Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walls (Part 1)

When Germany attacked France in World War I, the French losses were devastating. The loss of so many young men during this war had an effect on the next generation – there were far fewer French men to take up arms during World War II, precisely because there were fewer men to marry and raise families. France was determined never to allow this to happen again.

When Hitler began rattling his saber toward France in the runup to World War II, France believed they were ready. In the ten years from 1930 to 1939, the government had built an elaborate set of deterrents to dissuade Germany from attacking. The Maginot Line consisted of blockhouses, anti-tank outposts and retractable turrets (called “cloches”), which would be used to detect the enemy, damage their equipment, or prevent equipment from passing. The French buried large metal girders in the forest, pointing up out of the ground, in order to discourage tanks from passing. They even established low-lying zones which could be flooded quickly with water to prevent the passage of the German army.

The purpose of this Line was manifold – prevent a surprise attack, allow time for the French army to be mobilized (predicted to take two to three weeks), and to encourage the German army to choose a different route to attack, preferably toward Switzerland or Belgium. A quick look at a map of Europe shows how this would play out.

The Maginot Line was a wall, of sorts, designed to deter an enemy and deal defensively with the threat of invasion. For the French, they invested heavily in a defensive installation, while many in their government were instead proclaiming that they should be investing in better offensive weapons.

When one views the complexity of the Maginot Line, one cannot help but be impressed by the effort. The technology (for the time) was excellent, communication between bunkers was in place to transmit the occurrence of an invasion, and there were formidable placements of guns and mortars designed to cripple the German army as they approached.

So…the German army took the hint and attacked northward, through Belgium, beginning on May 10, 1940. They sent airplanes and gliders to fly over the Line and drop bombs on the French behind their defenses. Within five days, the German ground forces had skirted the entire Maginot Line and were into France via the Belgian border. By May 24, the Germans had bottled up the British Expeditionary Force (in-country to aid the French) at Dunkirk. The English had their backs to the sea (the outcome of this battle is a great story and victory of sorts for the British – but we won’t go into detail here). Finally, Paris fell to the Germans on June 14, 1940. The capture of an entire proud nation had taken just over a month. The Maginot Line was a failure.

What was wrong with the French strategy? It seems they failed to consider the ease with which the enemy could circumvent their defenses. In reality, the Germans did not have to go far out of their way to go around the Line and achieve their objective. The French had invested heavily in a purely defensive strategy, without regard to the very real possibility that they needed to be ready for an offensive battle.

This has very real application to our spiritual readiness, which will be covered in Part 4 (think of Nehemiah). But first, we’ll look at another wall, which fell only some twenty years ago.