Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Maginot Line

Here's super-investor Bill Gross on what it feels like to hold cash:
My point is to recognize, and to hope that you recognize, that an effective zero percent interest rate, as a price for hiding in a foxhole, is prohibitive. Like the American doughboys near France’s Maginot line in WWII – slumping day after day in a muddy, rat-infested pit – when the battalion commander finally blew his whistle to charge the enemy lines, it probably was accompanied by some sense of relief; anything, anything but this! Anything but .01%!
Leaving aside the WWI-WWII confusion, it's a very common perception to think that the Maginot line "didn't work", and the French deluded themselves by focusing on the past and hunkering down, while the Nazis sped forward through blitzkrieg.

It's true that the French battle plan didn't quite work out. But the Maginot line was actually a pretty good idea. Yes, the Germans could evade it by flanking and invading Belgium. But that was the whole point of the line. Instead of dealing with the Germans on home soil, you force them into Benelux, where the combined forces of the British, French, and million-odd Belgian and Dutch forces could bog the Germans down.

The initial German plan was forced by the Maginot line to play out exactly this way. Had that invasion happened, the Germans would have met vastly superior French armor and quite possibly would have dug in to another WWI-like stalemate. It was a phenomenal stroke of luck that resulted in the Germans switching to a plan that cut into the seemingly-impassable Ardennes to cut off the body of the Allied force in Belgium, more luck that the French failed to realize and respond to that, and yet more luck that French tanks didn't have enough gas.

But the Maginot Line itself worked exactly as intended, and could have won the war five years early had it not been for von Manstein and company.

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