A Stab In The Guts: A Logistics Story

They said it was a stab in the back, but it was more like a stab in the guts.  In early 1918, the German Imperial Army, fresh off its victory on the Eastern front and its able support of its hapless Austro-Hungarian allies in the Italian front, made one last dash for victory in the Western front.  Despite making significant gains and returning to their high water mark established early in the war, the Allies were able to hold firm and millions of fresh American troops turned the tide towards the Allies, who over the late summer and autumn inexorably pushed the Germans back.  Behind the front, the German people were suffering greatly, as the Allied blockade wrecked havoc on a nation that was unable to feed itself.  Man can only live on ersatz products for so long, and the starving German population reached the point where its loyalty to Kaiser and government was at an end. As armies were being pushed back, the starving German populace began to accept the siren’s song of socialist and communist promises, and after an armistice Germany’s will to resist any terms crumbled.  The Allies, perhaps predictably, were not in the mood to make a particularly generous peace, and there would be repercussions of the whimper with which Germany’s World War I efforts ended in a starvation not unlike that suffered by the Confederacy at the end of the Civil War [1].

While Hitler and his ilk were stirring up trouble in Germany, there was a different sort of trouble in the United States.  Veterans of World War I, caught in the grips of the Great Depression, descended en masse to Washington DC to seek their promised pensions as they struggled to survive and felt that the government had failed in their bargain to provide for those who had fought abroad.  In a different part of the United States one veteran in particular suffered in similar ways to many others.  A semi-invalid as a result of the long-term damages resulting from being gassed on the Western front, one World War I vet and his family spent the 1930’s and 1940’s moving around from one place to another trying to stay fed and stay clothed and escaping from creditors, winding their way through both Central Florida and Southern California before the family’s economic stability was ensured by their son’s joining the Coast Guard at the age of 17 in the late 1940’s.  The same military whose behavior had led to the poor health and eventual far too early death of the father provided a livelihood to the son that allowed the family some measure of economic health at long last.

The period of the Great Depression was not the only one where the Doughboys had known great deprivation as a result of considerable failures on the part of the government.  During World War I, failures in supply had forced many soldiers in training to practice and train for war with wooden weapons that would not have been out of place in the fake emplacements outside of Washington DC in early 1862 that fooled McClellan.  Failures in supplying those same front-line soldiers in France with food and uniforms had encouraged liberal foraging on the part of hungry soldiers, with damaging consequences for the reputation of those Americans abroad.  Meanwhile, those same hungry soldiers grumbled, not without reason, that conditions were far better for those quartermasters and rear echelon troops who received food and clothing in a timely fashion.

The thread that ties together all these problems is a concern with logistics.  Admittedly, I am far more concerned with logistics than most people are as an area of conscious concern.  Most of us, especially those of us in the United States, take matters of logistics for granted.  We expect that what we want will be available, and tend to be irritated and upset when that is not the case.  Not all of us, though, have been fortunate enough to have lives that have escaped the pervasive concern in matters of logistics for people around the world.  On more than one occasion I have shopped for groceries in places where almost the only groceries to be found were cheap Chinese beer and aisles of “Happy Squid” flavored ramen noodles, a far from comforting sight.  Likewise, as someone who grew up hungry and faced with a pervasive shortage of food and clothing, one which I was deeply conscious of, I have always viewed logistics with a sense of alarm fit for a child of poverty and privation.  Treachery and betrayal are a stab in the back, but the failure to provide for the basic logistical needs of those in one’s societies and institutions is a stab in the gut.

And like a stab in the back, a stab in the gut can have damaging effects on the loyalty of people to their institutions.  Starving citizens cease to support their government, especially since that starvation is often the result of the incompetence of said governments in choosing which enemies to fight dealing with the grand strategy of how to wage war.  Starving soldiers lose discipline as their interest in fighting gives way to finding enough sustenance to keep going.  Starving veterans spread disaffection through a society that is confronted with concrete evidence of a government exploiting its youth for military action without any intention on paying implicit or explicit debts for those lost years and broken bodies and shattered minds as a result of that warfare.  This is true on a smaller scale as well, as parents lose a great deal of their own authority when they are unable to provide for their children, and husbands lose much of their moral authority when they cannot provide for the rest of their families.  It is little wonder that welfare societies are so popular despite being so ineffective, because government gains a great deal of power when it is seen as the provider of people for their basic survival needs of food and shelter.  Woe be to those governments who fail to provide the conditions of well-being in the face of people who have a vision of where they want their lives to be that is hindered by the incompetence and corruption of authorities.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/20/book-review-starving-the-south/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/30/a-pre-mortem-thought-experiment-on-the-second-american-civil-war-part-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/a-pre-mortem-thought-experiment-on-the-second-american-civil-war-part-two/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/02/a-pre-mortem-thought-experiment-on-the-second-american-civil-war-part-three/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/07/book-review-the-myth-of-the-lost-cause/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/14/book-review-how-the-north-won/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/12/so-that-crows-flying-over-it-for-the-balance-of-the-season-will-have-to-carry-their-provender-with-them/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/10/26/book-review-why-the-confederacy-lost/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Stab In The Guts: A Logistics Story

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Civil War And The Limits Of Destruction | Edge Induced Cohesion

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