s opinion he goes too far with his very next sentence: “One may safely say that the maxim in war there is no substitute for victory’ is totally erroneous.” However, he has done a very thorough study of the military-political situation in each of his examples. He shows how members of the French government had extremely mixed and sometimes corrupt motives in their surrender, but he makes obvious that reasonable men could differ in their assessment at the time of the French debacle, as to the values of holding out for neutralizing the French fleet, for example. He summarizes this one by saying. “The French succeeded in surrendering on a qualified bases and salvaging partial sovereignty; the German avoided time-consuming terminal operations.”

The doctrine of unconditional surrender.

Space does not permit an adequate summary of Kecskemeti’s masterly discussion of the pros and cons of our doctrine of unconditional surrender. He shows the contradictions and confusions involved in our efforts to deal with the king of Italy and Premier Badoglio when we were trying to wind up the Italian war and to preserve some of their military capability so that it could be used on our side. As things worked out we not only did not wish to annihilate their forces; we eventually gave them the never-never status of cobelligerent. Of this fantastic period, Harry Butcher, Eisenhower’s aide, wrote in his book My Three Years with Eisenhower that “Ike regretted existence of raped communications. If we were still in the day of sailing ships, he thought he could deal more quickly and advantageously with the Italians than is possible when he has to communicate to both Washington and London and wait for the two capitals to concur or direct.”

Unconditional surrender and a vacuum of power.

Kecskemeti makes a very convincing case, in the opinion of this reviewers, that rigid application of the doctrine of unconditional surrender leads to a strange impasse in which one is saying that one will never deal in any way whatever with the criminal aggressors who are running the enemy countries. If there is no dealing whatever and one is waiting for that government to fall, one is really hoping is waiting for that government to fall, one is really hoping for a complete vacuum of power, in which case there will really be no one with any authority to surrender. Kecskemeti does an excellent job of showing the contradictions involved. He holds that the American view of international affairs is that “in the normal, healthy stat of national affairs there is no need for the actual or threatened ‘use of coercion,’” Then he says things may be unhealthy and someone may commit aggression, and war against them has but one political objective, “the elimination of all political forces responsible for aggression.” So he holds that wars waged in this spirit are “essentially crusades.” One may note that General Eisenhower called his book Crusade for Europe.

Kecskemeti says that this “crusading concept of war” has been vigorously criticized in recent years. At the end of his book he says that in the nuclear age we must learn to be satisfied with more limited objectives.

He notes that even Germany, after the death of Hitler, was not utterly disorganized and that the caretaker government of Admiral Karl Dönitz still had something to gain by the stalling tactics. Essentially the Germans kept on bitterly fighting the Russians in the East while they surrendered in the field very readily to the British and Americans. This permitted many civilians and the military to leave the area, which was to be dominated by the Russians. “All in all two and a half to three million German soldiers and civilians escaped from the path of the Russians during Dönitz’ tenure.”

If we were able to spring 2,500,000 people today from behind the Iron Curtain so that they defected to our side we would count it a major victory in the cold war. Thus we can credit Kecskemeti’s convictions that even the Germans salvaged something which they wanted very much by the manner of their surrender, although they were not able technically to secure separate surrender agreements with the West and with the East.

A proper surrender policy might have ended the Japanese war much earlier.

The incredibly complicated story of Japan’s effort to surrender is very well told in this study. In his belief the Japanese were not only defeated, but those who desired the atomic bombs were dropped. In general he supports the airpower advocates who believe that bombing had already accomplished their military objectives in the Japanese war, but to this reviewer he overstates his case when he says, “The atomic bombs, far from being the ‘controlling’ factor, caused no significant reorientation of attitudes, no manifest change in points of view.”

In concluding his book he gives only thirteen pages to discussion of possible surrender policies of the future. He particularly addresses himself to questions of limited war, which have obvious implication for consideration of limited victories. It is here that he discusses the possibility that sometime in the future one or more countries might develop the ability to deliver a first strike that would utterly destroy the significant military capability of the enemy. To him this raises the possibility of a surrender without fighting. It is this passage, which has set off pinwheels of oratory, but he does not mention either America or Russia in the connection.

The reader might note, however, that during the brief period of American atomic monopoly we were almost in this position as regards Russia, and today Great Britain, America, and the USSR are in precisely this position toward many smaller countries who are not armed with modern weapons. He is only saying that it is theoretically possible that through scientific and production breakthroughs one of the great powers, for a brief period, might be in this same position toward other great powers. In that case the bargaining power of the underdog would be very close to nil and his will to fight might logically be absolutely nil.

On his final page he says that the new strategic situation, which has been brought about by nuclear weapons, may be put as follows:

“Powers may seek to survive in the nuclear age, either by going to extremes of inhumanity and malevolence never imagined before, or by drastically limiting their expectations of gain from the application of armed power. Adjusting to the new conditions is bound to be particularly difficult for the United States, because both of the available alternatives are diametrically opposed to traditional American political attitudes. Systematic malevolence is as alien to the American makeup as overblown emotional expectations of unlimited gains are congenial to it.”

Although this reviewer believes that this book over-simplifies things in some of its interpretations, it I recommended as extremely stimulating reading. Mr. Kecskemeti has done some very clear and provocative thinking, not just about conjectures, but about the realities of our time. It should go on the shelf alongside the books of George F. Kennan, Thomas K. Finletter, Henry A. Kissinger, Brig. Gen. Dale O. Smith, and Sir John Slessor, as important reading for anyone trying to understand what our national policies should be in the future.