Mark Perry, Four Stars



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Mark Perry, Four Stars

L’extrait concerne les premières pages du livre Four Stars, de Mark Perry, publié en 1989 par Houghton Mifflin Company, à Boston.

L’auteur, Mark Perry, est un journaliste et analyste, spécialisé dans les questions militaires américaines. Perry fut notamment journaliste à The Nation, périodique libéral (progressiste), et ses analyses sur le monde militaire américain impliquent une appréciation en général critique.

Le sujet du livre est un historique, — le premier du genre aussi complet — du Joint Chief of Staff (JCS), l’état-major général combiné des forces armées américaines, qui comprend les quatre chefs d’état-major (Navy, Marine Corps, Army, USAF) et un président du JCS, un officier général venu d’une des armes représentées au JCS (sauf le Marine Corps). On mesure à la lecture de ce livre quelle force redoutable représente le JCS dans la vie politique américaine.

(L’une des principales révélations du livre de Perry concerne la période du Viet-nâm. Il détaille comment, en 1967, le JCS envisagea une démission collective pour protester contre la stratégie suivie au Viet-nâm, mais recula au dernier moment, estimant que cette décision serait appréciée comme “une tentative de coup d’État”.)

La situation de cet extrait se concentre sur les positions stratégiques des différentes armes, c’est-à-dire essentiellement la Navy et l’Army (l’USAF étant encore une arme subordonnée à l’Army et le Marine Corps étant subordonné à la Navy), avant l’entrée en guerre et à l’entrée en guerre (1939-42). Ce qu’on mesure bien, c’est la formidable autonomie de ces armes, leur autonomie de pensée et leur puissance d’influence par conséquent, les positions extrêmement tranchées en matière stratégique. C’est un bon exemple de la réalité du pouvoir aux USA, où les groupes de pression et d’intérêt, — et, dans ce cas, Navy et Army sont des groupes de pression et d’intérêt — ont des positions autonomes, la politique décidée par le “pouvoir” civil étant en fait une prise en compte en forme de compromis des positions des uns et des autres. Dans l’extrait, on découvre la position très particulière de la Navy, dont la stratégie dite “Pacific First ” était proche du courant isolationniste et dont le véritable but stratégique était la réduction, voire la destruction de la Royal Navy, perçue comme la véritable concurrente de l’U.S. Navy. L’U.S. Navy privilégiait le théâtre du Pacifique et préconisait de laisser le théâtre atlantique à la Royal Navy, dans l’espoir que celle-ci s’userait notablement contre la marine allemande, facilitant d’autant plus l’affirmation hégémonique de l’U.S. Navy après la guerre. La stratégie de l’U.S. Navy était (et elle le reste) à la fois planétaire et conçue sur le long terme, et elle ne s’embarrassait guère des considérations sentimentales et morales concernant les alliances.




An Admiral and a General

All members of the JCS have expressed from time to time their firm belief that the military must always be controlled by civil authorities.” — General of the Army Omar Bradley

At the end of 1939, it was clear to most of the military that the United States would soon be involved in a worldwide conflict. They believed that Japan's brutal invasion of Manchuria in the early part of the decade and Germany's conquest of Poland, back in September, made the coming struggle inevitable. These concerns, however, were more than offset by the military's supreme confidence in its ability to lead men in battle. The only thing it lacked was a unified command structure that could manage the conflict. It was a critical handicap: on the eve of World War II, the nations top officers were engaged in a bitter debate over which service's strategic plan for victory should be endorsed by the president. The resolution of this debate, the nations need to hear a single military voice, led directly to the establishment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The JCS is one of those handful of official government bodies that was actually established before Congress could give it official sanction. In the 1920s, the nation’s two services communicated through a joint Army-Navy Committee, a group that was no more than a pro forma bow to a coordinated command. Even so, by the beginning of 1940 this titular committee was beginning to argue over just which service would have the primary responsibility for fighting what most officers-believed would be a two-front war. The Army and Navy squared off publicly in January 1941, eleven months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, when they became embroiled in a debate over the degree to which the United States should support British war aims in Europe. The services weren't splitting hairs; at stake were resources, personnel, and glory.

The Navy led the charge, claiming that the future war should be its concern. On the horizon loomed Japan, which, the Navy believed, should be dealt with first. Its position was actually aligned closely with isolationist policies and was rife with unashamedly anti-British sentiments: naval leaders doubted that Britain's interests could ever coincide with America's, and they reminded their civilian superiors of Great Britain's traditional opposition to American maritime interests. The American people, the Navy said, weren't interested in helping Great Britain retain its influence in Europe or in shedding blood for the British colonial empire. The Navy had a powerful and well-placed advocate in the person of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy. While not nearly as strongly anti-British as some of his colleagues, Leahy nevertheless advocated naval dominance in military policy. He was joined by Admiral Ernest J. King, a hard-drinking tactical genius who had been shunted aside by the “old boys” during the 1930s. King just didn't seem to fit the Navy's “dress white” peacetime tradition of officers who were known more for their sophistication than for their battlewagon prowess. As a result, he was unceremoniously exiled to the North Atlantic at a time when few thought that that theater would matter.

This Army-Navy quarrel was exacerbated after America entered World War Il, when it became clear that the services would be forced to coordinate their operations. Recognizing this necessity, in early February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed both services to establish a “joint coordinating body,” with greater responsibilities than the pro forma (and now clearly outdated) Joint Board of the Army and Navy. Roosevelt knew he would need such a command staff if the American military was to work successfully with the sophisticated and highly organized British Chiefs of Staff Committee in designing an overall strategy to win the war. According to the official JCS history, the body was directed to advise the president on “war plans and strategy, military relations with allies, the munitions, shipping and manpower requirements of U.S. forces, and matters of joint Army Navy policy.” This body, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met officially for the first time on February 9, 1942.

The establishment of the JCS did not resolve the growing feud over which service would take the lead in designing U.S. war strategy. Ernest King — just returned from the North Atlantic — argued for the adoption of what became known as the Pacific First approach, which held that the United States should defeat Japan before dealing with Germany. In addition to showing a traditional mistrust of the British, the strategy had a logic of its own: Japan had launched a direct attack on the United States (that is, the U.S. Navy); it considered America its primary enemy, sought hegemony in the Pacific (the “American lake”), and had conquered the Philippines, an American colony. There was more than a service principle at stake : the Navy believed that the war against Japan was a war between two fleets as well as two nations. Naval officers argued further that the British seemed to be doing quite well against the Germany and could probably hold them off indefinitely, or at least until Japan had been defeated.

The Navy wasn't alone in its parochial concerns. Just after Roosevelt established the JCS, General Dwight D. Eisenhower drew up a memo detailing his own (and the Army's) view of American military strategy. He argued for an immediate buildup of American forces in Great Britain, a move that implied an early landing of Allied forces on the European continent. For he and other Army leaders believed that the Japanese offensive in the Pacific had, by early 1942, run its course. The United States could turn its attention to Europe, thereby keeping Great Britain in the war. Eisenhower's memo viewed the conflict as a war between two of the world's most powerful armies, a position that would fully commit the United States to the concept of “total war,” without which, Army leaders believed, a total victory could not be won. They told their Navy colleagues that the defeat of Germany would give the United States a greater voice in postwar European affairs and thereby undercut England's position on the Continent. They argued further that Russia's entrance into the war didn't reinforce the Navy's position after all, but was a compelling reason that the United States needed to put its primary focus on the Continent or be cut out of a postwar European settlement that was certain, especially after 1942, to include the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower's memo reflected an earlier Army position known as Operation Victory, an ambitions mobilization plan that called for the deployment of a 210 division force backed by tiers of bombers and ships. The plan horrified naval officers, who believed the American people would never agree to such large-scale mobilization. In addition, it would undermine America's real value as an arsenal and breadbasket. For Roosevelt, there was never really any debate; his intention all along was to fight in Europe first, though clearly pot because of pro-Army prejudice (Roosevelt had, after all, been Assistant Secretary of the Navy). But what Roosevelt gave with his right hand he took back with his left: having accepted a Europe First strategy, he vetoed any thought of mobilizing 210 divisions.

Basically, Roosevelt believed that Germany was the greatest threat America faced and worried about the slim but very real possibility that the Soviets might defeat Germany without an allied invasion of France. This was something, as Winston Churchill continually reminded him, that neither the United States nor Great Britain could tolerate. Roosevelt agreed. When Army Chief of Staff George Marshall attempted to use the Pacific First strategy as a bludgeon against British war plans, Roosevelt told him to drop the argument because it antagonized the British.

The interservice debate didn't end with Roosevelt's decision. While Roosevelt foreclosed the Army-Navy rivalry, thereby soothing the British, he kept the debate alive within the American military as a means of spurring what he considered a useful argument over military strategy. In other words, while Roosevelt silenced Marshall's use of the Pacific First plan for political purposes, he allowed Ernie King to pose the question continually in administration circles, thereby unintentionally institutionalizing service rivalry.

Ever since, military commanders have continually noted that not only did the United States win the war despite service rivalry, it might well have won because of it. Public opinion and congressional sentiment were clearly on the Navy's side. Throughout the first two years of the war there were even, as Eisenhower sarcastically noted in his wartime diary, “insinuations” that the War Department, an Army fiefdom, had “conspired” to “expose the Navy to defeat at Pearl Harbor for the sake of maneuvering America into war in Europe.” So it was that in the midst of the most horrifying world conflagration in human history, service rivalries were translated into a classic Washington battle of bureaucracies, with the Navy Department in a showdown against the War Department.

For those who believe the American military rejected narrow service concerns the moment of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Army-Navy feud is a sobering reminder of just how deep, and pervasive, service rivalries have always been. On a more practical level, while Roosevelt refused to use this competition as a stick against British designs in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, he failed to intervene when it dictated clearer strategic visions, more stringent uses of military resources, and narrower military timetables. In effect, the Navy's Pacific First strategy served as a handy brake on the Army's penchant for more men, more resources, and more firepower. It is a ploy the Navy has used, with some success, to this day.

The residue of the Army-Navy competition in defeating the Axis is still apparent, and it amuses historians and writers who cover military affairs. Navy officers continue to argue that “we won that war,” scoffing at Army pretensions that “if you haven’t fought the Germans, you haven't fought a war at all.” The Air Force, a relative latecomer to the debate, had its own claim — that the strategic bombing of German and Japanese cities tipped the balance in favor of the Allies — which he Army and Navy consider “preposterous.” In 1942, a number of officers realized that the service competition was counterproductive, even self-defeating. Eisenhower, for one, came to despise it and wanted to resolve it. The feud became so bitter, and so public, that in Congress the competition between the War and Navy departments raised political questions about the nation's ability to wage a united war. But it took a number of significant wartime incidents, and their public revelation, to provide the initial impetus for reform of the American high command.


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