More Fronts to Win War Now
RUSSIA SAW PERIL AND PREPARED
By MAXIM LITVINOFF, Russian Ambassador to the United States
Before the Overseas Press Club at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, February 26, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 325-326.
IT is with extreme satisfaction that I find myself here in your club, among whose members I recognize so many people whom I met at various periods in the development of international life. I confess that I wondered at first whether I should find myself saying anything tonight which would be a variance with what many of you present have heard from my lips in former times. I do not think so, for I cannot remember that I ever said a word in public that I would like to unsay. Indeed, I regard my present mission as but a continuance of my former work. All that we are now doing and saying has the sole aim of restoring peace and creating conditions to make it as solid and durable as possible, and formerly our care was for the preservation of peace, the prevention of its violation.
I cannot remember a single one of my public addresses at international forums, not concerned with the preservation of peace. We might perhaps reproach ourselves with not having been still more energetic, still more persuasive, if experience had not shown that there exist deep-rooted prejudices and false conceptions too strong to be dispelled by the most perfect logic, and only to be overthrown by reality, a reality sometimes unfortunately very stern.
Talks about peace are nothing to boast about. Every country, every government, every statesman, has paid lip service to peace. But not all this tribute has been sincere, not all who paid it really saw the impending danger to peace, not all believed that when war broke out its flames would spread to all countries, to all parts of the world.
We in the Soviet Union realized, the moment Nazism and Hitlerism appeared on the political areas, that this meant war, war total and universal, war not halting before any frontiers, land or sea. Unlike some other people we did not believe Hitler when he defiled the name of peace, when he traded in appeasement, but we did believe him when he spoke of war, of aggression, of the enslavement of other nations, of world domination. We did believe him when he mocked at international obligations, international ethics, when he extolled lies and false propaganda, thereby inviting us to disbelieve all his assurances, promises and undertakings. And so we appealed for the alliance of all peace-loving countries in a powerful, common effort for the aversion of this catastrophe.
I will not dwell here on the many and varied proposals we made during the period between 1933 and 1939. We still believe that, if these proposals had met with adequate response from other countries, the tragedy humanity is now living through would have been averted.
Current events are proving that the Soviet Government is entitled to claim credit, not so much for advocating collective security and international solidarity in the face of common danger, as for the measures it adopted at the same time to be in a position to fulfill the international obligations it was prepared to undertake. The Soviet Government knewthat Hitler was not to be impressed by mere international declarations, pacts, mutual aid treaties, and all that, till he was convinced that these documents were backed by material forces. The course of military events has already shown that we really did prepare these material forces.
If we had limited ourselves to talking about peace, and had not, at the same time, prepared for an alternative in the event of these talks proving fruitless, our Army, however numerous it might be, could never have resisted the onrush of the Nazi hordes and Hitler's monstrous war machine. And if we had not put up the necessary fight, Hitler would have been the big boss and would have added the vast riches of our country to his other big conquests. And then, it is most likely, the United Nations, every one of them, would have had a poor chance to escape defeat. We may therefore claim, with pardonable pride, that, by our preparedness, we have done yeoman service not only for ourselves but for all other peace-loving countries.
Admiration is frequently expressed for the fighting qualities and heroism of the Red Army. This admiration is thoroughly deserved, and the history of that admirable heroism is still to be written—the history of an army compelled by a surprise attack of an enemy of superior strength to retreat for six months, but, with extraordinary tenacity, defending every foot of soil, every homestead, every hillock, town and river, and inflicting upon the enemy enormous losses, thus destroying that fighting spirit which continuous advances and the occupation of territory usually creates in an army, stopping him finally at the very gates of Moscow, Leningrad, Rostov and the Caucasus—and then going over to the offensive and hurling him back.
And yet, though we have had considerable victories at the front of late, we must not overestimate their significance. The enemy's power has been shaken, but he is far from being beaten. Disintegration has set in in his army, and at home the elements of decay are apparent, but there is still a long way to go before he is defeated, before his people rise against him. He is still doing successful rear-guard fighting and will not give up his positions without stubborn resistance. Hitler is massing fresh forces (true, they may be his last reserves). He is endeavoring to squeeze his involuntary "allies" dry of all that has fighting capacity in Hungary, in Rumania, in Bulgaria, in Slovakia and elsewhere, for use at the Eastern Front.
He is preparing for a Spring offensive, and he thoroughly understands the importance of the eastern campaign, which should settle not merely his own fate but also that of the whole Axis. He knows that either he will win this campaign, and win all, or he will lose it and lose all. We should like our Allies and friends to see this as clearly as Hitler does, and to act accordingly.
Don't get me wrong. I don't for a moment mean to saythat all the Allies should concentrate their attention on our front to the detriment of other fronts. I fully understand the interdependence of all the fronts. If for instance our British Allies were to interrupt or relax their campaign in Libya, thus liberating some of the German and Italian divisions now in action there, these latter would immediately be transferred to the Eastern Front. We are, therefore, interested for the Libyan campaign to go full steam ahead. The same may be said also of other fronts.
But identical quantities of armed forces and identical sorts of arms are not required on all fronts. It is quite legitimate to desire that the forces which cannot be used on one front should not be kept in idleness and inaction but should be sent where they could be used.
Next Spring, on the eastern theatre of military activities, which must certainly be considered the most important, the struggle with Hitler will reach its peak, and we should like to have the utmost possible aid by then. We should like all the forces of the Allies to be put into action by then, and that, by then, there should be no idle armies, immobile navies, stationary air fleets. This applies also to military materials, which should be sent to the places where they are most needed.
We have wrested the initiative from the German command, which in modern warfare is of the utmost importance. It would be deplorable if we were to lose this initiative for lack of adequate and timely support. We are proud that it has fallen to our lot to smash Hitler's war machine, but we by no means insist on exclusive rights. We are quite prepared to let others have a share in our pride.
I am sure you will not find it strange that I, a diplomatic representative, speak of nothing but military matters. It is obvious that at a time when all but a few countries which are the instigators of war, and a handful of neutrals, are to a greater or less extent united in the common struggle against the aggressors, there is not much scope for a diplomat to talk about international relations. And so we diplomats may be forgiven if we sometimes overstep the limits of our profession and make incursions into strategy, if only as amateurs. I will therefore venture to present a few more strategical considerations, but they will be entirely my personal ones.
It seems to me that events are shaping in such a way that soon there will be no more fronts outside Europe along which decisive battles or even offensive operations of any sort will be possible—at any rate for a long time to come, till new considerable forces have matured in the U. S. A. But offensive operations of a decisive nature will be possible in Europe, and that against Public Enemy Number One.
It is obvious that to deal Hitler a knock-out blow would mean to smash the Axis and greatly to simplify all the otherproblems confronting the United Nations so that their solution would take much less time and trouble.
But how is this to be brought about? I have already mentioned the increased activity which is inevitable on the Soviet-German Front and the desirability of the Red Army receiving by then the utmost possible aid. Now this aid, with the best will in the world, is strictly limited by transport and other difficulties. Is there then no other way of increasing the chances of overpowering Hitler? Let us turn to Hitler for an authoritative answer to this question.
He has made it quite clear in his writings that the only thing which inspires him with fear, doubt and self-distrust is the possibility of having to fight on more than one front. It is common knowledge that all his diplomacy, from the moment he came into power, has been concentrated on eliminating this possibility. His determined opposition to collective security, his tirades against the bogy of bolshevism, his so-called anti-Comintern pact, his indefatigable endeavors to prevent close relations between the Soviet Union and the Western powers, the treacherous neutrality pact with the Soviet Union—all this was aimed at nothing else.
We hear a lot about the common efforts of the United Nations toward achieving victory. But common efforts which do not include common fighting may not be sufficient. Indeed, we see that they are not. This fighting, divided in space, must not be divided in time. It may be of little use to have large, well-equipped armies, say, somewhere in the West, if they are not in action while decisive battles are raging in the East. When such battles are over, it may be too late for the Western armies to serve their purpose. Only by simultaneous offensive operations on two or more fronts separated by long distances could Hitler's armed forces be disposed of—and that is just why Hitler would dislike such operations.
International diplomacy has never done anything which Hitler disliked. Will not international strategy try?
I repeat, I speak as a layman, but I do believe Hitler could in this way be destroyed by the Summer. But the opportunity may be missed. The peace has already been lost owing to missed opportunities. It would be too bad if the war were to be lost because we let opportunities slip again.
I should like to think that these opportunities were being minutely studied and discussed by the military authorities of our Allies and that they will make the right decisions. However this may be, one thing I can assure you, and that is that my government, the Red Army and the peoples of the Soviet Union will not relax their efforts and will do their part for the common cause. They will continue to strike at Hitler's hordes to the very limit of their strength, and beyond that limit.