Branches of the Art of War
WAR in its literal meaning is fighting, for fighting alone is the efficient principle in the manifold activity which, in a wide sense, is called war. But fighting is a trial of strength of the moral and physical forces by means of the latter. That the moral cannot be omitted is evident of itself, for the condition of the mind has always the most decisive influence on the forces employed in war.
The necessity of fighting very soon led men to special inventions to turn the advantage in it in their own favour; in consequence of that the mode of fighting has undergone great alterations; but in whatever way it is conducted its conception remains unaltered, and fighting is that which constitutes war.
The inventions have been from the first weapons and equipments for the individual combatants. These have to be provided, and the use of them learnt before the war begins. They are made suitable to the nature of the fighting, consequently are ruled by it; but plainly the activity engaged in these appliances is a different thing from the fight itself; it is only the preparation for the combat, not the conduct of the same. That arming and equipping are not essential to the conception of fighting is plain, because mere wrestling is also fighting.
Fighting has determined everything appertaining to arms and equipment, and these in turn modify the mode of fighting; there is, therefore, a reciprocity of action between the two.
Nevertheless, the fight itself remains still an entirely special activity, more particularly because it moves in an entirely special element, namely, in the element of danger.
If, then, there is anywhere a necessity for drawing a line between two different activities it is here; and in order to see clearly the importance of this idea, we need only just to call to mind how often eminent personal fitness in one field has turned out nothing but the most useless pedantry in the other.
It is also noways difficult to separate in idea the one activity from the other, if we look at the combatant forces fully armed and equipped as a given means the profitable use of which requires nothing more than a knowledge of their general results.
The art of war is, therefore, in its proper sense, the art of making use of the given means in fighting, and we cannot give it a better name than the “Conduct of War.” On the other hand, in a wider sense certainly, all activities which have their existence on account of war, therefore the whole creation of troops, that is levying them, arming, equipping, and exercising them, belong to the art of war.
To make a sound theory it is most essential to separate these two activities, for it is easy to see that if every art of war is to begin with the preparation of military forces, and to pre-suppose forces so organised as a primary condition for conducting war, that theory will only be applicable in the few cases to which the force available happens to be exactly suited. If, on the other hand, we wish to have a theory which shall suit most cases, and will not be wholly useless in any case, it must be founded on those means which are in most general use, and in respect to these only on the actual results springing from them.
The conduct of war is, therefore, the formation and conduct of the fighting. If this fighting was a single act, there would be no necessity for any further subdivision; but the fight is composed of a greater or less number of single acts, complete in themselves, which we call combats, as we have shown in the first chapter of the first book, and which form new units. From this arises the totally different activities, that of the formation and conduct of these single combats in themselves, and thecombination of them with one another, with a view to the ultimate object of the war. The first is called tactics, the otherstrategy.
This division into tactics and strategy is now in almost general use; and every one knows tolerably well under which head to place any single fact, without knowing very distinctly the grounds on which the classification is founded. But when such divisions are blindly adhered to in practice, they must have some deep root. We have searched for this root, and we might say that it is just the usage of the majority which has brought us to it. On the other hand, we look upon the arbitrary, unnatural definitions of these conceptions sought to be established by some writers, as not in accordance with the general usage of the terms.
According to our classification therefore, tactics is the theory of the use of military forces in combat. Strategy is the theory of the use of combats for the object of the war.
The way in which the conception of a single or independent combat is more closely determined, the conditions to which this unit is attached, we shall only be able to explain clearly when we consider the combat; we must content ourselves for the present with saying that in relation to space, therefore in combats taking place at the same time, the unit reaches just as far as personal command reaches; but in regard to time, and therefore in relation to combats which follow each other in close succession it reaches to the moment when the crisis, which takes place in every combat, is entirely passed.
That here doubtful cases may occur, cases, for instance, in which several combats may perhaps be regarded, also, as a single one, will not overthrow the ground of distinction we have adopted, for the same is the case with all grounds of distinction, of real things which are differentiated by a gradually diminishing scale. There may, therefore, certainly be acts of activity in war which, without any alteration in the point of view, may just as well be counted strategic as tactical, for example, very extended positions resembling a chain of posts, the preparations for the passage of a river at several points, &c.
Our classification reaches and covers only the use of the military force. But now there are in war a number of activities which are subservient to it, and still are quite different from it; sometimes closely allied, sometimes less near in their affinity. All these activities relate to the maintenance of the military force. The same as its creation and training precedes its use, so its maintenance is always by its side, a necessary condition. But strictly viewed, all activities thus connected with it are always to be regarded only as preparations for fighting, they are certainly nothing more than activities which are very close to the action; so that they run through the hostile act alternate in importance with the use of the forces. We have, therefore, a right to exclude them as well as the other preparatory activities from the art of war in its restricted sense, from the conduct of war properly so called; and we are obliged to do so if we would comply with the first principle of all theory, the elimination of all heterogeneous elements. Who would include in the real “conduct of war” the whole litany of subsistence administration, because it is admitted to stand in constant reciprocal action with the use of the troops, but is something essentially different from it?
We have said, in the third chapter of our first book, that as the fight or combat is the only directly effective activity, therefore the threads of all others, as they end in it, are included in it. By this we meant to say, that to all others an object was thereby appointed which, in accordance with the laws peculiar to themselves they must seek to attain. Here we must go a little closer into this subject.
The subjects which constitute the activities outside of the combat are of various kinds.
The one part belongs, in one respect, to the combat itself, is identical with it; whilst it serves in another respect for the maintenance of the military force. The other part belongs purely to the subsistence, and has only, in consequence of the reciprocal action, a limited influence on the combats by its results. The subjects which, in one respect, belong to the fighting itself, are marches, camps, and cantonments, for they suppose so many different situations of troops, and where troops are supposed, there the idea of the combat must always be present.
The other subjects, which only belong to the maintenance, are subsistence, care of the sick, the supply and repair of arms and equipment.
Marches are quite identical with the use of the troops. March in the combat, generally called evolution, is certainly not properly the use of weapons; but it is so completely and necessarily combined with it, that it forms an integral part of that which we call a combat. But the march outside the combat is nothing but the execution of a strategic measure. By the strategic plan is settled,When, where, and with what forces a battle is to be delivered?—and to carry that into execution the march is the only means.
The march outside of the combat is, therefore, an instrument of strategy, but not on that account exclusively a subject of strategy, for as the armed force which executes it constitutes a possible combat at any moment, therefore its execution stands also under tactical as well as strategic rules. If we prescribe to a column its route on a particular side of a river or of a branch of a mountain, then that is a strategic measure, for it contains the intention of fighting on that particular side of the hill or river in preference to the other, in case a combat should be necessary during the march.
But if a column, instead of following the road through a valley, marches along the parallel ridge of heights, or, for the convenience of marching, divides itself into several columns, then these are tactical arrangements, for they relate to the manner in which we shall use the troops in the anticipated combat.
The particular order of march is in constant relation with readiness for combat, is therefore tactical in its nature, for it is nothing more than the first or preliminary disposition for the battle which may possibly take place.
As the march is the instrument by which strategy apportions its active elements, the combats, but these last often only appear by their results and not in the details of their real course, it could not fail to happen that in theory the instrument has often been substituted for the efficient principle. Thus we hear of a decisive skilful march, allusion being thereby made to those combat-combinations to which these marches led. This substitution of ideas is too natural, and conciseness of expression too desirable to call for alteration; but still it is only a condensed chain of ideas in regard to which we must never omit to bear in mind the full meaning, if we would avoid falling into error.
We fall into an error of this description if we attribute to strategical combinations a force independent of tactical results. Marches and manœuvres are combined, the object attained, and at the same time not a word about combat from which the conclusion is drawn that there are means in war of conquering an enemy without fighting The prolific nature of this error we cannot show until hereafter.
But although a march can be regarded absolutely as an integral part of the combat, still there are in it certain relations which do not belong to the combat, and therefore are neither tactical nor strategic. To these belong all arrangements which concern only the accommodation of the troops, the construction of bridges, roads, &c. These are only conditions; under many circumstances they are in very close connection, and may almost identify themselves with the troops, as in building a bridge in presence of the enemy; but in themselves they are always extraneous activities, the theory of which does not form part of the theory of the conduct of war.
Camps, by which we mean every disposition of troops in concentrated, therefore, in battle order, in contradistinction to cantonments or quarters, are a state of rest, therefore, of restoration; but they are at the same time also the strategic appointment of a battle on the spot chosen; and by the manner in which they are taken up they contain the fundamental lines of the battle, a condition from which every defensive battle starts; they are, therefore, essential parts of both strategy and tactics.
Cantonments take the place of camps for the better refreshment of the troops. They are, therefore, like camps, strategic subjects as regards position and extent; tactical subjects as regards internal organisation, with a view to readiness to fight.
The occupation of camps and cantonments no doubt usually combines with the refreshment of the troops another object also, for example, the covering a district of country, the holding a position; but it can very well be only the first. We remind our readers that strategy may follow a great diversity of objects, for everything which appears an advantage may be the object of a combat, and the preservation of the instrument with which war is made must necessarily very often become the object of its partial combinations.
If, therefore, in such a case strategy ministers only to the maintenance of the troops, we are not on that account somewhat out of the field of strategy, we are still engaged with the use of the military force, because every disposition of that force upon any point whatever of the theatre of war is such a use.
But if the maintenance of the troops in camp or quarters calls forth activities, which are no employment of the armed force, such as the construction of huts, pitching of tents, subsistence and sanitary services in camps or quarters, then such belong neither to strategy nor tactics.
Even intrenchments, the site and preparation of which are plainly part of the order of battle, therefore tactical subjects, do not belong to the theory of the conduct of war so far as respects the execution of their construction, the knowledge and skill required for such work, being, in point of fact, qualities inherent in the nature of an organised army; the theory of the combat takes them for granted.
Amongst the subjects which belong to the mere keeping up of an armed force, because none of the parts are identified with the combat, the victualling of the troops themselves comes first, as it must be done almost daily and for each individual. Thus it is that it completely permeates military action in the parts constituting strategy—we say parts constituting strategy, because during a battle the subsistence of troops will rarely have any influence in modifying the plan, although the thing is conceivable enough. The care for the subsistence of the troops comes therefore into reciprocal action chiefly with strategy, and there is nothing more common than for the leading strategic features of a campaign and war to be traced out in connection with a view to this supply. But however frequent and however important these views to supply may be, the subsistence of the troops always remains a completely different activity from the use of the troops, and the former has only an influence on the latter by its results.
The other branches of administrative activity which we have mentioned stand much further apart from the use of the troops. The care of sick and wounded, highly important as it is, for the good of an army, directly affects it only in a small portion of the individuals composing it, and, therefore, has only a weak and indirect influence upon the use of the rest. The completing and replacing articles of arms and equipment, except so far as by the organism of the forces it constitutes a continuous activity inherent in them—takes place only periodically, and therefore seldom affects strategic plans
We must, however, here guard ourselves against a mistake. In certain cases these subjects may be really of decisive importance. The distance of hospitals and depôts of munitions may very easily be imagined as the sole cause of very important strategic decisions. We do not wish either to contest that point or to throw it into the shade. But we are at present occupied not with the particular facts of a concrete case, but with abstract theory; and our assertion, therefore, is that such an influence is too rare to give the theory of sanitary measures and the supply of munitions and arms an importance in the theory of the conduct of war such as to make it worth while to include in the theory of the conduct of war the consideration of the different ways and systems which the above theories may furnish, in the same way as is certainly necessary in regard to victualling troops.
If we have clearly understood the results of our reflections, then the activities belonging to war divide themselves into two principal classes, into such as are only “Preparations for War” and into the “War itself.” This division must therefore also be made in theory.
The knowledge and applications of skill in the preparations for war are engaged in the creation, discipline and maintenance of all the military forces; what general names should be given to them we do not enter into; but we see that artillery, fortification, elementary tactics, as they are called, the whole organisation and administration of the various armed forces, and all such things are included But the theory of war itself occupies itself with the use of these prepared means for the object of the war. It needs of the first only the results, that is, the knowledge of the principal properties of the means taken in hand for use. This we call “The Art of War” in a limited sense, or “Theory of the Conduct of War,” or “Theory of the Employment of Armed Forces,” all of them denoting for us the same thing.
The present theory will therefore treat the combat as the real contest, marches, camps, and cantonments as circumstances which are more or less identical with it. The subsistence of the troops will only come into consideration like other given circumstances in respect of its results, not as an activity belonging to the combat.
The Art of War thus viewed in its limited sense divides itself again into tactics and strategy. The former occupies itself with the form of the separate combat, the latter with its use. Both connect themselves with the circumstances of marches, camps, cantonments only through the combat, and these circumstances are tactical or strategic according as they relate to the form or to the signification of the battle.
No doubt there will be many readers who will consider superfluous this careful separation of two things lying so close together as tactics and strategy, because it has no direct effect on the conduct itself of war. We admit, certainly, that it would be pedantry to look for direct effects on the field of battle from a theoretical distinction.
But the first business of every theory is to clear up conceptions and ideas which have been jumbled together, and, we may say, entangled and confused; and only when a right understanding is established as to names and conceptions, can we hope to progress with clearness and facility, and be certain that author and reader will always see things from the same point of view. Tactics and strategy are two activities mutually permeating each other in time and space, at the same time essentially different activities, the inner laws and mutual relations of which cannot be intelligible at all to the mind until a clear conception of the nature of each activity is established.
He to whom all this is nothing must either repudiate all theoretical consideration, or his understanding has not as yet been pained by the confused and perplexing ideas resting on no fixed point of view, leading to no satisfactory result, sometimes dull, sometimes fantastic, sometimes floating in vague generalities, which we are often obliged to hear and read on the conduct of war, owing to the spirit of scientific investigation having hitherto been little directed to these subjects.
On the Theory of War
1.—The first conception of the “Art of War” was merely the preparation of the Armed Forces.
FORMERLY by the term “Art of War,” or “Science of War,” nothing was understood but the totality of those branches of knowledge and those appliances of skill occupied with material things. The pattern and preparation and the mode of using arms, the construction of fortifications and entrenchments, the organism of an army, and the mechanism of its movements, were the subjects of these branches of knowledge and skill above referred to, and the end and aim of them all was the establishment of an armed force fit for use in war. All this concerned merely things belonging to the material world and a one-sided activity only; and it was in fact nothing but an activity advancing by gradations from the lower occupations to a finer kind of mechanical art. The relation of all this to war itself was very much the same as the relation of the art of the sword cutler to the art of using the sword. The employment in the moment of danger and in a state of constant reciprocal action of the particular energies of mind and spirit in the direction proposed to them was not yet even mooted.
2.—True war first appears in the Art of Sieges.
In the art of sieges we first perceive a certain degree of guidance of the combat, something of the action of the intellectual faculties upon the material forces placed under their control, but generally only so far that it very soon embodied itself again in new material forms, such as approaches, trenches, counter approaches, batteries, etc., and every step which this action of the higher faculties took was marked by some such result; it was only the thread that was required on which to string these material inventions in order. As the intellect can hardly manifest itself in this kind of war, except in such things, so therefore nearly all that was necessary was done in that way.
3.—Then tactics tried to find its way in that direction.
Afterwards, tactics attempted to give to the mechanism of its joints the character of a general disposition, built upon the peculiar properties of the instrument, which character leads indeed to the battle-field, but instead of leading to the free activity of mind, leads to an army made like an automaton by its rigid formations and orders of battle, which, moveable only by the word of command, is intended to unwind its activities like a piece of clockwork.
4.—The real conduct of War only made its appearance incidentally and incognito.
The conduct of war properly so called, that is, a use of the prepared means adapted to the most special requirements, was not considered as any suitable subject for theory, but one which should be left to natural talents alone. By degrees, as war passed from the hand to hand encounters of the middle ages into a more regular and systematic form, stray reflections on this point also forced themselves into men’s minds, but they mostly appeared only incidentally in memoirs and narratives, and in a certain measure incognito.
5.—Reflections on Military Events brought about the want of a Theory.
As contemplation on war continually increased, and its history every day assumed more of a critical character, the urgent want appeared of the support of fixed maxims and rules, in order that in the controversies naturally arising about military events, the war of opinions might be brought to some one point. This whirl of opinions, which neither revolved on any central pivot, nor according to any appreciable laws, could not but be very distasteful to people’s minds.
6.—Endeavours to establish a positive Theory.
There arose, therefore, an endeavour to establish maxims, rules, and even systems for the conduct of war. By this the attainment of a positive object was proposed, without taking into view the endless difficulties which the conduct of war presents in that respect. The conduct of war, as we have shown, has no definite limits in almost any direction, while every system has the circumscribing nature of a synthesis, from which results an irreconcilable opposition between such a theory and practice.
7.—Limitation to Material Objects.
Writers on theory felt the difficulty of the subject soon enough, and thought themselves entitled to get rid of it by directing their maxims and systems only upon material things and a one-sided activity. Their aim was to reach results, as in the science for the preparation for war, entirely certain and positive, and therefore only to take into consideration that which could be made matter of calculation.
8.—Superiority of Numbers.
The superiority in numbers being a material condition, it was chosen from amongst all the factors required to produce victory, because it could be brought under mathematical laws through combinations of time and space. It was thought possible to leave out of sight all other circumstances, by supposing them to be equal on each side, and therefore to neutralise one another. This would have been very well if it had been done to gain a preliminary knowledge of this one factor, according to its relations; but to make it a rule for ever to consider superiority of numbers as the sole law: to see the whole secret of the art of war in the formula—in a certain time, at a certain point, to bring up superior masses—was a restriction overruled by the force of realities.
9.—Victualling of Troops.
By one theoretical school an attempt was made to systematize another material element also, by making the subsistence of troops, according to a previously established organism of the army, the supreme legislator in the higher conduct of war. In this way, certainly, they arrived at definite figures, but at figures which rested on a number of arbitrary calculations, and which, therefore, could not stand the test of practical application.
An ingenious author tried to concentrate in a single conception, that of a Base, a whole host of objects, amongst which sundry relations even with immaterial forces found their way in as well. The list comprised the subsistence of the troops, the keeping them complete in numbers and equipment, the security of communications with the home country, lastly, the security of retreat in case it became necessary, and, first of all, he proposed to substitute this conception of a base for all these things; then for the base itself to substitute its own length (extent); and, last of all, for that to substitute the angle formed by the army with this base: all this was done merely to obtain a pure geometrical result utterly useless. This last is, in fact, unavoidable, if we reflect that none of these substitutions could be made without violating truth and leaving out some of the things contained in the original conception. The idea of a base is a real necessity for strategy, and to have conceived it is meritorious; but to make such a use of it as we have depicted is completely inadmissible, and could not but lead to partial conclusions which have forced these theorists into a direction opposed to common sense, namely, to a belief in the decisive effect of the enveloping form of attack.
As a reaction against this false direction, another geometrical principle, that of the so-called interior lines, was then elevated to the throne. Although this principle rests on a sound foundation, on the truth that the combat is the only effectual means in war; still, it is just on account of its purely geometrical nature nothing but another case of one-sided theory which can never gain ascendancy in the real world.
12.—All these attempts are exceptionable.
All these attempts at theory are only in their analytical part to be considered as progress in the province of truth; but in their synthetical part, in their precepts and rules, as quite unserviceable.
They strive after determinate quantities, whilst in war all is undetermined, and the calculation has always to be made with purely varying quantities.
They point the attention only upon material forces, while the whole military action is penetrated throughout by intelligent forces and their effects.
They only pay regard to activity on one side, whilst war is a constant state of reciprocal action, the effects of which are mutual.
13.—As a rule they exclude genius.
All that was not attainable by such miserable philosophy, the offspring of partial views, lay outside the precincts of science—was the field of genius, which raises itself above rules.
Pity the warrior who is contented to crawl about in this beggardom of rules, which are too bad for genius, over which it can set itself superior, over which it can perchance make merry! What genius does must be just the best of all rules, and theory cannot do better than to show how and why it is so.
Pity the theory which sets itself in opposition to the mind! It cannot repair this contradiction by any humility, and the humbler it is so much the sooner will ridicule and contempt drive it out of real life.
14.—The difficulty of Theory as soon as moral quantities come into consideration.
Every theory becomes infinitely more difficult from the moment that it touches on the province of moral quantities. Architecture and painting know quite well what they are about as long as they have only to do with matter; there is no dispute about mechanical or optical construction. But as soon as the moral activities begin their work, as soon as moral impressions and feelings are produced, the whole set of rules dissolves into vague ideas.
The science of medicine is chiefly engaged with bodily phenomena only; its business is with the animal organism which, liable to perpetual change, is never exactly the same for two moments. This makes its office very difficult, and places the judgment of the physician above his science; but how much more difficult the case is if a moral effect is added, and how much higher we place the physician of the mind?
15.—The moral quantities must not be excluded in war.
But now the activity in war is never directed solely against matter, it is always at the same time directed against the intelligent force which gives life to this matter, and to separate the two from each other is impossible.
But the intelligent forces are only visible to the inner eye, and this is different in each person, and often different in the same person at different times.
As danger is the general element in which everything moves in war, it is also chiefly by courage, the feeling of one’s own power that the judgment is differently influenced. It is to a certain extent the crystalline lens through which all appearances pass before reaching the understanding.
And yet we cannot doubt that these things acquire a certain objective value simply through experience.
Every one knows the moral effect of a surprise, of an attack in flank or rear. Every one thinks less of the enemy’s courage as soon as he turns his back, and ventures much more in pursuit than when pursued. Every one judges of the enemy’s general by his reputed talents, by his age and experience, and shapes his course accordingly. Every one casts a scrutinising glance at the spirit and feeling of his own and the enemy’s troops. All these and similar effects in the province of the moral nature of man have established themselves by experience, are perpetually recurring, and, therefore, warrant our reckoning them as real quantities of their kind. And what could we do with any theory which should leave them out of consideration?
But, certainly, experience is an indispensable title for these truths. With psychological and philosophical sophistries, no theory, no General should meddle.
16.—Principal difficulty of a Theory for the Conduct of War.
In order to comprehend clearly the difficulty of the proposition which is contained in a theory for the conduct of war, and thence to deduce the necessary characteristics of such a theory, we must take a closer view of the chief particulars which make up the nature of activity in war.
17.—First Speciality.—Moral Forces and their Effects.
The first of these specialities consists in the moral forces and effects.
The combat is, in its origin, the expression of hostile feeling; but in our great combats, which we call wars, the hostile feeling frequently resolves itself into merely a hostile view; and there is usually no innate hostile feeling residing in individual against individual. Nevertheless, the combat never passes off without such feelings being brought into activity. National hatred, which is seldom wanting in our wars, is a substitute for personal hostility in the breast of individual opposed to individual. But where this also is wanting, and at first no animosity of feeling subsisted, a hostile feeling is kindled by the combat itself; for an act of violence which any one commits upon us by order of his superior, will excite in us a desire to retaliate and be revenged on him, sooner than on the superior power at whose command the act was done. This is human, or animal if we will; still it is so.—We are very apt to regard the combat in theory as an abstract trial of strength, without any participation on the part of the feelings, and that is one of the thousand errors which theorists deliberately commit, because they do not see its consequences.
Besides that excitation of feelings naturally arising from the combat itself, there are others also which do not essentially belong to it, but which, on account of their relationship, easily unite with it—ambition, love of power, enthusiasm of every kind, &c., &c.
18.—The impressions of danger.
Finally the combat begets the element of danger, in which all the activities of war must live and move, like the bird in the air, or the fish in the water. But the influences of danger all pass into the feelings, either directly—that is, instinctively—or through the medium of the understanding. The effect in the first case would be a desire to escape from the danger, and, if that cannot be done, fright and anxiety. If this effect does not take place, then it is courage, which is a counterpoise to that instinct. Courage is, however, by no means an act of the understanding, but likewise a feeling, like fear; the latter looks to the physical preservation, courage to the moral preservation. Courage, then, is a nobler instinct. But because it is so, it will not allow itself to be used as a lifeless instrument, which produces its effects exactly according to prescribed measure. Courage, is, therefore, no mere counterpoise to danger in order to neutralise the latter in its effects, but a peculiar power in itself.
19.—Extent of the influence of danger.
But to estimate exactly the influence of danger upon the principal actors in war, we must not limit its sphere to the physical danger of the moment. It dominates over the actor, not only by threatening him, but also by threatening all entrusted to him, not only at the moment in which it is actually present, but also through the imagination at all other moments, which have a connection with the present; lastly, not only directly by itself, but also indirectly, by the responsibility which makes it bear with tenfold weight on the mind of the chief actor. Who could advise, or resolve upon a great battle, without feeling his mind more or less wrought up or perplexed by the danger and responsibility which such a great act of decision carries in itself! We may say that action in war, in so far as it is real action, not a mere condition, is never out of the sphere of danger.
20.—Other powers of feeling.
If we look upon these affections, which are excited by hostility and danger as peculiarly belonging to war, we do not, therefore, exclude from it all others accompanying man in his life’s journey. They will also find room here frequently enough. Certainly, we may say that many a petty action of the passions is silenced in this serious business of life; but that holds good only in respect to those acting in a lower sphere; who, hurried on from one state of danger and exertion to another, lose sight of the rest of the things of life, become unused to deceit, because it is of no avail with death; and so attain to that soldierly simplicity of character which has always been the best representative of the military profession. In higher regions it is otherwise; for the higher a man’s rank, the more he must look around him: then arise interests on every side, and a manifold activity of the passions of good and bad. Envy and generosity, pride and humility, fierceness and tenderness, all may appear as active powers in this great drama.
21.—Peculiarity of mind.
The peculiar characteristics of mind in the chief actor have, as well as those of the feelings, a high importance. From an imaginative, flighty, inexperienced head, and from a calm, sagacious understanding, different things are to be expected.
22.—From the diversity in mental individualities,
arises the diversity of ways leading to the aim.
It is this great diversity in mental individuality, the influence of which is to be supposed as chiefly felt in the higher ranks, because it increases upwards, which chiefly produces the diversity of ways leading to the end, noticed by us in the first book, and which gives over to the play of probabilities and chance, such an unequal share in events.
23.—Second peculiarity, living reaction.
The second peculiarity in war is the living reaction, and the reciprocal action resulting therefrom. We do not here speak of the difficulty of estimating that reaction, for that is included in the difficulty before-mentioned, of treating the moral powers as quantities; but of this, that reciprocal action, by its nature, opposes anything like a regular plan. The effect which any measure produces upon the enemy is the most distinct of all the data which action affords; but every theory must keep to classes (or groups) of phenomena, and can never take up the really individual case in itself: that must everywhere be left to judgment and talent. It is, therefore, natural that in a business such as war, which in its plan—built upon general circumstances—is so often thwarted by unexpected and singular accidents, more must generally be left to talent; and less use can be made of a theoreticalguide than in any other.
24.—Third peculiarity—uncertainty of all data.
Lastly, the great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not unfrequently—like the effect of a fog or moonshine—gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural appearance.
What this feeble light leaves indistinct to the sight, talent must discover, or must be left to chance. It is therefore again talent, or the favour of fortune, on which reliance must be placed, for want of objective knowledge.
25.—Positive theory is impossible.
With materials of this kind we can only say to ourselves, that it is a sheer impossibility to construct for the art of war a theory which, like a scaffolding, shall ensure to the chief actor an external support on all sides. In all those cases in which he is thrown upon his talent he would find himself away from this scaffolding of theory, and in opposition to it, and, however many-sided it might be framed, the same result would ensue of which we spoke when we said that talent and genius act beyond the law, and theory is in opposition to reality.
26.—Means left by which a theory is possible.
(The difficulties are not everywhere equally great).
Two means present themselves of getting out of this difficulty. In the first place, what we have said of the nature of military action in general, does not apply in the same manner to the action of every one, whatever may be his standing. In the lower ranks the spirit of self-sacrifice is called more into request, but the difficulties which the understanding and judgment meet with are infinitely less. The field of occurrences is more confined. Ends and means are fewer in number. Data more distinct; mostly also contained in the actually visible. But the higher we ascend the more the difficulties increase; until, in the commander-in-chief, they reach their climax: so that with him almost everything must be left to genius.
Further, according to a division of the subject in agreement with its nature, the difficulties are not everywhere the same, but diminish the more results manifest themselves in the material world; and increase the more they pass into the moral, and become motives which influence the will. Therefore it is easier to determine, by theoretical rules, the order and conduct of a battle, than the use to be made of the battle itself. Yonder physical weapons clash with each other, and although mind is not wanting therein, matter must have its rights. But in the effects to be produced by battles when the material results become motives, we have only to do with the moral nature. In a word, it is easier to make a theory for tactics than for strategy.
27.—Theory must be of the nature of observation, not of doctrine.
The second opening for the possibility of a theory lies in the point of view that it does not necessarily require to be a directionfor action. As a general rule, whenever an activity is for the most part occupied with the same objects over and over again, with the same ends and means, although there may be trifling alterations, and a corresponding number of varieties of combination, such things are capable of becoming a subject of study for the reasoning faculties. But such study is just the most essential part of every theory, and has a peculiar title to that name. It is an analytical investigation of the subject that leads to an exact knowledge; and if brought to bear on the results of experience, which in our case would be military history, to a thorough familiarity with it. The nearer theory attains the latter object so much the more it passes over from the objective form of knowledge into the subjective one of skill in action; and so much the more, therefore, it will prove itself effective when circumstances allow of no other decision but that of personal talents; it will show its effects in that talent itself. If theory investigates the subjects which constitute war; if it separates more distinctly that which at first sight seems amalgamated; if it explains fully the properties of the means; if it shows their probable effects; if it makes evident the nature of objects; if it brings to bear all over the field of war the light of essentially critical investigation,—then it has fulfilled the chief duties of its province. It becomes, then, a guide to him who wishes to make himself acquainted with war from books; it lights up the whole road for him, facilitates his progress, educates his judgment, and shields him from error.
If a man of expertness spends half his life in the endeavour to clear up an obscure subject thoroughly, he will probably know more about it than a person who seeks to master it in a short time. Theory is instituted that each person in succession may not have to go through the same labour of clearing the ground and toiling through it, but may find the thing in order, and light admitted on it. It should educate the mind of the future leader in war, or rather guide him in his self-instruction, but not accompany him to the field of battle: just as a sensible tutor forms and enlightens the opening mind of a youth without, therefore, keeping him in leading strings all through his life.
If maxims and rules result of themselves from the considerations which theory institutes, if the truth concretes itself in that form of crystal, then theory will not oppose this natural law of the mind; it will rather, if the arch ends in such a keystone, bring it prominently out; but it does this only in order to satisfy the philosophical law of reason, in order to show distinctly the point to which the lines all converge, not in order to form out of it an algebraical formula for the battle-field: for even these maxims and rules also are more to determine in the reflecting mind the leading outline of its habitual movements, than to serve as landmarks indicating to it the way in the act of execution.
28.—By this point of view Theory becomes possible, and
ceases to be in contradiction to practice.
Taking this point of view, there is a possibility afforded of a satisfactory, that is, of a useful theory of the conduct of war, never coming into opposition with the reality, and it will only depend on national treatment to bring it so far into harmony with action, that between theory and practice there shall no longer be that absurd difference which an unreasonable theory, in defiance of common sense, has often produced, but which, just as often, narrow-mindedness and ignorance have used as a pretext for giving way to their natural incapacity.
29.—Theory, therefore, considers the nature of ends and
means—Ends and means in Tactics.
Theory has, therefore, to consider the nature of the means and ends.
In tactics the means are the disciplined armed forces which are to carry on the contest. The object is victory. The precise definition of this conception can be better explained hereafter in the consideration of the combat. Here we content ourselves by denoting the retirement of the enemy from the field of battle as the sign of victory. By means of this victory strategy gains the object for which it appointed the combat, and which constitutes its special signification. This signification has certainly some influence on the nature of the victory. A victory which is intended to weaken the enemy’s armed forces is a different thing to one which is designed only to put us in possession of a position. The signification of a combat may therefore, have a sensible influence on the preparation and conduct of it, consequently will be also a subject of consideration in tactics.
30.—Circumstances which always attend the application of the Means.
As there are certain circumstances which attend the combat throughout, and have more or less influence upon its result, therefore these must be taken into consideration in the application of the armed forces.
These circumstances are the locality of the combat (ground), the time of day, and the weather.
The locality, which we prefer leaving for solution, under the head of ‘Country and Ground,’ might, strictly speaking, be without any influence at all if the combat took place on a completely level and uncultivated plain.
In a country of steppes such a case may occur, but in the cultivated countries of Europe it is almost an imaginary idea. Therefore, a combat between civilised nations, in which country and ground have no influence, is hardly conceivable.
32.—Time of Day.
The time of day influences the combat by the difference between day and night; but the influence naturally extends further than just to the limits of these divisions, as every combat has a certain duration, and great battles last for several hours. In the preparations for a great battle, it makes an essential difference whether it begins in the morning or the evening. At the same time certainly many battles may be fought, in which the question of the time of day is quite immaterial, and in the generality of cases its influence is only trifling.
Still more rarely has the weather any decisive influence, and it is mostly only by fogs that it plays a part.
34.—End and Means in Strategy.
Strategy has in the first instance only the victory, that is, the tactical result, as a means to its object, and, ultimately, those things which lead directly to peace. The application of its means to this object is at the same time attended by circumstances which have an influence thereon more or less.
35.—Circumstances which attend the application of the Means of Strategy.
These circumstances are country and ground; the former including the territory and inhabitants of the whole theatre of war; next the time of the day and the time of the year as well; lastly, the weather, particularly any unusual state of the same, severe frost, &c.
36.—These form new Means.
By bringing these things into combination with the results of a combat, strategy gives this result, and, therefore, the combat—a special signification, places before it a particular object. But when this object is not that which leads directly to peace, therefore a subordinate one, it is only to be looked upon as a means; and, therefore, in strategy we may look upon the results of combats or victories, in all their different significations, as means. The conquest of a position is such a result of a combat applied to ground. But not only are the different combats with special objects to be considered as means, but also every higher aim which we may have in view in the combination of battles directed on a common object, is to be regarded as a means. A winter campaign is a combination of this kind applied to the season.
There remain, therefore, as objects, only those things which may be supposed as leading directly to peace. Theory investigates all these ends and means according to the nature of their effects and their mutual relations.
37.—Strategy deduces only from experience the Ends and Means to be examined.
The first question is, How does strategy arrive at a complete list of these things? If there is to be a philosophical inquiry leading to an absolute result, it would become entangled in all those difficulties which the logical necessity of the conduct of war and its theory exclude. It, therefore, turns to experience, and directs its attention on those combinations which military history can furnish. In this manner, no doubt, nothing more than a limited theory can be obtained, which only suits circumstances such as are presented in history. But this incompleteness is unavoidable; because in any case theory must either have deduced from, or have compared with, history, what it advances with respect to things. Besides this incompleteness in every case is more theoretical than real.
One great advantage of this method is that theory cannot lose itself in abstruse disquisitions, subtleties, and chimeras, but must always remain practical.
38.—How far the analysis of the means should be carried.
Another question is, How far theory should go in its analysis of the means? Evidently only so far as the elements in a separate form present themselves for consideration in practice. The range and effect of different weapons is very important to tactics; their construction, although these effects result from it, is a matter of indifference; for the conduct of war is not making powder and cannon out of a given quantity of charcoal, sulphur, and saltpetre, of copper and tin: the given quantities for the conduct of war are arms in a finished state and their effects. Strategy makes use of plans without troubling itself about triangulations; it does not enquire how the country is subdivided into departments and provinces, and how the people are educated and governed in order to attain the best military results; but it takes things as it finds them in the community of European states, and observes where very different conditions have a notable influence on war.
39.—Great simplification of the knowledge required.
That in this manner the number of subjects for theory is much simplified, and the knowledge requisite for the conduct of war much reduced, is easy to perceive. The very great mass of knowledge and appliances of skill which minister to the action of war in general, and which are necessary before an army fully equipped can take the field, unite in a few great results before they are able to reach, in actual war, the final goal of their activity; just as the streams of a country unite themselves in rivers before they fall into the sea. Only those activities emptying themselves directly into the sea of war, have to be studied by him who is to conduct its operations.
40.—This explains the rapid growth of great generals, and why a general is not a man of learning.
This result of our considerations is in fact so necessary, that any other would have made us distrustful of their accuracy. Only thus is explained how so often men have made their appearance with great success in war, and indeed in the higher ranks, even in supreme command, whose pursuits had been previously of a totally different nature; indeed how, as a rule, the most distinguished generals have never risen from the very learned, or really erudite class of officers, but have been mostly men who, from the circumstances of their position, could not have attained to any great amount of knowledge. On that account those who have considered it necessary, or even beneficial to commence the education of a future general by instruction in all details, have always been ridiculed as absurd pedants. It would be easy to show the injurious tendency of such a course, because the human mind is trained by the knowledge imparted to it, and the direction given to its ideas. Only what is great can make it great; the little can only make it little, if the mind itself does not reject it as something repugnant.
Because this simplicity of knowledge requisite in war was not attended to, but that knowledge was always jumbled up with the whole impedimenta of subordinate sciences and arts; therefore the palpable opposition to the events of real life which resulted, could not be solved otherwise than by ascribing it all to genius, which requires no theory, and for which no theory could be prescribed.
42.—On this account all use of knowledge was denied,
and everything ascribed to natural talents.
People with whom common sense had the upper hand, felt sensible of the immense distance remaining to be filled up between a genius of the highest order and a learned pedant; and they became freethinkers in a manner, rejected all belief in theory, and affirmed the conduct of war to be a natural function of man, which he performs more or less well according as he has brought with him into the world more or less talent in that direction. It cannot be denied that these were nearer to the truth than those who placed a value on false knowledge: at the same time it may be soon seen that such a view is nothing but an exaggeration. No activity of the human understanding is possible without a certain stock of ideas; but these are, for the greater part at least, not innate but acquired, and constitute his knowledge. The only question therefore is, of what kind should these ideas be; and we think we have answered it if we say that they should be directed on those things which man has directly to deal with in war.
43.—The knowledge must be made suitable to the position.
Inside this field itself of military activity, the knowledge required must be different according to the station of the Commander. It will be directed on smaller and more circumscribed objects if he holds an inferior, upon greater and more comprehensive ones if he holds a higher situation. There are Field Marshals who at the head of a cavalry regiment would not have shone, and vice versa.
44.—The Knowledge in war is very simple, but not, at the same time, very easy.
But although the knowledge in war is simple, that is to say directed to so few subjects, and taking up those only in their final results, the art of execution is not, at the same time, easy on that account. Of the difficulties to which activity in war is subject generally, we have already spoken in the first book; we here omit those things which can only be overcome by courage, and maintain that also the activity of mind properly called is only simple and easy in inferior stations, but increases in difficulty with increase of rank, and in the highest position, in that of Commander-in-chief, is to be reckoned among the most difficult which there is for the human mind.
45.—Of the nature of this knowledge.
The Commander of an army neither requires to be a learned explorer of history nor a publicist, but he must be well versed in the higher affairs of State; he must know and be able to judge correctly of traditional tendencies, interests at stake, the immediate questions at issue, and the characters of leading persons; he need not be a close observer of men, a sharp dissector of human character, but he must know the character, the feelings, the habits, the peculiar faults and inclinations of those whom he is to command. He need not understand anything about the make of a carriage, or the harness of a Battery horse, but he must know how to calculate exactly the march of a column, under different circumstances, according to the time it requires. These are things the knowledge of which cannot be forced out by an apparatus of scientific formula and machinery: they are only to be gained by the exercise of an accurate judgment in the observation of things and of men, aided by a special talent for the apprehension of both.
The necessary knowledge for a high position in military action is therefore distinguished by this, that, by observation, therefore by study and reflection, it is only to be attained, through a special talent, which as an intellectual instinct understands how to extract from the phenomena of life only the essence or spirit, as bees do the honey from the flowers; and that it is also to be gained by experience of life as well as by study and reflection. Life will never bring forth a Newton or an Euler by its rich teachings, but it may bring forth great calculators in war, such as Condé or Frederick.
It is, therefore, not necessary that, in order to vindicate the intellectual dignity of military activity, we should resort to untruth and silly pedantry. There never has been a great and distinguished commander of a contracted mind; but very numerous are the instances of men who, after serving with the greatest distinction in inferior positions, remained below mediocrity in the highest, from insufficiency of intellectual capacity. That even amongst those holding the post of Commanders-in-Chief there may be a difference according to the degree of their plenitude of power is a matter of course.
46.—Science must become Art.
Now we have yet to consider one condition which is more necessary for the knowledge of the conduct of war than for any other, which is, that it must pass completely into the mind and almost completely cease to be something objective. In almost all other arts and occupations of life the active agent can make use of truths which he has only learnt once, and in the spirit and sense of which he no longer lives, and which he extracts from dusty books. Even truths which he has in hand and uses daily may continue something external to himself. If the architect takes up a pen to settle the strength of a pier by a complicated calculation, the truth found as a result is no emanation from his own mind. He had first to find the data with labour, and then to submit these to an operation of the mind, the rule for which he did not discover, the necessity of which he is perhaps at the moment only partly conscious of, but which he applies, for the most part, as if by mechanical dexterity. But it is never so in war. The moral reaction, the ever-changeful form of things, makes it necessary for the chief actor to carry in himself the whole mental apparatus of his knowledge, that anywhere and at every pulse-beat he may be capable of giving the requisite decision from himself. Knowledge must, by this complete assimilation with his own mind and life, be converted into real power. This is the reason why everything seems so easy with men distinguished in war, and why everything is ascribed to natural talent. We say natural talent, in order thereby to distinguish it from that which is formed and matured by observation and study.
We think that by these reflections we have explained the problem of a theory of the conduct of war, and pointed out the way to its solution.
Of the two fields into which we have divided the conduct of war, tactics and strategy, the theory of the latter contains unquestionably, as before observed, the greatest difficulties, because the first is almost limited to a circumscribed field of objects, but the latter in the direction of objects leading directly to peace, opens to itself an unlimited field of possibilities. But as for the most part the Commander-in-Chief only has to keep these objects steadily in view, so therefore, the part of strategy in which he moves is also that which is particularly subject to this difficulty.
Theory, therefore, especially where it comprehends the highest services, will stop much sooner in strategy than in tactics at the simple consideration of things, and content itself to assist the Commander to that insight into things which, blended with his whole thought, makes his course easier and surer, never forces him into opposition with himself in order to obey an objective truth.
Art or Science of War
1.—Usage still unsettled.
(Power and Knowledge. Science when mere knowing; Art, when doing is the object.)
THE choice between these terms seems to be still undecided, and no one seems to know rightly on what grounds it should be decided, and yet the thing is simple. We have already said elsewhere that knowing is something different from doing. The two are so different that they should not easily be mistaken the one for the other. The doing cannot properly stand in any book, and therefore, also, Art should never be the title of a book. But because we have once accustomed ourselves to combine in conception, under the name of theory of Art, or simply Art, the branches of knowledge (which may be separately pure sciences), necessary for the practice of an art: therefore, it is consistent to continue this ground of distinction, and to call everything Art when the object is to carry out the doing (being able), as for example, Art of building; Science, when merely knowledge is the object; as Science of Mathematics, of Astronomy. That in every art certain complete sciences may be included is intelligible of itself, and should not perplex us. But still it is worth observing that there is also no science without a mixture of art. In mathematics, for instance, the use of figures and of algebra is an art, but that is only one amongst many instances. The reason is, that however plain and palpable the difference is between knowledge and power in the composite results of human knowledge, yet it is difficult to track out their line of separation in man himself.
2.—Difficulty of separating perception from judgment.
(Art of War).
All thinking is indeed art. Where the logician draws the line, where the premises stop which are the result of cognition—where judgment begins, there art begins. But more than this: even the perception of the mind is judgment again, and consequently art; and at last, even the perception by the senses as well. In a word, if it is impossible to imagine a human being possessing merely the faculty of cognition, devoid of judgment or the reverse, so also art and science can never be completely separated from each other. The more these subtle elements of light embody themselves in the outward forms of the world, so much the more separate appear their domains; and now once more, where the object is creation and production, there is the province of art; where the object is investigation and knowledge science holds sway.—After all this it results of itself, that it is more fitting to say art of war than science of war.
So much for this, because we cannot do without these conceptions. But now we come forward with the assertion, that war is neither an art nor a science in the real signification, and that it is just the setting out from that starting-point of ideas which has led to a wrong direction being taken, which has caused war to be put on a par with other arts and sciences, and has led to a number of erroneous analogies.
This has indeed been felt before now, and on that account it was maintained that war is a handicraft; but there was more lost than gained by that, for a handicraft is only an inferior art, and as such is also subject to definite and rigid laws. In reality the art of war did go on for some time in the spirit of a handicraft; we allude to the times of the Condottieri; but then it had that direction, not from intrinsic but from external causes; and military history shows how little it was at that time in accordance with the nature of the thing, or satisfactory.
3.—War is part of the intercourse of the human race.
We say therefore, war belongs not to the province of arts and sciences, but to the province of social life. It is a conflict of great interests which is settled by bloodshed, and only in that is it different from others. It would be better, instead of comparing it with any art, to liken it to trade, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still more like State policy, which again, on its part, may be looked upon as a kind of trade on a great scale. Besides, State policy is the womb in which war is developed, in which its outlines lie hidden in a rudimentary state, like the qualities of living creatures in their germs.
The essential difference consists in this, that war is no activity of the will, which exerts itself upon inanimate matter like the mechanical arts; or upon a living, but still passive and yielding subject, like the human mind and the human feelings in the ideal arts; but against a living and re-acting force. How little the categories of arts and sciences are applicable to such an activity strikes us at once; and we can understand, at the same time, how that constant seeking and striving after laws like those which may be developed out of the dead, material world, could not but lead to constant errors. And yet it is just the mechanical arts that some people would imitate in the art of war. The imitation of the ideal arts was quite out of the question, because these themselves dispense too much with laws and rules, and those hitherto tried always acknowledged as insufficient and one-sided, are perpetually undermined and washed away by the current of opinions, feelings, and customs.
Whether such a conflict of the living, as takes place and is settled in war rests, subject to general laws, and whether these are capable of indicating a useful line of action, will be partly investigated in this book; but so much is evident in itself, that this, like every other subject which does not surpass our powers of understanding, may be lighted up, and be made more or less plain in its inner relations by an enquiring mind, and that alone is sufficient to realise the idea of a theory.
IN order to explain ourselves clearly as to the conception of method and method of action which play such an important part in war, we must be allowed to cast a hasty glance at the logical hierarchy, through which, as through regularly constituted official functionaries, the world of action is governed.
Law, in the widest sense strictly applying to perception as well as action, has plainly something subjective and arbitrary in its literal meaning, and still expresses just that on which we and those things external to us are dependent. As a subject of cognition, Law is the relation of things and their effects to one another; as a subject of the will it is a motive of action, and is then equivalent to command or prohibition.
Principle is likewise such a law for action, except that it has not the formal definite meaning, but is only the spirit and sense of law in order to leave the judgment more freedom of application when the diversity of the real world cannot be laid hold of under the definite form of a Law. As the judgment must of itself suggest the cases in which the principle is not applicable, the latter therefore becomes in that way a real aid or guiding star for the person acting.
Principle is objective when it is the result of objective truth, and consequently of equal value for all men; it is subjective, and then generally called Maxim if there are subjective relations in it, and if it therefore has a certain value only for the person himself who makes it.
Rule is frequently taken in the sense of Law, and then means the same as Principle, for we say “no Rule without exceptions,” but we do not say “no Law without exceptions,” a sign that with Rule we retain to ourselves more freedom of application.
In another meaning Rule is the means used of discerning a recondite truth in a particular sign lying close at hand, in order to attach to this particular sign the law of action directed upon the whole truth. Of this kind are all the rules of games of play, all abridged processes in mathematics, &c.
Directions and instructions are determinations of action which have an influence upon a number of minor circumstances too numerous and unimportant for general laws.
Lastly, Method, mode of acting, is an always recurring proceeding selected out of several possible ones; and Methodicism(Methodismus) is that which is determined by Methods instead of by general principles or particular prescriptions. By this the cases which are placed under such methods must necessarily be supposed alike in their essential parts. As they cannot all be this, then the point is that at least as many as possible should be; in other words that Method should be calculated on the most probable cases. Methodicism is therefore not founded on determined particular premises, but on the average probability of cases one with another; and its ultimate tendency is to set up an average truth, the constant and uniform application of which soon acquires something of the nature of a mechanical appliance, which in the end does that which is right almost unwittingly.
The conception of Law in relation to perception, is not necessary for the conduct of war, because the complex phenomena of war are not so regular and the regular are not so complex that we should gain anything more by this conception than by the simple truth. And where a simple conception and language is sufficient, to resort to the complex becomes affected and pedantic. The conception of law in relation to action cannot be used in the theory of the conduct of war, because owing to the variableness and diversity of the phenomena there is in it no determination of such a general nature as to deserve the name of law.
But principles, rules, prescriptions, and methods are conceptions indispensable to a theory of the conduct of war, in so far as that theory leads to positive doctrines; because in doctrines the truth can only crystallise itself in such forms.
As tactics is the branch of the conduct of war in which theory can attain the nearest to positive doctrine, therefore in it these conceptions will appear most frequently.
Not to use cavalry against unbroken infantry except in some case of special emergency; only to use firearms within effective range in the combat; to spare the forces as much as possible for the final struggle, these are tactical principles. None of them can be applied absolutely in every case, but they must always be present to the mind of the chief, in order that the benefit of the truth contained in them may not be lost in cases where that truth can be of advantage.
If from the unusual cooking by an enemy’s corps his movement is inferred, if the intentional exposure of troops in a combat indicates a false attack, then this way of discerning the truth is called rule, because from a single visible circumstance that conclusion is drawn which corresponds with the same.
If it is a rule to attack the enemy with renewed vigour, as soon as he begins to limber up his artillery in the combat, then on this particular fact depends a course of action which is aimed at the general situation of the enemy as inferred from the above fact, namely, that he is about to give up the fight, that he is commencing to draw off his troops, and is neither capable of making a serious stand while thus drawing off, nor of making his retreat gradually in good order.
Regulations and methods bring preparatory theories into the conduct of war, in so far that disciplined troops are inoculated with them as active principles. The whole body of instructions, for formations, exercise, and field service, are regulations and methods; in the exercise instructions the first predominate, in the field service instructions the latter. To these things the real conduct of war attaches itself; it takes them over, therefore, as given modes of proceeding, and as such they must appear in the theory of the conduct of war.
But for those activities retaining freedom in the employment of these forces, there cannot be regulations, that is, definite instructions, because they would do away with freedom of action. Methods, on the other hand, as a general way of executing duties as they arise, calculated, as we have said, on an average of probability, or as a dominating influence of principles and rules carried through to application, may certainly appear in the theory of the conduct of war, provided only they are not represented as something different to what they are, not represented as the absolute and necessary modes of action (systems), but as the best of general forms which may be used as shorter ways in place of a particular disposition for the occasion at discretion.
But the frequent application of methods will be seen to be most essential and unavoidable in the conduct of war, if we reflect how much action proceeds on mere conjecture, or in complete uncertainty, because one side is prevented from learning all the circumstances which influence the dispositions of the other, or because, even if these circumstances which influence the decisions of the one were really known, there is not, owing to their extent and the dispositions they would entail, sufficient time for the other to carry out all necessary counteracting measures—that therefore measures in war must always be calculated on a certain number of possibilities. If we reflect how numberless are the trifling things belonging to any single event, and which therefore should be taken into account along with it, and that therefore there is no other means but to suppose the one counteracted by the other, and to base our arrangements only upon what is of a general nature and probable; if we reflect lastly that, owing to the increasing number of officers as we descend the scale of rank, less must be left to the true discernment and ripe judgment of individuals the lower the sphere of action; and that when we reach those ranks where we can look for no other notions but those which the regulations of the service and experience afford, we must help them with the methodic forms bordering on those regulations. This will serve both as a support to their judgment and a barrier against those extravagant and erroneous views which are so especially to be dreaded in a sphere where experience is so costly.
Besides this absolute need of method in action, we must also acknowledge that it has a positive advantage, which is that, through the constant repetition of a formal exercise, a readiness, precision, and firmness is attained in the movement of troops, which diminishes the natural friction, and makes the machine move easier.
Method will therefore be the more generally used, become the more indispensable, the further down the scale of rank the position of the active agent; and on the other hand, its use will diminish upwards, until in the highest position it quite disappears. For this reason it is more in its place in tactics than in strategy.
War in its highest aspects consists not of an infinite number of little events, the diversities in which compensate each other, and which, therefore, by a better or worse method are better or worse governed, but of separate great decisive events which must be dealt with separately. It is not a field of stalks which, without any regard to the particular form of each stalk, will be mowed better or worse, according as the mowing instrument is good or bad; but large trees, to which the axe must be laid with judgment, according to the particular form and inclination of each separate trunk.
How high up in military activity the admissibility of method in action reaches naturally determines itself, not according to actual rank, but according to things; and it affects the highest positions in a less degree, only because these positions have the most comprehensive subjects of activity. A constant order of battle, a constant formation of advanced guards and outposts, are methods by which a general ties not only his subordinates’ hands, but also his own in certain cases. Certainly, they may have been devised by himself, and may be applied by him according to circumstances; but they may also be a subject of theory, in so far as they are based on the general properties of troops and weapons. On the other hand, any method by which definite plans for wars or campaigns are to be given out all ready made as if from a machine are absolutely worthless.
As long as there exists no theory which can be sustained, that is no enlightened treatise on the conduct of war, method in action cannot but encroach beyond its proper limits in high places, for men employed in these spheres of activity have not always had the opportunity of educating themselves, through study and through contact with the higher interests: in the impracticable and inconsistent disquisitions of theorists and critics they cannot find their way, their sound common sense rejects them, and as they bring with them no knowledge but that derived from experience; therefore, in those cases which admit of, and require a free individual treatment, they readily make use of the means which experience gives them, that is an imitation of the particular methods practised by great Generals, by which a method of action then takes place of itself. If we see Frederick the Great’s Generals always making their appearance in the so-called oblique order of battle, the Generals of the French Revolution always using turning movements with a long extended line of battle, and Buonaparte’s Lieutenants rushing to the attack with the bloody energy of concentrated masses, then we recognise in the recurrence of the mode of proceeding evidently an adopted method, and see therefore that method of action can reach up to regions bordering on the highest. Should an improved theory facilitate the study of the conduct of war, form the mind and judgment of men who are rising to the highest commands, then also Method in action will no longer reach so far, and so much of it as is to be considered indispensable will then at least be formed from theory itself, and not take place out of mere imitation. However preeminently a great Commander does things, there is always something subjective in the way he does them; and if he has a certain manner, a large share of his individuality is contained in it, which does not always accord with the individuality of the person who copies his manner.
At the same time it would neither be possible nor right to banish subjective methodicism or manner completely from the conduct of war: it is rather to be regarded as a manifestation of that influence which the general character of a war has upon its separate events, and to which satisfaction can only be done in that way if theory is not able to foresee this general character, and include it in its considerations. What is more natural than that the war of the French Revolution had its own way of doing things? and what theory could ever have included that peculiar method? The evil is only that such a manner originating in a special case, easily outlives itself, because it continues whilst circumstances imperceptibly change. This is what theory should prevent by lucid and rational criticism. When in the year 1806 the Prussian Generals, Prince Louis at Saalfeld, Tauentzien on the Dornberg near Jena, Grawert before and Ruchel behind Kappeldorf, all together threw themselves into the open jaws of destruction, with the oblique order of Frederick the Great, and managed to ruin Hohenlohe’s army in a way that no army was ever ruined, even on the field of battle. All this was done through a manner which had outlived its day, together with the most downright stupidity to which methodicism ever led.
Military Virtue of an Army
THIS is distinguished from mere bravery, and still more from enthusiasm for the business of war. The first is certainly a necessary constituent part of it, but in the same way as bravery, which is a natural gift in some men, may arise in a soldier as a part of an army from habit and custom, so with him it must also have a different direction from that which it has with others. It must lose that impulse to unbridled activity and exercise of force which is its characteristic in the individual, and submit itself to demands of a higher kind, to obedience, order, rule, and method. Enthusiasm for the profession gives life and greater fire to the military virtue of an army, but does not necessarily constitute a part of it.
War is a special business (and however general its relations may be, and even if all the male population of a country, capable of bearing arms, exercise this calling, still it always continues to be), different and separate from the other pursuits which occupy the life of man.—To be imbued with a sense of the spirit and nature of this business, to make use of, to rouse, to assimilate into the system the powers which should be active in it, to penetrate completely into the nature of the business with the understanding, through exercise to gain confidence and expertness in it, to be completely given up to it, to pass out of the man into the part which it is assigned to us to play in war, that is the military virtue of an army in the individual.
However much pains may be taken to combine the soldier and the citizen in one and the same individual, whatever may be done to nationalise wars, and however much we may imagine times have changed since the days of the old Condottieri, never will it be possible to do away with the individuality of the business; and if that cannot be done, then those who belong to it, as long as they belong to it, will always look upon themselves as a kind of guild, in the regulations, laws and customs of which the spirits of war fix themselves by preference. And so it is in fact. Even with the most decided inclination to look at war from the highest point of view, it would be very wrong to look down upon this corporate spirit (esprit de corps) which may and should exist more or less in every army. This corporate spirit forms the bond of union between the natural forces which are active in that which we have called military virtue. The crystals of military virtue have a greater affinity for the spirit of a corporate body than for anything else.
An army which preserves its usual formations under the heaviest fire, which is never shaken by imaginary fears, and in the face of real danger disputes the ground inch by inch, which, proud in the feeling of its victories, never loses its sense of obedience, its respect for and confidence in its leaders, even under the depressing effects of defeat; an army with all its physical powers, inured to privations and fatigue by exercise, like the muscles of an athlete; an army which looks upon all its toils as the means to victory, not as a curse which hovers over its standards, and which is always reminded of its duties and virtues by the short catechism of one idea, namely the honour of its arms;—Such an army is imbued with the true military spirit.
Soldiers may fight bravely like the Vendéans, and do great things like the Swiss, the Americans, or Spaniards, without displaying this military virtue. A commander may also be successful at the head of standing armies, like Eugene and Marlborough, without enjoying the benefit of its assistance; we must not, therefore, say that a successful war without it cannot be imagined; and we draw especial attention to that point, in order the more to individualise the conception which is here brought forward, that the idea may not dissolve into a generalisation, and that it may not be thought that military virtue is in the end every thing. It is not so. Military virtue in an army is a definite moral power which may be supposed wanting, and the influence of which may therefore be estimated—like any instrument the power of which may be calculated.
Having thus characterised it, we proceed to consider what can be predicated of its influence, and what are the means of gaining its assistance.
Military virtue is for the parts, what the genius of the commander is for the whole. The general can only guide the whole, not each separate part, and where he cannot guide the part, there military virtue must be its leader. A general is chosen by the reputation of his superior talents, the chief leaders of large masses after careful probation; but this probation diminishes as we descend the scale of rank, and in just the same measure we may reckon less and less upon individual talents; but what is wanting in this respect military virtue should supply. The natural qualities of a warlike people play just this part: bravery, aptitude, powers of endurance and enthusiasm.
These properties may therefore supply the place of military virtue, and vice versa, from which the following may be deduced:
1. Military virtue is a quality of standing armies only, but they require it the most. In national risings and wars, its place is supplied by natural qualities, which develop themselves there more rapidly.
2. Standing armies opposed to standing armies, can more easily dispense with it, than a standing army opposed to a national insurrection, for in that case, the troops are more scattered, and the divisions left more to themselves. But where an army can be kept concentrated, the genius of the general takes a greater place, and supplies what is wanting in the spirit of the army. Therefore generally military virtue becomes more necessary the more the theatre of operations and other circumstances make the war complicated, and cause the forces to be scattered.
From these truths the only lesson to be derived is this, that if an army is deficient in this quality, every endeavour should be made to simplify the operations of the war as much as possible, or to introduce double efficiency in the organisation of the army in some other respect, and not to expect from the mere name of a standing army, what only the veritable thing can give.
The military virtue of an army is therefore, one of the most important moral powers in war, and where it is wanting, we either see its place supplied by one of the others, such as the great superiority of generalship, or popular enthusiasm, or we find the results not commensurate with the exertions made.—How much that is great, this spirit, this sterling worth of an army, this refining of ore into the polished metal, has already done, we see in the history of the Macedonians under Alexander, the Roman legions under Cesar, the Spanish infantry under Alexander Farnese, the Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII., the Prussians under Frederick the Great, and the French under Buonaparte. We must purposely shut our eyes against all historical proof, if we do not admit, that the astonishing successes of these generals, and their greatness in situations of extreme difficulty, were only possible with armies possessing this virtue.
This spirit can only be generated from two sources, and only by these two conjointly: the first is a succession of wars and great victories; the other is, an activity of the army carried sometimes to the highest pitch. Only by these, does the soldier learn to know his powers. The more a general is in the habit of demanding from his troops, the surer he is, that his demands will be answered. The soldier is as proud of overcoming toil, as he is of surmounting danger. Therefore it is only in the soil of incessant activity and exertion that the germ will thrive, but also only in the sunshine of victory. Once it becomes a strong tree, it will stand against the fiercest storms of misfortune and defeat, and even against the indolent inactivity of peace, at least for a time. It can therefore only be created in war, and under great generals, but no doubt it may last at least for several generations, even under generals of moderate capacity, and through considerable periods of peace.
With this generous and noble spirit of union in a line of veteran troops, covered with scars and thoroughly inured to war, we must not compare the self esteem and vanity of a standing army, held together merely by the glue of service-regulations and a drill book; a certain plodding earnestness and strict discipline may keep up military virtue for a long time, but can never create it; these things therefore have a certain value, but must not be over-rated. Order, smartness, good will, also a certain degree of pride and high feeling, are qualities of an army formed in time of peace which are to be prized, but cannot stand alone. The whole retains the whole, and as with glass too quickly cooled, a single crack breaks the whole mass. Above all, the highest spirit in the world changes only too easily at the first check into depression, and one might say into a kind of rhodomontade of alarm, the French sauve que peut.—Such an army can only achieve something through its leader, never by itself. It must be led with double caution, until by degrees, in victory and hardships, the strength grows into the full armour. Beware then of confusing the spirit of an army with its temper.
EXAMPLES from history make everything clear, and furnish the best description of proof in the empirical sciences. This applies with more force to the Art of war than to any other. General Scharnhorst, whose hand-book is the best ever written on actual war, pronounces historical examples to be of the first importance, and makes an admirable use of them himself. Had he survived the war in which he fell, the fourth part of his revised treatise on artillery would have given a still greater proof of the observing and enlightened spirit in which he sifted matters of experience.
But such use of historical examples is rarely made by theoretical writers; the way in which they more commonly make use of them is rather calculated to leave the mind unsatisfied, as well as to offend the understanding. We therefore think it important to bring specially into view the use and abuse of historical examples.
Unquestionably the branches of knowledge which lie at the foundation of the Art of War come under the denomination of empirical sciences; for although they are derived in a great measure from the nature of things, still we can only learn this very nature itself for the most part from experience; and besides that, the practical application is modified by so many circumstances, that the effects can never be completely learnt from the mere nature of the means.
The effects of gunpowder, that great agent in our military activity, was only learnt by experience; and up to this hour experiments are continually in progress in order to investigate them more fully. That an iron ball, to which powder has given a velocity of 1,000 feet in a second, smashes every living thing which it touches in its course, is intelligible in itself; experience is not required to tell us that; but in producing this effect how many hundred circumstances are concerned, some of which can only be learnt by experience! And the physical is not the only effect which we have to study, it is the moral which we are in search of, and that can only be ascertained by experience; and there is no other way of learning and appreciating it but by experience. In the middle ages, when firearms were first invented, their effect, owing to their rude make, was materially but trifling compared to what it now is, but their effect morally was much greater. One must have witnessed the firmness of one of those masses taught and led by Buonaparte, under the heaviest and most unintermittent cannonade, in order to understand of what troops, hardened by long practice in the field of danger, can do, when by a career of victory they have reached the noble principle of demanding from themselves their utmost efforts. In pure conception no one would believe it. On the other hand it is well known that there are troops in the service of European powers at the present moment who would easily be dispersed by a few cannon shots.
But no empirical science, consequently also no theory of the art of war, can always corroborate its truths by historical proof; it would also be, in some measure, difficult to support experience by single facts. If any means is once found efficacious in war it is repeated; one copies another, the thing becomes the fashion, and in this manner it comes into use, supported by experience, and takes its place in theory, which contents itself with appealing to experience in general in order to show its origin, but not as a verification of its truth.
But it is quite otherwise if experience is to be used in order to overthrow some means in use, to confirm what is doubtful, or introduce something new: then particular examples from history must be quoted as proofs.
Now, if we consider closely the use of historical proofs, four points of view readily present themselves for the purpose.
First, they may be used merely as an explanation of an idea. In every abstract consideration it is very easy to be misunderstood, or not to be intelligible at all: when an author is afraid of this, an exemplification from history serves to throw the light which is wanted on his idea, and to ensure his being intelligible to his reader.
Secondly, it may serve as an application of an idea, because by means of an example there is an opportunity of showing the action of those minor circumstances which cannot all be comprehended and explained in any general expression of an idea; for in that consists, indeed, the difference between theory and experience. Both these cases belong to examples properly speaking, the two following belong to historical proofs.
Thirdly, a historical fact may be referred to particularly, in order to support what one has advanced. This is in all cases sufficient, if we have only to prove the possibility of a fact or effect.
Lastly, in the fourth place, from the circumstantial detail of a historical event, and by collecting together several of them, we may deduce some theory, which therefore has its true proof in this testimony itself.
For the first of these purposes all that is generally required is a cursory notice of the case; as it is only used partially. Historical correctness is a secondary consideration; a case invented might also serve the purpose as well, only historical ones are always to be preferred, because they bring the idea which they illustrate nearer to practical life.
The second use supposes a more circumstantial relation of events, but historical authenticity is again of secondary importance, and in respect to this point the same is to be said as in the first case.
For the third purpose the mere quotation of an undoubted fact is generally sufficient. If it is asserted that fortified positions may fulfil their object under certain conditions, it is only necessary to mention the position of Bunzelwitz in support of the assertion.
But if, through the narrative of a case in history, an abstract truth is to be demonstrated, then everything in the case bearing on the demonstration must be analysed in the most searching and complete manner; it must, to a certain extent, develop itself carefully before the eyes of the reader. The less effectually this is done the weaker will be the proof, and the more necessary it will be to supply the demonstrative proof which is wanting in the single case by a number of cases, because we have a right to suppose that the more minute details which we are unable to give neutralise each other in their effects in a certain number of cases.
If we want to show by example derived from experience, that cavalry are better placed behind than in a line with infantry; that it is very hazardous without a decided preponderance of numbers to attempt an enveloping movement, with widely separated columns, either on a field of battle or in the theatre of war, that is, either tactically or strategically; then in the first of these cases it would not be sufficient to specify some lost battles in which the cavalry was on the flanks, and some gained in which the cavalry was in rear of the infantry; and in the latter of these cases it is not sufficient to refer to the battles of Rivoli and Wagram, to the attack of the Austrians on the theatre of war in Italy, in 1796, or of the French upon the German theatre of war in the same year. The way in which these orders of battle or plans of attack essentially contributed to disastrous issues in those particular cases must be shown by closely tracing out circumstances and occurrences. Then it will appear how far such forms or measures are to be condemned, a point which it is very necessary to show, for a total condemnation would be inconsistent with truth.
It has been already said that when a circumstantial detail of facts is impossible, the demonstrative power which is deficient may, to a certain extent, be supplied by the number of cases quoted; but this is a very dangerous method of getting out of the difficulty, and one which has been much abused. Instead of one well explained example, three or four are just touched upon, and thus a show is made of strong evidence. But there are matters where a whole dozen of cases brought forward would prove nothing; if for instance, they are facts of frequent occurrance, and therefore a dozen other cases with an opposite result might just as easily be brought forward. If any one will instance a dozen lost battles in which the side beaten attacked in separate converging columns, we can instance a dozen that have been gained, in which the same order was adopted. It is evident that in this way no result is to be obtained.
Upon carefully considering these different points, it will be seen how easily examples may be mis-applied.
An occurrence which, instead of being carefully analysed in all its parts, is superficially noticed, is like an object seen at a great distance, presenting the same appearance on each side, and in which the details of its parts cannot be distinguished. Such examples have, in reality, served to support the most contradictory opinions. To some, Daun’s campaigns are models of prudence and skill. To others, they are nothing but examples of timidity and want of resolution. Buonaparte’s passage across the Noric Alps in 1797, may be made to appear the noblest resolution, but also as an act of sheer temerity. His strategic defeat in 1812 may be represented as the consequence either of an excess or of a deficiency of energy. All these opinions have been broached, and it is easy to see that they might very well arise, because each person takes a different view of the connection of events. At the same time these antagonistic opinions cannot be reconciled with each other, and therefore one of the two must be wrong.
Much as we are obliged to the worthy Fenquières for the numerous examples introduced in his memoirs—partly because a number of historical incidents have thus been preserved which might otherwise have been lost, and partly because he was one of the first to bring theoretical, that is, abstract ideas, into connection with the practical in war, in so far that the cases brought forward may be regarded as intended to exemplify and confirm what is theoretically asserted—yet, in the opinion of an impartial reader, he will hardly be allowed to have attained the object he proposed to himself, that of proving theoretical principles by historical examples. For although he sometimes relates occurrences with great minuteness, still he falls short very often of showing that the deductions drawn necessarily proceed from the inner relations of these events.
Another evil which comes from the superficial notice of historical events, is that some readers are either wholly ignorant of the events, or cannot call them to remembrance sufficiently to be able to grasp the author’s meaning, so that there is no alternative between either accepting blindly what is said, or remaining unconvinced.
It is extremely difficult to put together or unfold historical events before the eyes of a reader in such a way as is necessary, in order to be able to use them as proofs; for the writer very often wants the means, and can neither afford the time nor the requisite space; but we maintain that when the object is to establish a new or doubtful opinion, one single example, thoroughly analysed, is far more instructive than ten which are superficially treated. The great mischief of these superficial representations is not that the writer puts his story forward as a proof when it has only a false title, but that he has not made himself properly acquainted with the subject, and that from this sort of slovenly, shallow treatment of history, a hundred false views and attempts at the construction of theories arise, which would never have made their appearance if the writer had looked upon it as his duty to deduce from the strict connection of events everything new which he brought to market, and sought to prove from history.
When we are convinced of these difficulties in the use of historical examples, and at the same time of the necessity (of making use of such examples), then we shall also come to the conclusion that the latest military history is naturally the best field from which to draw them, inasmuch as it alone is sufficiently authentic and detailed.
In ancient times, circumstances connected with war, as well as the method of carrying it on, were different; therefore its events are of less use to us either theoretically or practically; in addition to which military history, like every other, naturally loses in the course of time a number of small traits and lineaments originally to be seen, loses in colour and life, like a worn out or darkened picture; so that perhaps at last only the large masses and leading features remain, which thus acquire undue proportions.
If we look at the present state of warfare, we should say that the wars since that of the Austrian succession are almost the only ones which, at least as far as armament, have still a considerable similarity to the present, and which, notwithstanding the many important changes which have taken place both great and small, are still capable of affording much instruction. It is quite otherwise with the war of the Spanish succession, as the use of fire-arms had not then so far advanced towards perfection, and cavalry still continued the most important arm. The farther we go back, the less useful becomes military history, as it gets so much the more meagre and barren of detail. The most useless of all is that of the old world.
But this uselessness is not altogether absolute, it relates only to those subjects which depend on a knowledge of minute details, or on those things in which the method of conducting war has changed. Although we know very little about the tactics in the battles between the Swiss and the Austrians, the Burgundians and French, still we find in them unmistakeable evidence that they were the first in which the superiority of a good infantry over the best cavalry was displayed. A general glance at the time of the Condottieri teaches us how the whole method of conducting war is dependent on the instrument used; for at no period have the forces used in war had so much the characteristics of a special instrument, and been a class so totally distinct from the rest of the national community. The memorable way in which the Romans in the second Punic War attacked the Carthaginian possessions in Spain and Africa, while Hannibal still maintained himself in Italy, is a most instructive subject to study, as the general relations of the states and armies concerned in this indirect act of defence are sufficiently well known.
But the more things descend into particulars, and deviate in character from the most general relations, the less we can look for examples and lessons of experience from very remote periods, for we have neither the means of judging properly of corresponding events, nor can we apply them to our completely different method of war.
Unfortunately, however, it has always been the fashion with historical writers to talk about ancient times. We shall not say how far vanity and charlatanism may have had a share in this, but in general we fail to discover any honest intention and earnest endeavour to instruct and convince, and we can therefore only look upon such quotations and references as embellishments to fill up gaps and hide defects.
It would be an immense service to teach the art of war entirely by historical examples, as Fenquières proposed to do; but it would be full work for the whole life of a man, if we reflect that he who undertakes it must first qualify himself for the task by a long personal experience in actual war.
Whoever, stirred by ambition, undertakes such a task, let him prepare himself for his pious undertaking as for a long pilgrimage; let him give up his time, spare no sacrifice, fear no temporal rank or power, and rise above all feelings of personal vanity, of false shame, in order, according to the French code, to speak the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.