The Transvaal War: Its Lessons in Regard to Militarism and Army Re-organisation. (Part I)
The Transvaal War: Its Lessons in Regard to Militarism and Army Re-organisation (Part 11)
Militarism in Politics, and Lord Roberts Army Organisation Scheme
South Africa and Europe FOREWORD
Ivan (Jan) S. Bloch was a prophet. A Polish Jewish banker and railroad financier when Poland was a province of the Russian Empire, Bloch compiled an extensive, detailed analysis of the potential effects of a great power war at the end of the nineteenth century. Bloch's work was published in several languages and was widely known and discussed prior to World War I. It was most influential in the international pacifist movements. Bloch's conclusion was that a war between major powers had become too costly to contemplate, that war in the future would bankrupt the countries who engaged in it rather than produce any worthwhile result. Dr. Chris Bellamy has written an excellent critique of Bloch's major work in the April 1992 RUSI Journal, "'Civilian Experts' and Russian Defence Thinking."
The essays reprinted here are shorter statements of Bloch's basic beliefs. As Bellamy points out, Bloch was not entirely right in his views on war. He failed to note the heavy influence that indirect fire would have on World War I battlefields. Obviously, he could not anticipate new technologies such as the airplane and tank. Bloch was more correct in addressing the inability of major combatants to find a war ending strategy -a military solution to their political conflicts -before they bankrupted themselves in the process of conducting a major war.
In his announced and optimistic belief that war was now impossible, Bloch was, of course, quite wrong. He assumed a level of rational decision making that likely still exceeds the human condition. Whatever the situation of the day, then, the military professional still had to fight the war he was given or, in some cases, helped produce--notwithstanding Bloch's theorizing. These essays are reprinted as an example of one man's anticipation of the next great war in the hope that it may encourage a foresight by today's military professional equal to that of the nineteenth century's greatest amateur.
July 1993 RICHARD M. SWAIN
Colonel, Field Artillery
Director, Combat Studies Institute
THE WARS OF THE FUTURE.
Having busied myself for over fourteen years with the study of war in all its phases and aspects, I am astonished to find that the remarkable evolution which is rapidly turning the sword into a ploughshare has passed almost unnoticed even by the professional watchmen who are paid to keep a sharp look-out. In my work on the war of the future I endeavoured to draw a picture of this interesting process. But writing for specialists, I was compelled to enter largely into details, the analysis of which ran into 3,084 pages.* The facts which are there garnered together, and the consequences which flow from them, run too strongly counter to the vested interests of the most powerful class of the community to admit of their being immediately embodied in measures of reform. And this I foresaw from the first. What I could not foresee was the stubbornness which not only recoiled from taking action but set itself to twist and distort the facts. Patriotism is highly respectable, but it is dangerous to identify it with the interests of a class. The steadfastness with which the military caste clings to the memory of a state of things which has already passed away is pathetic and honourable. Unfortunately it is also costly and dangerous. Therefore I venture now to appeal to the British masses, whose vital interests are at stake and whose verdict must be final.
*Of the French edition of my work. Vol. I.: Description of the Mechanism of War. Tactics. Vol. II.: The Preparations for War. The Conduct of the Army. Battles. War against Fortresses. The State and Spirit of Armies. Resistance to the Social and Economic Influences of War. Plans of Campaign. Vol. III.: Naval Warfare, Vol. IV.: Economic Disturbances. Material Losses which, in the future, War will involve. Effects of Tactics and of Economic Conditions on the Victualling of Armies. Vol. V.: Efforts tending to suppress War.The Causes of Political Misunderstandings. Losses in Human Lives. Vol. VI.: Summing up of the Mechanism of War and its Working. The Case for and against the possibility of settling peaceably by means of an International Tribunal the Disputes that crop up between European States.
From The Comtemporary Review 80 (September 1901):305-32.
The only Great Power whose representatives have profited by the teachings of the Transvaal War is Great Britain, and the earnest warnings uttered by the Brodricks, Curzons and Campbell-Bannermans show that the significance of that campaign has been read aright by British civilians. The military men even in England seem bound by a sort of point d'honneur to defend the past rather than be guided by the present.
By no Parliamentary Commission has any measure been suggested embodying the reforms rendered necessary by the changed conditions as exemplified by the South African Campaign. Even in military circles these changes have been appreciated in words rather than in measures. Lord Roberts himself, whose well-earned popularity lends enormous weight to his every utterance, seems disposed to content himself with propping up the old fabric rather than constructing a new one. In his eloquent appeal to the patriotism of the British people to erect shooting stands for the training of efficient marksmen, the eminent Field-Marshal gave it as his, opinion, that in coming wars success would follow good shooting and dexterity in seeking shelter during the advance to the attack. The idea, I admit, is good in itself; the main drawback attaching to it is the impossibility of realising it.
On purely economic grounds-and this is a subject on which I can speak with perfect connaissance de cause-the scheme is not feasible. A war waged with such tactics would ruin both belligerents, financially and economically, long before the end would have come in sight.
This Laodicean attitude of politicians, and the vehement opposition of military men, have determined me to address the general public, setting before them the innovations which have altered all warfare and rendered it henceforth useless as a means of settling international disputes, and the grounds which render the average military mind hostile to all reform. The technical aspect of war is no longer what it was; the changes it has undergone are as great as those which steam achieved in inter-oceanic traffic. High military authorities recognise these changes and endorse the conclusions which I have drawn from them. From a purely technical point of view, then, I hope to prove that war, as a means of deciding misunderstandings between nations, is no longer efficacious.
But even if technical reasons were less convincing, economic considerations would still be decisive. The military machine is no longer isolated as of yore. It is closely connected with the financial and economic machines not only of the countries waging war but of all other nations. The one cannot be set in motion without the other; and as the economic forces of a great Power fall very far short of its military strength, it is the former that will ultimately decide the issues. Now there is no State in Europe or in the world whose economic resources are sufficient or nearly sufficient to allow of the full utilisation of its military strength, or even of the employment of a considerable portion thereof, for the length of time that a war under present conditions must last. In this fact, which I am prepared to prove to the satisfaction of the most exacting critic, lies the key to the whole military question. Technical science has forced even conservative generals to the same conclusion. But even if its prenusses be suppressed or its conclusions denied, the fact still remains that though the sword be sharp and trusty, the arm that wields it will be paralysed long before it has struck a decisive blow.
If in addressing myself to the task before me, a word or expression should perchance escape me to which a member of the military profession might reasonably take exception, I trust it will be indulgently set down to zeal for what I hold to be the truth, and my assurance accepted that no motives less impersonal have inspired my action or shaped my utterances.
Military science has from time immemorial been a book with seven seals, which none but the duly initiated were deemed worthy to open. Institutions of the Army, like those of the Church, were taken under the protecting wing of the State and flourished all the more luxuriantly in the shade. It was the duty of the masses to pay the bill in men and money, and the privilege of governments or monarchs to spend or misspend both, according to the lights of their reason or the vagaries of their will. Criticism of the means employed and discussion of the ends aimed at were alike forbidden to the outsider. It is hardly credible, and yet it is a historic fact, that no priestly caste, since the days of the Pharaohs, has managed to remain so exclusive, so powerful and so secret as the men whose profession it is to kill or be killed. While the wholesome light of publicity has in the course of ages poured in upon and purified all other corporations and adjusted their organisation and their workings to modern conditions, the warrior-caste has alone succeeded in shutting out the light of day and carrying over the prejudices, abuses and cruel usages of a barbarous epoch into the refined atmosphere of the 20th century.
Much that calls for censure in the militarism of to-day was excusable, if not justifiable, in bygone generations. The army was an instrument which the heaven-sent monarch was alone qualified to wield. All rights descended from him, while he was himself responsible to no man. His soldiers fought for his aggrandisement or his pleasure, suffered for his safety, died for his "glory." The whole religious and social groundwork of this cruel Moloch worship has long since been ruthlessly swept away, and the new ideas and altered aims call for different and more humanitarian methods. Yet the horrible human sacrifices are offered up at the blood-stained altar now as of yore; nay, they were never so numerous, so soul-scathing, so utterly wanton as they are to-day. And the caste that presides over the ceremonies is invested with special privileges, removed from the reach of criticism and in some countries raised above the law itself.
It is not what men know that calls forth their energies and determines their action, but what they realise. And there seem to be very few who grasp the fell significance of militarism in contemporary civilisation. Yet it is the worm in the blossoming plant, the serpent in the soft green grass, the poison in the sparkling wine. There is not a politician, a journalist, or even an officer who would venture to come forward and lay down the principle that a modern army is a body of regular troops trained for the behoof of the government, and shielded thereby from public criticism and merited censure. The notion would be scouted and he who broached it would be laughed at as a harmless faddist. Yet in reality this antiquated and dangerous principle is daily acted upon on the Continent of Europe, and in some countries he who should ignore it in practice would run the risk of being dealt with as a traitor. A contemporary soldier doffs his citizenship before donning his regimental uniform. He feels himself less a defender of his fatherland than a servant of his king, whose livery he wears. He must learn to think of his non-military fellow citizens as possible enemies against whom his rifle may be levelled tomorrow. In fact, the arms he bears must be employed by him in any cause, against any idea, in favour of any injustice. He may not reason, even though his motive be the welfare of his order. He may not criticise, though the abuses he would censure are calculated to defeat the ends which armies are expected to attain. Secrecy is the magic word that seals all lips and shuts all eyes. Officers who possess insight to perceive and courage to condemn errors that may lead to a national disaster are marked men. Their criticism is labelled insubordination, their demand for reform is confounded with disaffection, and their career is ruined. The normal military man is expected to follow the example, without having the justification, of the Spanish soldiers in South America, who, when crossing a broad and rapid river under cover of the night which hid them from their foes, received from their leader the historic order: "Keep the silence of death whether you swim or drown. Let all who may be in danger die without uttering a cry for help or a prayer for salvation. Thus and only thus can their comrades hope to live."
It is thus that military men are expected to watch the approach of grave dangers without uttering a warning cry. They must have arms to strike, but no eyes to see and no tongue to speak. Hence there never was a caste in Egypt or India, a secret society in Italy or China, nor a religious congregation in any church whose organisation ran counter in the same degree to the well-being of civilisation. Militarism has long possessed this character, but never so fully as to-day. In the eighteenth century the famous Captain Maurice of Saxony, the natural son of King Augustus II. of Poland, said: "The art of war is wrapped in obscurity, and in this obscurity it is impossible to move forward with a firm step. The groundwork of military organisation seems to be routine and superstition, both daughters of ignorance." What, for instance, could be more superstitious than the firm belief felt or professed, that absolute secrecy on all military matters is of such paramount importance that if any scrap of information even casually leaks out, the fatherland is at once in danger. The notion is so crude that to analyse it is to dispel it for ever, and yet it is systematically encouraged by the legislator, the journalist, and the officer. The fact is that all our ideas on military subjects are polarized and need to be translated afresh into the language of everyday use.
Take the questions of secrecy and espionage for instance. Of late years most continental countries have intensified the pains and penalties attaching to all who reveal secrets of the national defence. A traitor is in truth a most contemptible character; but his power of harming has been absurdly exaggerated. I felt convinced of this for a long time before I reasoned it out with the commander of one of the greatest fortresses in Europe, or the world, a General whose name is a household word in both hemispheres. He and I entered into conversation one day on the part which fortresses are destined to play in the war of the future, and I availed myself of the opportunity to ask him his opinion about the harm done by spies. "For my own part," I remarked, "I fail to see what they can tell a foreign Power that is not already to be found in print." "There may be certain details," replied the General. "Granted there may be," I insisted, "are they of any real importance when you take into account the great range of artillery fire and the terrible destructive force of shells?" "Well, I confess I cannot see that they matter one jot one way or the other, all the more that as soon as war is declared all the arrangements made in peace time will forthwith be changed, and nothing left as it was before." "Then you agree with me?" "I most certainly do. The facts leave room for no two opinions."
The civilian who is free to ask questions about military matters does so at the risk of his political good name, and with the certitude that he will not be vouchsafed an answer. However patriotic his motives, he is frowned down as an impertinent busybody, and perhaps talked of as a friend of his country's foes. Even the citizen who has devoted himself with success to the study of military science, without any arrière pensèe, is rudely told that the ground he treads is holy and reserved for the initiated. It is thus that the Army is wrapped up in swaddling clothes and protected from the light of day. Yet the donning of the military uniform is hardly a sacramental act which confers divine grace and deeper insight upon the many who are called to it. To claims of this nature modern times are not propitious. Theology itself has been thrown open to laymen, and some of its most authorised exponents to-day stand outside the sanctuary. But the trail of the old serpent still lingers over the military caste.
"Yes, but we have changed all that in England," exclaimed a British politician, to whom I was recently unfolding my views on the subject. "For many generations," he added, "our soldiers have formed a national army. They are citizens first and soldiers afterwards. They are not, as in some countries, the servants of an individual, however exalted, but the defenders of the people."
It is pleasant to hear a statement of this kind, were it only for the sake of the broad humanitarian principle which is implicitly approved therein. But over and above this extrinsic consideration, there is much truth in the assertion. Much truth today; but if the present tendency continues, there will be rapidly less and less. For even England is being very gradually, I had almost said imperceptibly, drawn towards the maelstrom of militarism, and I lately heard without surprise a gallant British officer remark: "It is our wish to be the army of the King, and to wear his Majesty's livery." There is no reason why this wish and all that it implies should not be fulfilled one day, and still less why an outsider should feel aggrieved thereat. If the consequences are realised and taken, the transaction is fair and valid. But are they thoroughly understood? Are there no illusions, no misunderstandings?
Much has changed of late years, and comparatively little has been done to bring home to the minds of the masses the meaning of those changes. If the art of war was obscure to the generation of Maurice of Saxony, it is a sphinx' riddle to our own. A relatively short time ago an army was a body of men set apart for a special purpose; it was not the entire adult male population. The pursuit of arms was a career to which a man devoted his whole life, not one of the many burdens of citizenship. The monarchs who paid the troops studied their organisation and needs, and had reports on the subject drawn up for their own use. The knowledge thus acquired they kept to themselves, nor was there any good reason why they should let the world into their secrets. War in those days was a purely military event, the trial of political issues by the shock of contending armies. Its economic aspect was a matter of hardly any moment, and its incidence was always merely local. A soldier then needed above all things courage, that being the alpha and omega of success. Heroism was paid for in current coin, and in such "immortality" as stone monuments could confer. One battle often decided the issue of a war, and a spirited bayonet charge generally determined the result of the battle. Two surging masses of armed men stood facing each other, while the strains of martial music thrilled their hearts, fired their blood and dimmed their reason; one of them dashed brilliantly forward beating down all that came in its path, the other made a stand, swayed, gave way, and finally hurried helter-skelter from the spot, leaving the field and victory to the enemy. Romance and poetry idealised the deeds of prowess which imagination and music had inspired, and military history supplied literary fiction with some of her most attractive heroes.
All these conditions are now radically changed. The romance of war has vanished into thin air with its gaudy uniforms, unfurled banners, and soul-stirring music. Military operations have become as prosaic as ore-smelting, and far less respectable. Armies of to-day -are not composed of gallant, jovial cavaliers, but of entire peoples who curse the fate that compels them to abandon their trades, industries and professions, thus depriving their families of help and throwing an enormous extra burden upon the State which has to maintain them in idleness at a time when the sources of public revenue are drying up and the necessities of life are more costly than before. The economic aspect of the matter has become formidable, because international. The belligerents suffer more than their neighbours; but all other nations are likewise affected by the stagnation of trade and the slackness of industry. The necessity for secrecy respecting army organisation no longer exists. The peoples who now-a-days have to bear the brunt of battle possess the right to know whether the conditions under which they are called upon to fight are such as to give them a chance of substantial success, a reasonable hope of achieving the only ends which warrant the sacrifice's demanded by war. And if no such prospect can be held out to them, they are justified in casting about for some less costly and more efficacious method of settling disputes. Even the courage which down to a short time ago was the open sesame to military success is become a drawback rather than an advantage. Prudence, initiative, independence have taken its place. Further, a war can never again be decided by a single battle, and indeed it is very doubtful whether battles in the old sense of the word are any longer possible. Excellent military authorities affirm that they are not, and brilliant bayonet charges are most certainly things of the past which can never be recalled. War itself is no longer the exclusive concern of the belligerents. It is an international calamity, and even now some of its worst effects have to be warded off or assuaged by international pressure put upon the belligerents, as for instance in the questions of determining what may be declared contraband of war, what reasons can justify the stoppage and overhauling of neutral vessels, etc. From this it is but a step to the prohibition of certain wars altogether by the majority of nations on the ground of the widespread calamities that would follow in their train. And this thin end of the wedge once driven in, the remainder would follow in due course. If a Peace Congress cannot compass the end, the force of circumstances will and must. For the vital interests of nations are all closely interwoven as they never were before, and, like people joining hands with him who receives an electric spark into his body, they all feel the shock. As soon as they perceive that the hardship is more than they can reasonably be expected to bear they will find ways and means of putting a speedy end to the war, whatever the belligerents may think and feel on the subject.
On the principle that certain prevention is better than possible cure I have striven to bring home to the minds of the people the consequences with which these changed conditions are fraught, before sorrow, suffering and possibly rain, teach a lesson that will have been learned too late. That this forecast is not the fanciful notion of a faddist is made clear by the emphatic confirmation which my views have received wittingly and unwittingly from some of the most authorised spokesmen of the armies of Europe, and which can neither be reasoned away nor ignored. Among many others I may mention the opinion expressed with no uncertain accent by Count Miliutin, whose name commands the respect of all his colleagues throughout the globe. This general was the Russian War Minister for the space of eighteen consecutive years. During his long and memorable tenure of office, he completely reorganised the army of the Tsar. His right to be heard on the subject is therefore unquestioned, and the gist of his teaching differs nowise from mine. In fact he said as much expressly in a letter he addressed to me before the opening of the Hague Conference. "The main object of your work [on the Future War] has been to draw a picture, faithful but terrible, of that war which in a future more or less near will ruin Europe in order to allow recent inventions to be utilized. For that very reason your book would have an immense and beneficent effect if it could influence the directing spheres, the men who shape the policy of States, and, above all other, the Delegates to the Conference at the Hague. This, however, is unfortunately not to be hoped for: the appalling consequences which may be expected to follow the catastrophe are not capable of turning back the obstinate fanatics of militarism from the road which they have mapped out for themselves."
Now I hold that those appalling consequences, the contemplation of which leaves "military fanatics" unmoved, would be warded off by the people on whom they would fall, if only the public could be got to realise them; and that in order to grasp them thoroughly one has only to dwell upon the established facts which render such war as is still possible utterly unlike what we have hitherto known as war, and to bring to that study an open and unbiassed mind.
The difference between the wars of the past and the future is not one of degree only; it is specific, an event of a wholly different order. This transformation is the outcome of a number of other changes in the conditions of political, social and industrial life, in the progress of applied science, in the facilities of inter-oceanic and inter-continental commerce, in the minute division of international labour and in the interdependence of all civilized peoples. In a word a gradual evolution has been taking place for years, the significance of which is only beginning to be read aright now that it has reached its ultimate stage. Each succeeding process has been studied apart from all the others, for lack of a master-mind to perceive their common bearings and to draw the consequences to which they pointed.
Those consequences affect the character of armies as levers for removing the hindrances that occasionally crop up to the maintenance of a good understanding among States. It is with militarism as with a pretty woman, the beauty of whose form and the radiance of whose smiles have continued to delight a large circle of admirers for several decades, and to whom the fact finally comes as a poignant revelation that she has played her part and is henceforth passée. Warnings she has had, many and significant, on her journeys to the dentist, the oculist, and other specialists. But she dismissed each one separately as if they had no connection with each other, until at last she found them focussed in one burning point.
War, by its nature, is an experiment, and in the days when it was a trial of brute force practically unaided by science, the knowledge underlying military skill was gleaned solely from experience. Hence former wars supplied lessons for those of the future, just as the success and failure of the haphazard treatment applied to disease by mediæval physicians served to guide them in their choie of methods. It was right and proper, therefore, that military men should look upon past history as the only source of light for future action. But that was in the days before the great evolution, of which I have just spoken. Nowadays it is an anachronism. Yet they are so saturated with reverence for the past that they refuse to see that the caterpillar has become a butterfly, and is amenable to other laws. They are so purblind that they seek to batter a breach in scientific principles by brandishing musty precedents, which have no longer any relevancy. Science and civilisation have turned over a new leaf, but the man of arms keeps his eyes fixed on the old and faded page, neither learning nor forgetting. Of striking examples of this pathological fact the military history of the past thirty years is full.
Thus the American War of Secession made short work of the theory which regarded thorough military training as the source of all superiority. Theretofore it was a defined dogma that the soldiers who had been through the mill and were become so dependent upon their officer that they moved only at his word, and followed him as needles do a magnet, were the stuff of which victorious armies are made. Raw recruits were but as chaff among grain in comparison. The Yankees were forced to employ this "inferior" material, and to put their trust in the intelligent civilian; and, to the astonishment of all men, he stood the test remarkably well. In most emergencies he left the professional soldier far behind. He kept his head in moments of panic, was cool when danger assumed an unwonted form and was resourceful in unforeseen emergencies, when everything depended upon his individual initiative. This was established by the War of Secession. But the crusty old professional not only refused to draw the consequences, but deliberately shut his eyes to the facts. "Those savage encounters do not deserve the name of war," exclaimed a well-known European General, "and I have dissuaded my officers from reading the published accounts of them."
Hostilities broke out in 1866, which claimed the glorious name of war, and had their claims duly allowed, but not their lessons taken to heart. These were mainly two: the stupendous force of a homogeneous national army like that of Prussia, before which the vaunted drill and discipline of the Austrians were but as a feather in the stormwind; and the superiority of the needle gun. Yet Austria had been warned before, having gone through the campaign against Denmark as the ally of Prussia; her military chiefs had seen the needle gun in action, and had had time enough to take the hint and make themselves ready for an emergency. But use and wont had blinded their eyes and paralysed their energy: vis inertice is a wonderful thing; when allied to military conservatism it is one of those mountains which even faith fails to remove.
In the year 1870 military routine had its innings again, and reduced a gallant people to the brink of national ruin. The marshals, generals and staff officers of the third Empire were implicitly trusted by the whole population, whose earnings they squandered. They declared publicly, solemnly, repeatedly, that they were prepared. They heard the wild cries of a frenzied people: "à Berlin! à Berlin!" without moving a muscle, without uttering a word of warning. Yet they might, nay, they must have known, that while Germany would put 1,200,000 men in the field, France could not operate with more than 330,000. The French general staff were well supplied with maps, but they were maps of German districts on the route to Berlin. They were meant for an invasion; they lacked the maps that would have helped them when France was overrun by Teuton soldiers. Yet they had been warned over and over again by their own military attaché in Berlin. Colonel Stoffel had had the courage to communicate the facts and to call things by their names. But his Cassandra voice was drowned by the premature pæans of his colleagues, and was heard only by the unfeeling historian.
But the Franco-German campaign was at least instructive. Among other novelties, earth entrenchments as a powerful factor in war made their successful appearance when 48,000 Germans managed by their help to defend triumphantly a line extending over 35 kilometres against 131,000 French troops, whose attacks were seconded by an artillery fire which was three times more powerful than that of the enemy, and inflicted a loss of human life six times more considerable. Again, the story told by the number of killed and wounded, when carefully disentangled from a skein of irrelevant statistics, was in the highest degree interesting. Only 180,000 Frenchmen were engaged in active fighting; yet in the course of a month and a half they put 87,000 Germans out of the ranks mainly by rifle bullets-for the French guns were so defective that they inflicted scarcely any damage. The loss thus inflicted therefore amounted to 50 per cent. No wonder that in view of this alarming spectacle eminent military authorities should ask themselves whether, if future wars be waged at this cost of human life, the armies engaged can support them.
But the men who raised this question had no appreciable influence upon those who were called upon to give a practical answer to it. General and staff officers, their eyes riveted on ancient history, continued to contemplate the wars of the future in the light of the battles of the past, and the Russo-Turkish conflict found them ready to be astonished anew, but as impervious as ever to the teaching of facts. One incident connected with that war is deeply engraven on the tablets of my memory, and, as it is characteristic of the military spirit of all times and countries, I need offer no apology for narrating it. I was then president of the Kieff-Brest Railway Company, over whose line the great bulk of the Russian Army was conveyed to the scene of war. The Tsar, Alexander II., also used it to rejoin his troops. I was in charge of the imperial train.
One morning the train was suddenly brought to a standstill in order to give His Majesty an opportunity of shaving. The distinguished passengers alighted to get a whiff of fresh air, and found themselves in the centre of a rural district far from human habitations. Walking by the side of the rails, I entered into conversation with the Generals à la suite, and amongst other topics we discussed the prospects of the future war. The Generals foresaw its course, consummation and duration distinctly. "Well, and what are you going to do," one of them asked me, "after you have escorted us to our destination?" "I shall go off to Karlsbad and take the waters there," I answered. "You surely don't mean it! Why we shall be coming back to St. Petersburg too soon to permit of your going so far away. We shall return in two or three weeks from now." "What?" I exclaimed, "you already foresee the moment of your return?" "Certainly we do. You see our expedition will resolve itself into a mere military promenade." Less optimistic than the Generals, I repaired to Karlsbad without present hesitation or subsequent regret, for events showed me that I was not mistaken in my forecast.
I was not surprised that the campaign should have lasted a twelve-month. What was far more astonishing to me was the belief fondly cherished by specialists who had facts, figures and reasoning powers to guide them, that they would decide the issue by a simple military walk over. For the mobilised forces amounted to no more than one-third of what was absolutely indispensable. There were other unpleasant surprises in store for them, which forethought and freedom from bias would have enabled them to foresee and ward off. Thus they paid a terrible price for the needless repetition of the lesson taught by the 48,000 Germans of the Franco-Prussian Campaign, that entrenchments impart a power of resistance to the defence out of all seeming proportion to numbers. That lesson had not been lost on Osman Pasha. This general was no carefully-trained nursling of a great military academy, no scientific strategist; he was, in fact, a mere barbarian as compared to his opponents. But, on the other hand, he was a man with open eyes and unbiassed mind. He profited by the painful experience of the French troops in 1870, constructed an entrenched position around Plevna, and for four months held in check a Russian force four times more numerous than his own. The first onslaught against this common-sense soldier cost the attacking force 36 per cent. of the men engaged. That result should have sufficed to prove the point and render further trials superfluous. But it is easier to kill than to convince, and a second effort was made, which ended in 26 per cent. of the Russian assailants being cut down. And, as if that proved nothing in particular, a third time our soldiers were led to the attack, and left 20 per cent. of their number on the field. And the chiefs who thus ignored the advantages of entrenchments, had not a single spade or other trenching tool in the army. Bayonets had to take their place.
This appalling loss of life was not the result of miscalculation or of belief in a mistaken theory. It was the outcome of narrow prejudice, and of an irrational faith in worthless traditions. They had seen the value of entrenchments tested on the field of battle, under crucial conditions. Yet in this their own special sphere of activity, from which they so zealously exclude civilians, they gave-as they still give-proof of such blameworthy shortsightedness and naive faith in fetishes, that public confidence in the judgment of general staffs is utterly undermined.
If an object-lesson like that made such a very slight impression on military minds, technical inventions tested only at manœuvres produced still less. The invention of smokeless powder in 1886 and the adoption of the quick-firing rifles effected as great a revolution in contemporary warfare as the introduction of printing with movable type accomplished in the caligraphic and illuminating arts of the Middle Ages. But these innovations only excited curiosity, without arousing misgivings as to the ultimate consequences. These were not foreseen, not suspected, not deemed possible. Military men resemble, in this respect, the unpractised chess-player, who is satisfied only when his king is so situated that he cannot move out of check, whereas the professional perceives mate ten moves ahead; and thereupon frankly acknowledges defeat. Great is the conservatism of staff officers, and childlike the trust of rank and file in the thaumaturgic power of the past over the present and the future. Even when the experiments of inventors were repeated on the field of battle, and smokeless powder and quick-firing rifles were tested in the Civil War of Chili, the results were merely recorded and wondered at, but their bearing upon the wars of the future was practically unheeded. The troops of the Congress during that deplorable struggle were partly supplied with the new rifles and partly with the old ones, so that the conditions were uncommonly favourable and the results striking. The President's forces lost 82 out of every 100 men who stood opposite the quick-firing rifles, whereas the old weapons put only 34 per cent. out of the ranks. And it should be clearly borne in mind that the men-who handled these weapons with such fearful effect were not thoroughly-trained soldiers, but recruits, who had been but a fortnight with the colours.
Those phenomena spoke for themselves, and in every other profession analogous facts would have been sifted, studied, utilised. But governments could not afford to see, and were, therefore, blind; and when, here and there, some eminent military writer uttered a cry of warning, they were incurably deaf. For here and there an authority in military matters, listening to the dictates of reason and the demands of patriotism, proclaimed the dawn of a new era when war would be incompatible with the changed conditions of civilized society, useless as a means of ending disputes, and therefore obsolete by the natural force of things. Other and younger military men, going deeper still into the roots of the matter, dwelt with predilection on the master-fact of the new situation, that defence is become more formidable than ever before, and that it will be still further strengthened to such a degree that the attack cannot hope to strike a decisive blow or inflict a telling defeat. Under those conditions, they added, to invade a foreign territory would be to court a danger so formidable that before venturing to incur it governments would eagerly clutch at every other conceivable means of settling their disputes. And if war were finally resorted to, the battles would be long, bloody, indecisive; while a few writers boldly affirmed that a battle in the usual sense of the word would be wholly out of the question.
And those views were supported by arguments which have never been answered, and which seem destined to crop up one day in the form of dearly-bought object lessons like that of Plevna. The difficulties which must arise, for instance, in consequence of the lack of intelligent officers were pointed out and admitted without comment. Contemporary armies are so numerous, so unwieldy, that the wealthiest State cannot afford to maintain officers enough qualified to command them. Professor Coumès, who has given this subject his most careful attention, says: "In order to command the infantry on the field of battle, it is indispensable to possess so considerable a degree of skill that among 500 officers there are but one hundred capable of leading a company into fire." And if this be the sorry condition of subalterns, that of commanders, whose task is incomparably more arduous, leaves far more to be desired. A habit of taking the initiative, a capacity for adapting themselves, to new circumstances are essential conditions of fitness in those who would direct the operations of an army corps. Is it reasonable to look for them in contemporary commanders, whose inborn talents have been crushed out in the mill of army discipline? As well expect figs to grow upon thorn bushes. The highest qualities in an officer who aims at receiving a responsible post in the army are such as unfit him for assuming responsibility. He must learn to stifle his independence, to suspend his judgment, to display absolute dependence upon and blind trust in the judgment and resources of a superior officer whose mental and moral stamina he knows to be inferior to his own. And when he has successfully rooted out the only qualities which would have qualified him to command, he is appointed to the highest post of trust and responsibility. Is such a man born again when promoted to the rank of general? Is it to be assumed that the gifts which have been systematically uprooted will be mysteriously supplied by some divine grace dispensed by the god of battles? In vain do we ransack the history of human institutions for a parallel to this criminal contempt of the dictates of common sense. But the fact remains, and must be reckoned with, that out of 500 officers scarcely 100 are qualified to lead a company into fire, and out of ten generals, probably not more than one will be found resourceful enough to enable him to steer clear of the appalling risks to which the new order of things will expose him and his forces. Finally, it should not be forgotten, when forecasting the character of future wars, that only one-fifth of the officers of the regular army will actually march to the front, and that the remaining four-fifths must stay behind to form the cadres of the reserves.
Such was the case against war, as stated by specialists who have studied the subject on its own merits, and with a strong bias in favour of use and wont. It called for a thorough investigation and a readjustment of means to ends. But the facts adduced were wilfully ignored, and the consequences drawn from them deliberately and flatly denied by governments whose duty it was to safeguard their subjects at least from wanton destruction. All civilized States profess to consider war as an odious means of compassing a possible and desirable end. If the means become ineffective, its employment is a crime of the darkest hue. And when generals whose word admittedly carries weight come forward to proclaim to the world that war, which was ever horrible and hated, has now become inefficacious as well, the peoples who are destined to be led like sheep to the slaughter have the right and the duty to see that new methods be substituted for the old which have lost their raison d'être.
The indictment against war is all the more overwhelming that the witnesses who have come forward in support of it are themselves eminent members of the military profession. Each of them started from a different point of view, but they all converge towards the same point. General von Janson, impressed with the growing superiority of defence and casting about for means of neutralize it, is forced to the conclusion that "every attack will last at least two days, and the assailant can only hope to succeed if the defenders lose their heads," a consummation which cannot reasonably be hoped for, seeing that they will be under shelter and will have put barbed wire entanglements and a death-dealing hail of bullets between themselves and their enemies. General Schlichting, whose attention was absorbed mainly by the part which hastily-improvised entrenchments will play in future struggles, announces in plain terms that "the spade will change tactics in the coming war, and taking into consideration the present improved weapons, it will itself become an arm of immense importance. For the purpose of prolonging resistance, trenches constructed against the offensive operations will often render greater services than permanent fortifications."
The truth is that the old system of tactics has been swept clean away, while the men of use and wont are still clinging fondly to its memory. The well-known Prussian General, Müller, whose standard writings are highly appreciated in the land of militarism par excellence, makes short work of the complicated tactics heretofore followed. He says that in order to escape utter destruction "the men will have to march forward in scattered order, and, for the purpose of withdrawing themselves as much as possible from the sight of the enemy, must advance crawling or creeping along the broken ground like moles." At this rate, one may fitly ask, how long will a battle last, and how much will a soldier be able to endure? The French General Langloîs, replying to the first of these questions, says that a battle will take up five days, will be to all intents and purposes an artillery duel, and that each gun will need to have at least five hundred projectiles. Generals Rohne and Müller supply formulas which are calculated to make one shudder, and are based on the destructiveness of the quick-firing artillery weapons of to-day, which represent a force forty times greater, gun for gun, than in 1870. If, say these authorities, the armies of the Triple Alliance were to contend in the open against those of France and Russia, they could dispose of shells enough to kill or wound more than eleven million men. And these potentialities are independent of the murderous work which the rifles could accomplish. Is it surprising that, with these lethal machines and the effect of barbed wire entanglements before their eyes, some military writers have struck out the word battle from the vocabularies of the future, because a battle in the sense of a sharp contest ending in the victory of one side and the defeat of another is henceforth inconceivable?
General Liebert, a celebrated German authority on tactical questions, puts the matter in a nutshell as follows: "In former times men said: 'The battlefield is ours; the enemy is put to flight, let us cut him to pieces!' To-day the infantry which will have undergone for half a day the destructive fire of a contemporary army will be powerless to act, and in consequence of the enormous space occupied by the forces, the reserves that come up at the close of the combat will no longer be fresh." Other authorities forebode a return to the days of wearisome sieges, and hold that if States insist on going to war we shall have a repetition of the scenes of Belgrade, Mantua, Plevna, with accessories of a new and terror-striking character. The assailant, despairing of winning a decisive victory, will seek to shut up the defender in the position in which he finds him by throwing up entrenchments. He will then make a series of sallies, with a view to hinder all attempts at revictualling until the besieged are forced by famine to surrender. If there be truth in this picture, and it bears the names of some of the lights of military science, what duration are we not warranted in assigning, on purely technical grounds, to the wars of the future?
Even before the conditions of warfare had undergone all the changes that have been introduced since the invention of smokeless powder, Field-Marshal von Moltke put the following remarkable statement upon record in his Memoirs: "We admit that the Thirty Years' War or the Seven Years' War will never be rehearsed again. Yet when millions of men array themselves opposite each other, and engage in a desperate struggle for their national existence, it is difficult to assume that the question will be settled by a few victories."
Those are some of the authorised statements of eminent specialists. Looking at the matter from the point of view of tactics, they all agree in this, that warfare is no longer what it was, that if carried on in accordance with the old principles it would end in the slaughter of millions, whereas if waged on the only lines possible to-day, it will drag on for years, and never culminate in a decisive action. In other words, on technical grounds alone, war as a means of settling international disputes by might if not by right, is a thing of the past.
But even were it otherwise, were it possible on technical grounds to wage war as before, economic considerations put their absolute veto on it, and from this decision there is no appeal. This aspect of the question is one that seldom appeals forcibly to the military man, whose horizon is bounded by the drill ground and the battle-field; and while he has been busy, like Archimedes, with his theories and calculations, economic laws have forged an iron ring around him which no force can break. Even this finger of fate has been perceived by a few of the farsighted among officers, and its words of warning read aright. The German General von der Goltz writes: "The economic resources will dry up before the armed forces are exhausted; for operations in France must necessarily have a wearisome character. A war against Russia will need many campaigns before it culminates in any result whatever.... One may safely say that wars cannot end otherwise than in the utter annihilation of one, or the complete exhaustion of both belligerents."
What statesman, journalist or general will undertake to point to the commercial or territorial gain which would be cheap at that price?
Yet governments turned a deaf ear to those warnings, fostered political jealousies and national hate, and squandered milliards of hard-earned money in preparation for the war that had become impossible. Disaffection among the heavily-taxed peoples became rife, the stream of emigration continued to swell, and the ranks of socialism were recruited from the masses who, remaining at home, were forced to bear the crushing burden on their shoulders. It was at this juncture that His Majesty the Emperor of Russia threw the weight of his potent word into the scale of justice and humanity, and offered the world a golden opportunity to devise efficient and bloodless methods of solving disputes which war had become powerless to settle. The Hague Conference was summoned in order to stay the development of armaments, which, like some colossal vampire, were sucking the life-blood of peoples and undermining the fabric of civilisation. The circular letter says: "The financial charges, progressively increasing, strike a blow at public prosperity in its source. The intellectual and physical forces of the peoples, labour and capital are for the greater part tamed away from their natural application, and consumed unproductively.
"Hundreds of millions are spent in acquiring terrible engines of destruction which, accepted to-day as the supreme effort of science, are doomed to lose all their value in consequence of some new discovery. National culture, economic progress, and the production of wealth are paralysed or warped in their development; moreover, in the inverse ratio of their increase, the armaments of each Power tend less and less towards the end which the governments had in view.
"The economic crises, due to a large extent to the system of unlimited armaments, and to the perpetual danger that lurks in this accumulation of war materials, transform the armed peace of our days into a crushing burden which the people find it ever more difficult to support.
"It seems, therefore, clear that, if this state of things were to continue, it would fatally lead to the very catastrophe which it was meant to ward off, and the horrors of which strike the human mind with dismay."
The Tsar's appeal to the world has no parallel in history. It stands alone as a noble and Titanic effort to help the human race. The first circular issued by his Majesty defined the danger which threatened the civilised world with a degree of courage and precision which must be characterised as genius. The imperial message of peace was hailed with joy and gratitude by the thinking classes and the toiling masses. The dawn of a new era seemed breaking over the world. There was never before such a splendid opportunity of doing for peoples what has been accomplished for individuals, and binding them together as members of an organised and peace-abiding community. But vested interests were threatened and brilliant careers were in danger of being spoiled were the plan carried out. So a strong undercurrent of opposition set in against it. Before the Conference could meet at the Hague the main question was cleverly eliminated from the programme. The military delegates kept beating about the bush, instead of furthering the aims which the Congress was convoked to realise. They took up their position on the old-world platform, heedless of the course which events were taking. And before their futile discussions had wholly ceased the Transvaal War was declared, and a series of object-lessons were given which swept the last remnants of terra firma from under the feet of these dangerous enthusiasts.