Book III—Of Strategy in General
THE conception of strategy has been settled in the second chapter of the second book. It is the employment of the battle to gain the object of the war. Properly speaking it has to do with nothing but the battle, but its theory must include in this consideration the instrument of this real activity—the armed force—in itself and in its principal relations, for the battle is fought by it, and shows its effects upon it in turn. It must be well acquainted with the battle itself as far as relates to its possible results, and those mental and moral powers which are the most important in the use of the same.
Strategy is the employment of the battle to gain the end of the war; it must therefore give an aim to the whole military action, which must be in accordance with the object of the war; in other words, strategy forms the plan of the war, and to the said aim it links the series of acts which are to lead to the same, that is to say, it makes the plans for the separate campaigns, and regulates the combats to be fought in each. As these are all things which to a great extent can only be determined on conjectures, some of which turn out incorrect, while a number of other arrangements pertaining to details cannot be made at all beforehand, it follows, as a matter of course, that strategy must go with the army to the field in order to arrange particulars on the spot, and to make the modifications in the general plan which incessantly become necessary in war. Strategy can therefore never take its hand from the work for a moment.
That this however has not been always the view taken, generally, is evident from the former custom of keeping strategy in the cabinet and not with the army, a thing only allowable if the cabinet is so near to the army that it can be taken for the chief head-quarters of the army.
Theory will therefore attend on strategy in the determination of its plans, or, as we may more properly say, it will throw a light on things in themselves, and in their relations to each other, and bring out prominently the little that there is of principle or rule.
If we recall to mind from the first chapter how many things of the highest importance war touches upon, we may conceive that a consideration of all requires a rare grasp of mind.
A prince or general who knows exactly how to organise his war according to his object and means, who does neither too little nor too much, gives by that the greatest proof of his genius. But the effects of this talent are exhibited not so much by the invention of new modes of action, which might strike the eye immediately, as in the successful final result of the whole. It is the exact fulfilment of silent suppositions, it is the noiseless harmony of the whole action which we should admire, and which only makes itself known in the total result.
The inquirer who, tracing back from the final result, does not perceive the signs of that harmony is one who is apt to seek for genius where it is not, and where it cannot be found.
The means and forms which strategy uses are in fact so extremely simple, so well known by their constant repetition, that it only appears ridiculous to sound common sense when it hears critics so frequently speaking of them with high-flown emphasis. Turning a flank, which has been done a thousand times, is regarded here as a proof of the most brilliant genius, there as a proof of the most profound penetration, indeed even of the most comprehensive knowledge. Can there be in the book-world more absurd productions?
It is still more ridiculous if, in addition to this, we reflect that the same critic, in accordance with prevalent opinion, excludes all moral forces from theory, and will not allow it to be concerned with anything but the material forces, so that all must be confined to a few mathematical relations of equilibrium and preponderance, of time and space, and a few lines and angles. If it were nothing more than this, then out of such a miserable business there would not be a scientific problem for even a schoolboy.
But let us admit: there is no question here about scientific formulas and problems; the relations of material things are all very simple; the right comprehension of the moral forces which come into play is more difficult. Still, even in respect to them, it is only in the highest branches of strategy that moral complications and a great diversity of quantities and relations are to be looked for, only at that point where strategy borders on political science, or rather where the two become one, and there, as we have before observed, they have more influence on the “how much” and “how little” is to be done than on the form of execution. Where the latter is the principal question, as in the single acts both great and small in war, the moral quantities are already reduced to a very small number.
Thus, then, in strategy everything is very simple, but not on that account very easy. Once it is determined from the relations of the state what should and may be done by war, then the way to it is easy to find; but to follow that way straightforward, to carry out the plan without being obliged to deviate from it a thousand times by a thousand varying influences, that requires, besides great strength of character, great clearness and steadiness of mind, and out of a thousand men who are remarkable, some for mind, others for penetration, others again for boldness or strength of will, perhaps not one will combine in himself all those qualities which are required to raise a man above mediocrity in the career of a general.
It may sound strange, but for all who know war in this respect it is a fact beyond doubt, that much more strength of will is required to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics. In the latter we are hurried on with the moment; a commander feels himself borne along in a strong current, against which he durst not contend without the most destructive consequences, he suppresses the rising fears, and boldly ventures further. In strategy, where all goes on at a slower rate, there is more room allowed for our own apprehensions and those of others, for objections and remonstrances, consequently also for unseasonable regrets; and as we do not see things in strategy as we do at least half of them in tactics, with the living eye, but everything must be conjectured and assumed, therefore the convictions produced are less powerful. The consequence is, that most generals when they should act, remain stuck fast in bewildering doubts.
Now let us cast a glance at history—it lights upon Frederick the Great’s campaign of 1760, celebrated for its fine marches and manœuvres: a perfect masterpiece of strategic skill as critics tell us. Is there really anything to drive us out of our wits with admiration in the king’s first trying to turn Daun’s right flank, then his left, then again his right, &c.? Are we to see profound wisdom in this? No, that we cannot, if we are to decide naturally and without affectation. What we rather admire above all is the sagacity of the king in this respect, that while pursuing a great object with very limited means, he undertook nothing beyond his powers, and just enough to gain his object. This sagacity of the general is visible not only in this campaign, but throughout all the three wars of the great king!
To bring Silesia into the safe harbour of a well guaranteed peace, was his object.
At the head of a small state, which was like other states in most things, and only ahead of them in some branches of administration; he could not be an Alexander, and, as Charles XII., he would only like him have broken his head. We find, therefore, in the whole of his conduct of war, a controlled power, always well balanced, and never wanting in energy, which in the most critical moments rises to astonishing deeds, and the next moment oscillates quietly on again in subordination to the play of the most subtil political influences. Neither vanity, thirst for glory, nor vengeance could make him deviate from his course, and this course alone it is which brought him to a fortunate termination of the contest.
These few words do but scant justice to this phase of the genius of the great general; the eyes must be fixed carefully on the extraordinary issue of the struggle, and the causes which brought about that issue must be traced out, in order thoroughly to understand that nothing but the king’s penetrating eye brought him safely out of all his dangers.
This is one feature in this great commander which we admire in the campaign of 1760—and in all others, but in this especially—because in none did he keep the balance even against such a superior hostile force, with such a small sacrifice.
Another feature relates to the difficulty of execution. Marches to turn a flank, right or left, are easily combined; the idea of keeping a small force always well concentrated to be able to meet the enemy on equal terms at any point, to multiply a force by rapid movement, is as easily conceived as expressed; the mere contrivance in these points, therefore, cannot excite our admiration, and with respect to such simple things, there is nothing further than to admit that they are simple.
But let a general try to do these things like Frederick the Great. Long afterwards authors, who were eye witnesses, have spoken of the danger, indeed of the imprudence, of the king’s camps, and doubtless at the time he pitched them, the danger appeared three times as great as afterwards.
It was the same with his marches, under the eyes, nay often under the cannon of the enemy’s army; these camps were taken up, these marches made not from want of prudence, but because in Daun’s system, in his mode of drawing up his army, in the responsibility which pressed upon him, and in his character, Frederick found that security which justified his camps and marches. But it required the king’s boldness, determination, and strength of will to see things in this light, and not to be led astray and intimidated by the danger of which thirty years after people still wrote and spoke. Few generals in this situation would have believed these simple strategic means to be practicable.
Again, another difficulty in execution is that the king’s army in this campaign was constantly in motion. Twice it marched by wretched cross roads, from the Elbe into Silesia, in rear of Daun and pursued by Lascy (beginning of July, beginning of August). It required to be always ready for battle, and its marches to be organised with a degree of skill which necessarily called forth a proportionate degree of exertion. Although attended and delayed by thousands of wagons, still its subsistence was extremely difficult. In Silesia for eight days before the battle of Leignitz it had constantly night marches, defiling alternately right and left in front of the enemy:—this costs great fatigue, this requires great privations.
Is it to be supposed that all this could have been done without producing a great friction in the machine? Can the mind of a commander elaborate such movements with the same ease as the hand of a land surveyor uses the astrolabe? Does not the sight of the sufferings of their hungry, thirsty comrades pierce the hearts of the commander and his generals a thousand times? Must not the murmurs and doubts which these cause reach his ear? Has an ordinary man the courage to demand such sacrifices, and would not such efforts most certainly demoralise the army, break up the bands of discipline, and, in short, undermine its military virtue, if firm reliance on the greatness and infallibility of the commander did not compensate for all? Here, therefore, it is that we should pay respect; it is these miracles of execution which we should admire. But it is impossible to realise all this in its full force without a foretaste of it by experience. He who only knows war from books or the drill ground cannot realise the whole effect of this counterpoise in action; we beg him, therefore, to accept from us on faith and trust all that he is unable to supply from any personal experiences of his own.
We wished by this illustration to give more clearness to the course of our ideas, and in closing this chapter briefly observe that in our exposition of strategy we shall describe after our fashion those separate subjects which appear to us the most important, whether of a moral or material nature; we shall proceed from the simple to the complex, and shall conclude with the inner connection of the whole act of war, in other words with the plan for a war or campaign.
In an earlier manuscript of the second book are the following passages endorsed by the author himself to be used for the first Chapter of the second Book: the projected revision of that chapter not having been made, the passages referred to are introduced here in full.
By the mere assemblage of armed forces at a particular point, a battle there becomes possible, but does not always take place. Is that possibility now to be regarded as a reality and therefore an effective thing? Certainly, it is so by its results, and these effects, whatever they may be, can never fail.
1.—Possible combats are on account of their results to be looked upon as real ones.
If a detachment is sent away to cut off the retreat of a flying enemy, and the enemy surrenders in consequence without further resistance, still it is through the combat which is offered to him by this detachment sent after him that he is brought to his decision.
If a part of our army occupies an enemy’s province which was undefended, and thus deprives the enemy of very considerable means of keeping up the strength of his army, it is entirely through the battle which our detached corps gives the enemy to expect, in case he seeks to recover the lost province, that we remain in possession of the same.
In both cases therefore, the mere possibility of a battle has produced results, and is therefore to be classed amongst actual events. Suppose that in these cases the enemy has opposed our corps with others superior in force, and thus forced ours to give up their object without a combat, then certainly our plan has failed, but the battle which we offered at (either of) those points has not on that account been without effect, for it attracted the enemy’s forces to that point. And in case our whole undertaking has done us harm, it cannot be said that these positions, these possible battles, have been attended with no results; their effects, then, are similar to those of a lost battle.
In this manner we see that the destruction of the enemy’s military forces, the overthrow of the enemy’s power, is only to be done through the effect of a battle whether it be that it actually takes place, or that it is merely offered, and not accepted.
2.—Twofold object of the combat.
But these effects are of two kinds, direct and indirect; they are of the latter, if other things intrude themselves, and become the object of the combat—things which cannot be regarded as the destruction of enemy’s force, but only leading up to it certainly by circuitous road, but with so much the greater effect. The possession of provinces, towns, fortresses, roads, bridges, magazines, &c., may be the immediate object of a battle, but never the ultimate one. Things of this description can never be looked upon otherwise than as means of gaining greater superiority, so as at last to offer battle to the enemy in such a way that it will be impossible for him to accept it. Therefore all these things must only be regarded as intermediate links, steps as it were, leading up to the effectual principle, but never as that principle itself.
In 1814 by the capture of Buonaparte’s capital the object of the war was attained. The political divisions which had their roots in Paris came into active operation, and an enormous split left the power of the Emperor to collapse of itself. Nevertheless the point of view from which we must look at all this is, that through these causes the forces and defensive means of Buonaparte were suddenly very much diminished, the superiority of the Allies, therefore, just in the same measure increased, and any further resistance then became impossible. It was this impossibility which produced the peace with France. If we suppose the forces of the Allies at that moment diminished to a like extent through external causes;—if the superiority vanishes, then at the same time vanishes also all the effect and importance of the taking of Paris.
We have gone through this chain of argument in order to show that this is the natural and only true view of the thing from which it derives its importance. It leads always back to the question, What at any given moment of the war or campaign will be the probable result of the great or small combats which the two sides might offer to each other? In the consideration of a plan for a campaign or war, this question only is decisive as to the measures which are to be taken all through from the very commencement.
4.—When this view is not taken, then a false value is given to other things.
If we do not accustom ourselves to look upon war, and the single campaigns in a war, as a chain which is all composed of battles strung together, one of which always brings on another; if we adopt the idea that the taking of a certain geographical point, the occupation of an undefended province, is in itself anything; then we are very likely to regard it as an acquisition which we may retain; and if we look at it so, and not as a term in the whole series of events, we do not ask ourselves whether this possession may not lead to greater disadvantages hereafter. How often we find this mistake recurring in military history.
We might say that, just as in commerce the merchant cannot set apart and place in security gains from one single transaction by itself, so in war a single advantage cannot be separated from the result of the whole. Just as the former must always operate with the whole bulk of his means, just so in war, only the sum total will decide on the advantage or disadvantage of each item.
If the mind’s eye is always directed upon the series of combats, so far as they can be seen beforehand, then it is always looking in the right direction to the aim, and thereby the motion of the force acquires that rapidity, that is to say, willing and doing acquire that energy which is suitable to the matter, and which is not to be thwarted or turned aside by extraneous influences.
Elements of Strategy
THE causes which condition the use of the combat in strategy, may be easily divided into elements of different kinds, such as the moral, physical, mathematical, geographical and statistical elements.
The first class includes all that can be called forth by moral qualities and effects; to the second class belong the whole mass of the military force, its organisation, the proportion of the three arms, etc., etc.; to the third class, the angle of the operations’ line, the concentric and eccentric movements in as far as their geometrical nature has any value in the calculation; to the fourth the influences of country, as commanding points, hills, rivers, woods, roads, etc., etc.; lastly to the fifth, all the means of supply, etc., etc. The separation of these things once for all in the mind does good in giving clearness to the ideas of things, and helping us to estimate at once, at a higher or lower value, the different classes as we pass onwards. For, in considering them separately, many lose of themselves their borrowed importance; one feels, for instance, quite plainly that the value of a base of operations, even if we look at nothing in it but the position of the line of operations, depends much less in that simple form on the geometrical element of the angle which they form with one another, than on the nature of the roads and the country through which they pass.
But to treat upon strategy according to these elements would be the most unfortunate idea that could be conceived, for these elements are generally manifold, and intimately connected with each other in every single operation of war. We should lose ourselves in the most soulless analysis, and as if in a horrid dream, we should be for ever trying in vain to build up an arch to connect this base of abstractions with facts belonging to the real world. Heaven preserve every theorist from such an undertaking! We shall keep to the world of things in their totality, and not pursue our analysis further than is necessary from time to time to give distinctness to the idea which we wish to impart, and which has come to us, not by a speculative investigation, but through the impression made by the realities of war in their entirety.
WE must return again to this subject, which is touched upon in the third chapter of the second book (p. 62), because the moral forces are amongst the most important subjects in war. They are the spirits which permeate the whole element of war, and which fasten themselves soonest and with the greatest affinity to the will which puts in motion and guides the whole mass of powers, unite with it as it were in one stream, because it is a moral force itself. Unfortunately they seek to escape from all book-knowledge, for they will neither be brought into numbers nor into classes, and want only to be seen and felt.
The spirit and other moral qualities which animate an army, a general, or governments, public opinion in provinces in which a war is raging, the moral effect of a victory or of a defeat, are things which in themselves vary very much in their nature, and which also, according as they stand with regard to our object and our relations, may have an influence in different ways.
Although little or nothing can be said about these things in books, still they belong to the theory of the art of war, as well as everything else which constitutes war. For I must here once more repeat that it is a miserable philosophy if, according to the old plan, we establish rules and principles wholly regardless of all moral forces, and then, as soon as these forces make their appearance, we begin to count exceptions which we thereby establish as it were theoretically, that is, make into rules; or if we resort to an appeal to genius, which is above all rules, thus giving out by implication, not only that rules were only made for fools, but also that they themselves are no better than folly.
Even if the theory of the art of war does no more in reality than that it calls these things to remembrance, shows the necessity of allowing to the moral forces their full value, and of always taking them into consideration, then it has in fact extended its borders over the region of immaterial forces, and by establishing that point of view, has condemned beforehand every one who would endeavour to justify himself before its judgment seat by the mere physical relations of forces.
But also out of regard to all other so-called rules, theory cannot banish the moral forces beyond its frontier, because the effects of the physical forces and the moral are completely fused, and are not to be decomposed like a metal alloy by a chemical process. In every rule relating to the physical forces, theory must present to the mind at the same time the share which the moral powers will have in it, if it would not be led to categorical propositions, at one time too timid and contracted, at another too dogmatical and wide. Even the most matter of fact theories have, without knowing it, strayed over into this moral kingdom; for, as an example, the effects of a victory cannot in any way be explained without taking into consideration the moral impressions. And therefore the most of the subjects which we shall go through in this book are composed half of physical, half of moral causes and effects, and we might say the physical are almost no more than the wooden handle, whilst the moral are the noble metal, the real bright-polished weapon.
The value of the moral powers, and their frequently incredible influence, are best exemplified by history, and this is the most generous and purest nourishment which the mind of the general can extract from it.—At the same time it is to be observed, that it is less demonstrations, critical examinations, and learned treatises, than sentiments, general impressions, and single flashing sparks of truth, which yield the seeds of knowledge that are to fertilise the mind.
We might go through the most important moral phenomena in war, and with all the care of a diligent professor try what we could impart about each, either good or bad. But as in such a method one slides too much into the common place and trite, whilst real mind quickly makes its escape in analysis, the end is that one gets imperceptibly to the relation of things which everybody knows. We prefer, therefore, to remain here more than usually incomplete and rhapsodical, content to have drawn attention to the importance of the subject in a general way, and to have pointed out the spirit in which the views given in this book have been conceived.
The Chief Moral Powers
THEY are The Talents of the Commander; The Military Virtue of the Army; Its National feeling. Which of these is the most important no one can tell in a general way, for it is very difficult to say anything in general of their strength, and still more difficult to compare the strength of one with that of another. The best plan is not to undervalue any of them, a fault which human judgment is prone to sometimes on one side, sometimes on another, in its whimsical oscillations. It is better to satisfy ourselves of the undeniable efficacy of these three things by sufficient evidence from history.
It is true, however, that in modern times the armies of European states have got very much to a par as regards discipline and fitness for service, and that the conduct of war has—as philosophers would say—so naturally developed itself, thereby become a method, common as it were to all armies, that even from commanders there is nothing further to be expected in the way of application of special means of art, in the limited sense (such as Frederick the Second’s oblique order). Consequently it cannot be denied that, as matters now stand, there is so much the greater scope afforded for the influence of National spirit and habituation of an army to war. A long peace may alter again all this.
The national spirit of an army (enthusiasm, fanatical zeal, faith, opinion,) displays itself most in mountain warfare, where every one down to the common soldier is left to himself. On this account, a mountainous country is the best campaigning ground for a people in arms.
Expertness of an army through training, and that well tempered courage which holds the ranks together as if they had been cast in a mould, show their superiority in an open country.
The talent of a general has most room to display itself in a closely intersected, undulating country. In mountains he has too little command over the separate parts, and the direction of all is beyond his powers; in open plains it is simple and does not exceed those powers.
According to these undeniable elective affinities, plans should be regulated.
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.
THE place and part which boldness takes in the dynamic system of powers, where it stands opposite to Foresight and prudence, has been stated in the chapter on the certainty of the result, in order thereby to show, that theory has no right to restrict it by virtue of its legislative power.
But this noble impulse, with which the human soul raises itself above the most formidable dangers, is to be regarded as an active principle peculiarly belonging to war. In fact, in what branch of human activity should boldness have a right of citizenship if not in war?
From the train-driver and the drummer up to the general, it is the noblest of virtues, the true steel which gives the weapon its edge and brilliancy.
Let us admit in fact it has in war even its own prerogatives. Over and above the result of the calculation of space, time, and quantity, we must allow a certain per-centage which boldness derives from the weakness of others, whenever it gains the mastery. It is therefore, virtually, a creative power. This is not difficult to demonstrate philosophically. As often as boldness encounters hesitation, the probability of the result is of necessity in its favour, because the very state of hesitation implies a loss of equilibrium already. It is only when it encounters cautious foresight—which we may say is just as bold, at all events just as strong and powerful as itself—that it is at a disadvantage; such cases, however, rarely occur. Out of the whole multitude of prudent men in the world, the great majority are so from timidity.
Amongst large masses, boldness is a force, the special cultivation of which can never be to the detriment of other forces, because the great mass is bound to a higher will by the frame-work and joints of the order of battle and of the service, and therefore is guided by an intelligent power which is extraneous. Boldness is therefore here only like a spring held down until its action is required.
The higher the rank the more necessary it is that boldness should be accompanied by a reflective mind, that it may not be a mere blind outburst of passion to no purpose; for with increase of rank it becomes always less a matter of self-sacrifice and more a matter of the preservation of others, and the good of the whole. Where regulations of the service as a kind of second nature prescribe for the masses, reflection must be the guide of the general, and in his case individual boldness in action may easily become a fault. Still, at the same time, it is a fine failing, and must not be looked at in the same light as any other. Happy the army in which an untimely boldness frequently manifests itself; it is an exuberant growth which shows a rich soil. Even foolhardiness, that is boldness without an object, is not to be despised; in point of fact it is the same energy of feeling, only exercised as a kind of passion without any co-operation of the intelligent faculties. It is only when it strikes at the root of obedience, when it treats with contempt the orders of superior authority, that it must be repressed as a dangerous evil, not on its own account but on account of the act of disobedience, for there is nothing in war which is of greater importance than obedience.
The reader will readily agree with us that, supposing an equal degree of discernment to be forthcoming in a certain number of cases, a thousand times as many of them will end in disaster through over-anxiety as through boldness.
One would suppose it natural that the interposition of a reasonable object should stimulate boldness, and therefore lessen its intrinsic merit, and yet the reverse is the case in reality.
The intervention of lucid thought or the general supremacy of mind deprives the emotional forces of a great part of their power. On that account boldness becomes of rarer occurrence the higher we ascend the scale of rank, for whether the discernment and the understanding do or do not increase with these ranks still the commanders, in their several stations as they rise, become pressed more and more severely by objective things, by relations and claims from without, so that they become the more perplexed the lower the degree of their individual intelligence. This so far as regards war is the chief foundation of the truth of the French proverb:—
“Tel brille au second qui s’éclipse au premier.”
Almost all the generals who are represented in history as merely having attained to mediocrity, and as wanting in decision when in supreme command, are men celebrated in their antecedent career for their boldness and decision.
In those motives to bold action which arise from the pressure of necessity we must make a distinction. Necessity has its degrees of intensity. If it lies near at hand, if the person acting is in the pursuit of his object driven into great dangers in order to escape others equally great, then we can only admire his resolution, which still has also its value. If a young man to show his skill in horsemanship leaps across a deep clift, then he is bold; if he makes the same leap pursued by a troop of head-chopping Janissaries he is only resolute. But the farther off the necessity from the point of action, the greater the number of relations intervening which the mind has to traverse in order to realise them, by so much the less does necessity take from boldness in action. If Frederick the Great, in the year 1756, saw that war was inevitable, and that he could only escape destruction by being beforehand with his enemies, it became necessary for him to commence the war himself, but at the same time it was certainly very bold: for few men in his position would have made up their minds to do so.
Although strategy is only the province of generals in chief or commanders in the higher positions, still boldness in all the other branches of an army is as little a matter of indifference to it as their other military virtues. With an army belonging to a bold race, and in which the spirit of boldness has been always nourished, very different things may be undertaken than with one in which this virtue is unknown; for that reason we have considered it in connection with an army. But our subject is specially the boldness of the general, and yet we have not much to say about it after having described this military virtue in a general way to the best of our ability.
The higher we rise in a position of command, the more do the mind, understanding, and penetration predominate in activity, the more therefore is boldness, which is a property of the feelings, kept in subjection, and for that reason we find it so rarely in the highest positions, but also then so much the more to be admired. Boldness, directed by an overruling intelligence, is the stamp of the hero: this boldness does not consist in venturing directly against the nature of things, in a downright contempt of the laws of probability, but, if a choice is once made, in the rigorous adherence to that higher calculation which genius, the tact of judgment, has gone over in the speed of lightning, and only half consciously. The more boldness lends wings to the mind and the discernment, so much the farther they will reach in their flight, so much the more comprehensive will be the view, the more exact the result, but certainly always only in the sense that with greater objects greater dangers are connected. The ordinary man, not to speak of the weak and irresolute, arrives at an exact result so far as such is possible without ocular demonstration, at most after diligent reflection in his chamber, at a distance from danger and responsibility. Let danger and responsibility draw close round him in every direction, then he loses the power of comprehensive vision, and if he retains this in any measure by the influence of others, still he will lose his power of decision, because there no one can help him.
We think then that it is impossible to imagine a distinguished general without boldness, that is to say, that no man can become such who is not born with this power of the soul, and we therefore look upon it as the first requisite for such a career. How much of this inborn power, developed and moderated through education and the circumstances of life, is left when the man has attained a high position, is the second question. The greater this power still is, the stronger will genius be on the wing, the higher will be its flight. The risks become always greater, but the aim grows with them. Whether its lines proceed out of and get their direction from a distant necessity, or whether they converge to the keystone of a building which ambition has planned, whether Frederick or Alexander acts, is much the same as regards the critical view. If the one excites the imagination more because it is bolder, the other pleases the understanding most, because it has in it more absolute necessity.
We have still to advert to one very important circumstance.
The spirit of boldness can exist in an army, either because it is in the people, or because it has been generated in a successful war conducted by able generals. In such case it must of course be dispensed with at the commencement.
Now in our days there is hardly any other means of educating the spirit of a people in this respect, except by war, and that too under bold generals. By it alone can that effeminacy of feeling be counteracted, that propensity to seek for the enjoyment of comfort, which cause degeneracy in a people rising in prosperity and immersed in an extremely busy commerce.
A nation can hope to have a strong position in the political world only if its character and practice in actual war mutually support each other in constant reciprocal action.
THE reader expects to hear of angles and lines, and finds, instead of these citizens of the scientific world, only people out of common life, such as he meets with every day in the street. And yet the author cannot make up his mind to become a hair’s breadth more mathematical than the subject seems to him to require, and he is not alarmed at the surprise which the reader may show.
In war more than anywhere else in the world things happen differently to what we had expected, and look differently when near, to what they did at a distance. With what serenity the architect can watch his work gradually rising and growing into his plan. The doctor, although much more at the mercy of mysterious agencies and chances than the architect, still knows enough of the forms and effects of his means. In war, on the other hand, the commander of an immense whole finds himself in a constant whirlpool of false and true information, of mistakes committed through fear, through negligence, through precipitation, of contraventions of his authority, either from mistaken or correct motives, from ill will, true or false sense of duty, indolence or exhaustion, of accidents which no mortal could have forseen. In short, he is the victim of a hundred thousand impressions, of which the most have an intimidating, the fewest an encouraging tendency. By long experience in war, the tact is acquired of readily appreciating the value of these incidents; high courage and stability of character stand proof against them, as the rock resists the beating of the waves. He who would yield to these impressions would never carry out an undertaking, and on that account perseverance in the proposed object, as long as there is no decided reason against it, is a most necessary counterpoise. Further, there is hardly any celebrated enterprise in war which was not achieved by endless exertion, pains, and privations; and as here the weakness of the physical and moral man is ever disposed to yield, therefore only an immense force of will which manifests itself in perseverance, admired by present and future generations, can conduct us to the aim.
Superiority of Numbers
THIS is in tactics, as well as in strategy, the most general principle of victory, and shall be examined by us first in its generality, for which we may be permitted the following exposition:
Strategy fixes the point where, the time when, and the numerical force with which the battle is to be fought. By this triple determination it has therefore a very essential influence on the issue of the combat. If tactics has fought the battle, if the result is over, let it be victory or defeat, strategy makes such use of it as can be made in accordance with the great object of the war. This object of the war is naturally often a very distant one, seldom does it lie quite close at hand. A series of other objects subordinate themselves to it as means. These objects, which are at the same time means to a higher object, may be practically of various kinds; even the ultimate aim of the whole war is a different one in every war. We shall make ourselves acquainted with these things according as we become acquainted with the separate objects which they come in contact with; and it is not our intention here to embrace the whole subject by a complete enumeration of them, even if that were possible. We therefore let the employment of the battle stand over for the present.
Even those things through which strategy has an influence on the issue of the combat, inasmuch as it establishes the same, to a certain extent decrees them, are not so simple that they can be embraced in one single view For as strategy appoints time, place and force, it can do so in practice in many ways, each of which influences in a different manner the result of the combat as well as its consequences. Therefore we shall only get acquainted with this also by degrees, that is, through the subjects which determine more closely the application.
If we strip the combat of all modifications which it may undergo according to its immediate purpose and the circumstances from which it proceeds, lastly if we set aside the valour of the troops, because that is a given quantity, then there remains only the bare conception of the combat, that is a combat without form, in which we distinguish nothing but the number of the combatants.
This number will therefore determine victory. Now from the number of things above deducted to get to this point, it is shown that the superiority in numbers in a battle is only one of the factors employed to produce victory; that therefore so far from having with the superiority in number obtained all, or even only the principal thing, we have perhaps got very little by it, according as the other circumstances which co-operate happen to be so, or so.
But this superiority has degrees, it it may be imagined, twofold, threefold or four times as many, etc., etc., and every one sees, that by increasing in this way, it must (at last) overpower everything else.
In such an aspect we grant, that the superiority in numbers is the most important factor in the result of a combat, only it must be sufficiently great to be a counterpoise to all the other co-operating circumstances. The direct result of this is, that the greatest possible number of troops should be brought into action at the decisive point.
Whether the troops thus brought are sufficient or not, we have then done in this respect all that our means allowed. This is the first principle in strategy, therefore in general as now stated, it is just as well suited for Greeks and Persians, or for Englishmen and Mahrattas, as for French and Germans. But we shall take a glance at our relations in Europe, as respects war, in order to arrive at some more definite idea on this subject.
Here we find armies much more like one another in equipment, organisation, and practical skill of every kind. There only remains still alternately a difference in the military virtue of armies, and in the talent of generals. If we go through the military history of modern Europe, we find no example of a Marathon.
Frederick the Great beat 80,000 Austrians at Leuthen with about 30,000 men, and at Rosbach with 25,000 some 50,000 allies; these are however the only instances of victories gained against an enemy double, or more than double in numbers. Charles XII., in the battle of Narva, we cannot well quote, the Russians were at that time hardly to be regarded as Europeans, also the principal circumstances even of the battle, are but too little known. Buonaparte had at Dresden 120,000 against 220,000, therefore not the double. At Collin, Frederick the Great did not succeed, with 30,000 against 50,000 Austrians, neither Buonaparte in the desperate battle of Leipsic, where he was 160,000 strong, against 280,000, the superiority therefore considerably less than double.
From this we may infer, that it is very difficult in the present state of Europe, for the most talented general to gain a victory over an enemy double his strength. Now if we see double numbers, such a weight in the scale against the greatest generals, we may be sure, that in ordinary cases, in small as well as great combats, an important superiority of numbers, but which need not be over two to one, will be sufficient to ensure the victory, however disadvantageous other circumstances may be. Certainly, we may imagine a defile which even tenfold would not suffice to force, but in such a case it can be no question of a battle at all.
We think therefore, that exactly in our relations, as well as in all similar ones, the superiority at the decisive point is a matter of capital importance, and that this subject, in the generality of cases, is decidedly the most important of all. The strength at the decisive point depends on the absolute strength of the army, and on skill in making use of it.
The first rule is therefore to enter the field with an army as strong as possible. This sounds very like a common place, but still is really not so.
In order to show that for a long time the strength of forces was by no means regarded as a chief point, we need only observe, that in most, and even in the most detailed histories of the wars, in the eighteenth century, the strength of the armies is either not given at all, or only incidentally, and in no case is any special value laid upon it. Tempelhof in his history of the Seven Years’ War is the earliest writer who gives it regularly, but at the same time he does it only very superficially.
Even Massenbach, in his manifold critical observations on the Prussian campaigns of 1793-94 in the Vosges, talks a great deal about hills and valleys, roads and footpaths, but does not say a syllable about mutual strength.
Another proof lies in a wonderful notion which haunted the heads of many critical historians, according to which there was a certain size of an army which was the best, a normal strength, beyond which the forces in excess were burdensome rather then serviceable.1
Lastly, there are a number of instances to be found, in which all the available forces were not really brought into the battle, or into the war, because the superiority of numbers was not considered to have that importance which in the nature of things belongs to it.
If we are thoroughly penetrated with the conviction that with a considerable superiority of numbers everything possible is to be effected, then it cannot fail that this clear conviction reacts on the preparations for the war, so as to make us appear in the field with as many troops as possible, and either to give us ourselves the superiority, or at least to guard against the enemy obtaining it. So much for what concerns the absolute force with which the war is to be conducted.
The measure of this absolute force is determined by the government; and although with this determination the real action of war commences, and it forms an essential part of the strategy of the war, still in most cases the general who is to command these forces in the war must regard their absolute strength as a given quantity, whether it be that he has had no voice in fixing it, or that circumstances prevented a sufficient expansion being given to it.
There remains nothing, therefore, where an absolute superiority is not attainable, but to produce a relative one at the decisive point, by making skilful use of what we have.
The calculation of space and time appears as the most essential thing to this end, and this has caused that subject to be regarded as one which embraces nearly the whole art of using military forces. Indeed, some have gone so far as to ascribe to great strategists and tacticians a mental organ peculiarly adapted to this point.
But the calculation of time and space, although it lies universally at the foundation of strategy, and is to a certain extent its daily bread, is still neither the most difficult, nor the most decisive one.
If we take an unprejudiced glance at military history, we shall find that the instances in which mistakes in such a calculation have proved the cause of serious losses are very rare, at least in strategy. But if the conception of a skilful combination of time and space is fully to account for every instance of a resolute and active commander beating several separate opponents with one and the same army (Frederick the Great, Buonaparte), then we perplex ourselves unnecessarily with conventional language. For the sake of clearness and the profitable use of conceptions, it is necessary that things should always be called by their right names.
The right appreciation of their opponents (Daun, Schwartzenburg), the audacity to leave for a short space of time a small force only before them, energy in forced marches, boldness in sudden attacks, the intensified activity which great souls acquire in the moment of danger, these are the grounds of such victories; and what have these to do with the ability to make an exact calculation of two such simple things as time and space?
But even this ricochetting play of forces, “when the victories at Rosbach and Montmirail give the impulse to victories at Leuthen and Montereau,” to which great generals on the defensive have often trusted, is still, if we would be clear and exact, only a rare occurrence in history.
Much more frequently the relative superiority—that is, the skilful assemblage of superior forces at the decisive point—has its foundation in the right appreciation of those points, in the judicious direction which by that means has been given to the forces from the very first, and in the resolution required to sacrifice the unimportant to the advantage of the important—that is, to keep the forces concentrated in an overpowering mass. In this, Frederick the Great and Buonaparte are particularly characteristic.
We think we have now allotted to the superiority in numbers the importance which belongs to it; it is to be regarded as the fundamental idea, always to be aimed at before all and as far as possible.
But to regard it on this account as a necessary condition of victory, would be a complete misconception of our exposition; in the conclusion to be drawn from it there lies much rather nothing more than the value which should attach to numerical strength in the combat. If that strength is made as great as possible, then the maxim is satisfied; a review of the total relations must then decide whether or not the combat is to be avoided for want of sufficient force.
FROM the subject of the foregoing chapter, the general endeavour to attain a relative superiority, there follows another endeavour which must consequently be just as general in its nature: this is the surprise of the enemy. It lies more or less at the foundation of all undertakings, for without it the preponderance at the decisive point is not properly conceivable.
The surprise is, therefore, the medium to numerical superiority; but it is besides that also to be regarded as a substantive principle in itself, on account of its moral effect. When it is successful in a high degree, confusion and broken courage in the enemy’s ranks are the consequences; and of the degree to which these multiply a success, there are examples enough, great and small. We are not, on this account, speaking now of the particular surprise which belongs to the attack, but of the endeavour by measures generally, and especially by the distribution of forces, to surprise the enemy, which can be imagined just as well in the defensive, and which in the tactical defence particularly is a great chief point.
We say, surprise lies at the foundation of all undertakings without exception, only in very different degrees according to the nature of the undertaking and other circumstances.
This difference, indeed, commences in the properties or peculiarities of the army and its commander, in those even of the government.
Secrecy and rapidity are the two factors of this product; and these suppose in the government and the commander-in-chief great energy, and on the part of the army a high sense of military duty. With effeminacy and loose principles it is in vain to calculate upon a surprise. But so general, indeed so indispensable, as is this endeavour, and true as it is that it is never wholly unproductive of effect, still it is not the less true that it seldom succeeds to a remarkable degree, and that this is in the nature of the thing. We should form an erroneous idea if we believed that by this means chiefly there is much to be attained in war. In idea it promises a great deal; in the execution it generally sticks fast by the friction of the whole machine.
In tactics the surprise is much more at home, for the very natural reason that all times and spaces are on a smaller scale. It will, therefore, in strategy be the more feasible in proportion as the measures lie nearer to the province of tactics, and more difficult the higher up they lie towards the province of policy.
The preparations for a war usually occupy several months; the assembly of an army at its principal positions requires generally the formation of depots and magazines, and long marches, the object of which can be guessed soon enough.
It therefore rarely happens that one State surprises another by a war, or by the direction which it gives the mass of its forces. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when war turned very much upon sieges, it was a frequent aim, and quite a peculiar and important chapter in the art of war, to invest a strong place unexpectedly, and even that only rarely succeeded.
On the other hand, with things which can be done in a day or two, a surprise is much more conceivable, and, therefore, also it is often not difficult then to gain a march upon the enemy, and thereby a position, a point of country, a road, etc. But it is evident that what surprise gains in this way in easy execution, it loses in the efficacy, as the greater the efficacy the greater always the difficulty of execution. Whoever thinks that with such surprises on a small scale, he may connect great results—as, for example, the gain of a battle, the capture of an important magazine—believes in something which it is certainly very possible to imagine, but which there is no warrant for in history; for there are upon the whole very few instances where anything great has resulted from such surprises; from which we may justly conclude that inherent difficulties lie in the way of their success.
Certainly, whoever would consult history on such points must not depend on sundry battle steeds of historical critics, on their wise dicta and self complacent terminology, but look at facts with his own eyes. There is, for instance, a certain day in the campaign in Silesia, 1761, which, in this respect, has attained a kind of notoriety. It is the 22nd July, on which Frederick the Great gained on Laudon the march to Nossen, near Neisse, by which, as is said, the junction of the Austrian and Russian armies in Upper Silesia became impossible, and, therefore, a period of four weeks was gained by the King. Whoever reads over this occurrence carefully in the principal histories,1 and considers it impartially, will, in the march of the 22nd July, never find this importance; and generally in the whole of the fashionable logic on this subject, he will see nothing but contradictions; but in the proceedings of Laudon, in this renowned period of manœuvres, much that is unaccountable. How could one, with a thirst for truth and clear conviction, accept such historical evidence?
When we promise ourselves great effects in a campaign from the principle of surprising, we think upon great activity, rapid resolutions, and forced marches, as the means of producing them; but that these things, even when forthcoming in a very high degree, will not always produce the desired effect, we see in examples given by two generals, who may be allowed to have had the greatest talent in the use of these means, Frederick the Great and Buonaparte. The first when he left Dresden so suddenly in July, 1760, and falling upon Lascy, then turned against Dresden, gained nothing by the whole of that intermezzo, but rather placed his affairs in a condition notably worse, as Glatz fell in the mean time.
In 1813, Buonaparte turned suddenly from Dresden twice against Blucher, to say nothing of his incursion into Bohemia from Upper Lusatia, and both times without in the least measure attaining his object They were blows in the air which only cost him time and force, and might have placed him in a dangerous position in Dresden.
Therefore, even in this field, a surprise does not necessarily meet with great success through the mere activity, energy, and resolution of the commander; it must be favoured by other circumstances. But we by no means deny that there can be success; we only connect with it a necessity of favourable circumstances, which, certainly, do not occur very frequently, and which the commander can seldom bring about himself.
Just those two generals afford each a striking illustration of this. We take first Buonaparte in his famous enterprise against Blucher’s army in 1814, when it was separated from the Grand Army, and descending the Marne. It would not be easy to find a two days’ march to surprise the enemy productive of greater results than this; Blucher’s army, extended over a distance of three days’ march, was beaten in detail, and suffered a loss nearly equal to that of defeat in a great battle. This was completely the effect of a surprise, for if Blucher had thought of such a near possibility of an attack from Buonaparte he would have organised his march quite differently. To this mistake of Blucher’s the result is to be attributed. Buonaparte did not know all these circumstances, and so there was a piece of good fortune that mixed itself up in his favour.
It is the same with the battle of Liegnitz, 1760. Frederick the Great gained this fine victory through altering during the night a position which he had just before taken up. Laudon was through this completely surprised, and lost 70 pieces of artillery and 10,000 men. Although Frederick the Great had at this time adopted the principle of moving backwards and forwards in order to make a battle impossible, or at least to disconcert the enemy’s plans, still the alteration of position on the night of the 1415 was not made exactly with that intention, but as the King himself says, because the position of the 14th did not please him. Here, therefore, also chance was hard at work; without this happy conjunction of the attack and the change of position in the night, and the difficult nature of the country, the result would not have been the same.
Also in the higher and highest province of Strategy there are some instances of surprises fruitful in results. We shall only cite the brilliant marches of the great elector against the Swedes from Franconia to Pomerania, and from the Mark (Brandenburg) to the Pregel in 1757, and the celebrated passage of the Alps by Buonaparte, 1800. In the latter case an army gave up its whole theatre of war by a capitulation, and in 1757 another army was very near giving up its theatre of war and itself as well. Lastly, as an instance of a war wholly unexpected, we may bring forward the invasion of Silesia by Frederick the Great. Great and powerful are here the results everywhere, but such events are not common in history if we do not confuse with them cases in which a state, for want of activity and energy (Saxony 1756, and Russia, 1812), has not completed its preparations.
Now there still remains an observation which concerns the essence of the thing. A surprise can only be effected by that party which gives the law to the other; and he, who is in the right gives the law. If we surprise the adversary by a wrong measure, then instead of reaping good results, we may have to bear a sound blow in return; in any case the adversary need not trouble himself much about our surprise, he has in our mistake the means of turning off the evil. As the offensive includes in itself much more positive action than the defensive, so the surprise is certainly more in its place with the assailant, but by no means invariably, as we shall hereafter see. Mutual surprises by the offensive and defensive may therefore meet, and then that one will have the advantage who has hit the nail on the head the best.
So should it be, but practical life does not keep to this line so exactly, and that for a very simple reason. The moral effects which attend a surprise often convert the worst case into a good one for the side they favour, and do not allow the other to make any regular determination. We have here in view more than anywhere else not only the chief commander, but each single one, because a surprise has the effect in particular of greatly loosening unity, so that the individuality of each separate leader easily comes to light.
Much depends here on the general relation in which the two parties stand to each other. If the one side through a general moral superiority can intimidate and outdo the other, then he can make use of the surprise with more success, and even reap good fruit where properly he should come to ruin.
STRATAGEM implies a concealed intention, and therefore is opposed to straightforward dealing, in the same way as wit is the opposite of direct proof. It has therefore nothing in common with means of persuasion, of self-interest, of force, but a great deal to do with deceit, because that likewise conceals its object. It is itself a deceit as well when it is done, but still it differs from what is commonly called deceit, in this respect that there is no direct breach of word. The deceiver by stratagem leaves it to the person himself whom he is deceiving to commit the errors of understanding which at last, flowing into one result, suddenly change the nature of things in his eyes. We may therefore say, as wit is a sleight of hand with ideas and conceptions, so stratagem is a sleight of hand with actions.
At first sight it appears as if strategy had not improperly derived its name from stratagem; and that, with all the real and apparent changes which the whole character of war has undergone since the time of the Greeks, this term still points to its real nature.
If we leave to tactics the actual delivery of the blow, the battle itself, and look upon strategy as the art of using this means with skill, then besides the forces of the character, such as burning ambition which always presses like a spring, a strong will which hardly bends etc., etc., there seems no subjective quality so suited to guide and inspire strategic activity as stratagem. The general tendency to surprise, treated of in the foregoing chapter, points to this conclusion, for there is a degree of stratagem, be it ever so small, which lies at the foundation of every attempt to surprise.
But however much we feel a desire to see the actors in war outdo each other in hidden activity, readiness, and stratagem, still we must admit that these qualities show themselves but little in history, and have rarely been able to work their way to the surface from amongst the mass of relations and circumstances.
The explanation of this is obvious, and it is almost identical with the subject matter of the preceding chapter.
Strategy knows no other activity than the regulating of combat with the measures which relate to it. It has no concern, like ordinary life, with transactions which consist merely of words—that is, in expressions, declarations, etc. But these, which are very inexpensive, are chiefly the means with which the wily one takes in those he practises upon.
That which there is like it in war, plans and orders given merely as make-believes, false reports sent on purpose to the enemy—is usually of so little effect in the strategic field that it is only resorted to in particular cases which offer of themselves, therefore cannot be regarded as spontaneous action which emanates from the leader.
But such measures as carrying out the arrangements for a battle, so far as to impose upon the enemy, require a considerable expenditure of time and power; of course, the greater the impression to be made, the greater the expenditure in these respects. And as this is usually not given for the purpose, very few demonstrations, so-called, in strategy, effect the object for which they are designed. In fact, it is dangerous to detach large forces for any length of time merely for a trick, because there is always the risk of its being done in vain, and then these forces are wanted at the decisive point.
The chief actor in war is always thoroughly sensible of this sober truth, and therefore he has no desire to play at tricks of agility. The bitter earnestness of necessity presses so fully into direct action that there is no room for that game. In a word, the pieces on the strategical chess-board want that mobility which is the element of stratagem and subtilty.
The conclusion which we draw, is that a correct and penetrating eye is a more necessary and more useful quality for a general than craftiness, although that also does no harm if it does not exist at the expense of necessary qualities of the heart, which is only too often the case.
But the weaker the forces become which are under the command of strategy, so much the more they become adapted for stratagem, so that to the quite feeble and little, for whom no prudence, no sagacity is any longer sufficient at the point where all art seems to forsake him, stratagem offers itself as a last resource. The more helpless his situation, the more everything presses towards one single, desperate blow, the more readily stratagem comes to the aid of his boldness. Let loose from all further calculations, freed from all concern for the future, boldness and stratagem intensify each other, and thus collect at one point an infinitesimal glimmering of hope into a single ray, which may likewise serve to kindle a flame.
Assembly of Forces in Space
THE best strategy is always to be very strong, first generally, then at the decisive point. Therefore, apart from the energy which creates the army, a work which is not always done by the general, there is no more imperative and simpler law for strategy than to keep the forces concentrated.—No portion is to be separated from the main body unless called away by some urgent necessity. On this maxim we stand firm, and look upon it as a guide to be depended upon. What are the reasonable grounds on which a detachment of forces may be made we shall learn by degrees. Then we shall also see that this principle cannot have the same general effects in every war, but that these are different according to the means and end.
It seems incredible, and yet it has happened a hundred times, that troops have been divided and separated merely through a mysterious feeling of conventional manner, without any clear perception of the reason.
If the concentration of the whole force is acknowledged as the norm, and every division and separation as an exception which must be justified, then not only will that folly be completely avoided, but also many an erroneous ground for separating troops will be barred admission.
Assembly of Forces in Time
WE have here to deal with a conception which in real life diffuses many kinds of illusory light, a clear definition and development of the idea is therefore necessary, and we hope to be allowed a short analysis.
War is the shock of two opposing forces in the collision with each other, from which it follows as a matter of course that the stronger not only destroys the other, but carries it forward with it in its movement. This fundamentally admits of no successive action of powers, but makes the simultaneous application of all forces intended for the shock appear as a primordial law of war.
So it is in reality, but only so far as the struggle resembles also in reality a mechanical shock, but when it consists in a lasting mutual action of destructive forces, then we can certainly imagine a successive action of forces. This is the case in tactics, principally because firearms form the basis of all tactics, but also for other reasons as well. If in fire combat 1000 men are opposed to 500, then the gross loss is calculated from the amount of the enemy’s force and our own; 1,000 fire twice as many shots as 500, but more shots will take effect on the l,000 than on the 500 because it is assumed that they stand in closer order than the other. If we were to suppose the number of hits to be double, then the losses on each side would be equal. From the 500 there would be for example 200 disabled, and out of the body of 1,000 likewise the same; now if the 500 had kept another body of equal number quite out of fire, then both sides would have 800 effective men; but of these, on the one side there would be 500 men quite fresh, fully supplied with ammunition, and in their full vigour; on the other side only 800 all alike shaken in their order, in want of sufficient ammunition and weakened in physical force. The assumption that the 1,000 men merely on account of their greater number would lose twice as many as 500 would have lost in their place, is certainly not correct; therefore the greater loss which that side suffers which has placed the half of its force in reserve, must be regarded as a disadvantage in that original formation; further it must be admitted, that in the generality of cases the 1,000 men would have the advantage at the first commencement of being able to drive their opponent out of his position and force him to a retrograde movement; now, whether these two advantages are a counterpoise to the disadvantage of finding ourselves with 800 men to a certain extent disorganised by the combat, opposed to an enemy who is not materially weaker in numbers and who has 500 quite fresh troops, is one that cannot be decided by pursuing an analysis further, we must here rely upon experience, and there will scarcely be an officer experienced in War who will not in the generality of cases assign the advantage to that side which has the fresh troops.
In this way it becomes evident how the employment of too many forces in combat may be disadvantageous; for whatever advantages the superiority may even give in the first moment, we may have to pay dearly for in the next.
But this danger only lasts as long as the disorder, the state of confusion and weakness lasts, in a word, up to the crisis which every combat brings with it even for the conqueror. Within the duration of this relaxed state of exhaustion, the appearance of a proportionate number of fresh troops is decisive.
But when this disordering effect of victory stops, and therefore only the moral superiority remains which every victory gives, then it is no longer possible for fresh troops to restore the combat, they would only be carried along in the general movement; a beaten army can not be brought back to victory a day after by means of a strong reserve. Here we find ourselves at the source of a highly material difference between tactics and strategy.
The tactical results, the results within the four corners of the battle, and before its close, lie for the most part within the limits of that period of disorder and weakness. But the strategic result, that is to say, the result of the total combat, of the victories realised, let them be small or great, lies completely (beyond) outside of that period. It is only when the results of partial combats have bound themselves together into an independent whole, that the strategic result appears, but then, the state of crisis is over, the forces have resumed their original form, and are now only weakened to the extent of those actually destroyed (placed hors de combat).
The consequence of this difference is that tactics can make a continued use of forces, strategy only a simultaneous one.
If I cannot, in tactics, decide all by the first success, if I have to fear the next moment, it follows of itself that I employ only so much of my force for the success of the first moment as appears sufficient for that object, and keep the rest beyond the reach of fire or conflict of any kind, in order to be able to oppose fresh troops to fresh, or with such to overcome those that are exhausted. But it is not so in strategy. Partly, as we have just shown, it has not so much reason to fear a reaction after a success realised, because with that success the crisis stops; partly all the forces strategically employed are not necessarily weakened. Only so much of them as has been tactically in conflict with the enemy’s force, that is, engaged in partial combat, is weakened by it; consequently, only so much as was unavoidably necessary, but by no means all which was strategically in conflict with the enemy, unless tactics has expended unnecessarily. Corps which, on account of the general superiority in numbers, have either been little or not at all engaged, whose presence alone has assisted in the result, are after the decision the same as they were before, and for new enterprises as efficient as if they had been entirely inactive. How greatly such corps which thus constitute our excess may contribute to the total success is evident in itself; indeed, it is not difficult to see how they may even diminish considerably the loss of the forces engaged in tactical conflict on our side.
If, therefore, in strategy the loss does not increase with the number of the troops employed, but is often diminished by it, and if, as a natural consequence, the decision in our favour is, by that means, the more certain, then it follows naturally that in strategy we can never employ too many forces, and consequently also that they must be applied simultaneously to the immediate purpose.
But we must vindicate this proposition upon another ground. We have hitherto only spoken of the combat itself; it is the real activity in war, but men, time, and space, which appear as the elements of this activity, must, at the same time, be kept in view, and the results of their influence brought into the consideration also.
Fatigue, exertion, and privation constitute in war a special principle of destruction, not essentially belonging to contest, but more or less inseparably bound up with it, and certainly one which especially belongs to strategy. They no doubt exist in tactics as well, and perhaps there in the highest degree; but as the duration of the tactical acts is shorter, therefore the small effects of exertion and privation on them can come but little into consideration. But in strategy on the other hand, where time and space are on a larger scale, their influence is not only always very considerable, but often quite decisive. It is not at all uncommon for a victorious army to lose many more by sickness than on the field of battle.
If, therefore, we look at this sphere of destruction in strategy in the same manner as we have considered that of fire and close combat in tactics, then we may well imagine that everything which comes within its vortex will, at the end of the campaign or of any other strategic period, be reduced to a state of weakness, which makes the arrival of a fresh force decisive. We might therefore conclude that there is a motive in the one case as well as the other to strive for the first success with as few forces as possible, in order to keep up this fresh force for the last.
In order to estimate exactly this conclusion, which, in many cases in practice, will have a great appearance of truth, we must direct our attention to the separate ideas which it contains. In the first place, we must not confuse the notion of reinforcement with that of fresh unused troops. There are few campaigns at the end of which a new increase of force is not earnestly desired by the conqueror as well as the conquered, and indeed should appear decisive; but that is not the point here, for that increase of force could not be necessary if the force had been that much larger at the first. But it would be contrary to all experience to suppose that an army coming fresh into the field is to be esteemed higher in point of moral value than an army already in the field, just as a tactical reserve is more to be esteemed than a body of troops which has been already severely handled in the fight. Just as much as an unfortunate campaign lowers the courage and moral powers of an army, a successful one raises these elements in their value. In the generality of cases, therefore, these influences are compensated, and then there remains over and above as clear gain the habituation to war. We should besides look more here to successful than to unsuccessful campaigns, because when the greater probability of the latter maybe seen beforehand, without doubt forces are wanted, and, therefore, the reserving a portion for future use is out of the question.
This point being settled, then the question is, Do the losses which a force sustains through fatigues and privations increase in proportion to the size of the force, as is the case in a combat? And to that we answer “No.”
The fatigues of war result in a great measure from the dangers with which every moment of the act of war is more or less impregnated. To encounter these dangers at all points, to proceed onwards with security in the execution of one’s plans, that gives employment to a multitude of agencies which make up the tactical and strategic service of the army. This service is more difficult the weaker an army is, and easier as its numerical superiority over that of the enemy increases. Who can doubt this? A campaign against a much weaker enemy will therefore cost smaller efforts than against one just as strong or stronger.
So much for the fatigues. It is somewhat different with the privations; they consist chiefly of two things, the want of food, and the want of shelter for the troops, either in quarters or in suitable camps. Both these wants will no doubt be greater in proportion as the number of men on one spot is greater. But does not the superiority in force just afford also the best means of spreading out and finding more room, and therefore more means of subsistence and shelter?
If Buonaparte, in his invasion of Russia in 1812, concentrated his army in great masses upon one single road in a manner never heard of before, and thus caused privations equally unparalleled, we must ascribe it to his maxim that it is impossible to be too strong at the decisive point. Whether in this instance he did not strain the principle too far is a question which would be out of place here; but it is certain that, if he had made a point of avoiding the distress which was by that means brought about, he had only to advance on a greater breadth of front. Room was not wanted for the purpose in Russia, and in very few cases can it be wanted. Therefore, from this no ground can be deduced to prove that the simultaneous employment of very superior forces must produce greater weakening. But now, supposing that in spite of the general relief afforded by setting apart a portion of the army, wind and weather and the toils of war had produced a diminution even on the part which as a spare force had been reserved for later use, still we must take a comprehensive general view of the whole, and therefore ask, Will this diminution of force suffice to counterbalance the gain in forces, which we, through our superiority in numbers, may be able to make in more ways than one?
But there still remains a most important point to be noticed. In a partial combat, the force required to obtain a great result, which has been proposed, can be approximately estimated without much difficulty, and, consequently, we can form an idea of what is superfluous. In strategy this may be said to be impossible, because the strategic result has no such well-defined object and no such circumscribed limits as the tactical. Thus what can be looked upon in tactics as an excess of power, must be regarded in strategy as a means to give expansion to success, if opportunity offers for it; with the magnitude of the success the gain in force increases at the same time, and in this way the superiority of numbers may soon reach a point which the most careful economy of forces could never have attained.
By means of his enormous numerical superiority, Buonaparte was enabled to reach Moscow in 1812, and to take that central capital. Had he by means of just this superiority succeeded in completely defeating the Russian army, he would, in all probability, have concluded a peace in Moscow which in any other way was much less attainable. This example is used to explain the idea, not to prove it, which would require a circumstantial demonstration, for which this is not the place.1
All these reflections bear merely upon the idea of a successive employment of forces, and not upon the conception of a reserve properly so called, which they, no doubt come in contact with throughout, but which, as we shall see in the following chapter is connected with some other considerations.
What we desire to establish here is, that if in tactics the military force through the mere duration of actual employment suffers a diminution of power, if time, therefore, appears as a factor in the result, this is not the case in strategy in a material degree. The destructive effects which are also produced upon the forces in strategy by time, are partly diminished through their mass, partly made good in other ways, and, therefore, in strategy it cannot be an object to make time an ally on its own account by bringing troops successively into action.
We say on “its own account,” for the influence which time, on account of other circumstances which it brings about but which are different from itself can have, indeed must necessarily have for one of the two parties, is quite another thing, is anything but indifferent or unimportant, and will be the subject of consideration hereafter
The rule which we have been seeking to set forth is, therefore, that all forces which are available and destined for a strategic object should be simultaneously applied to it; and this application will be so much the more complete the more everything is compressed into one act and into one moment.
But still there is in strategy a renewal of effort and a persistent action which, as a chief means towards the ultimate success, is the more particularly not to be overlooked, it is the continual development of new forces. This is also the subject of another chapter, and we only refer to it here in order to prevent the reader from having something in view of which we have not been speaking.
We now turn to a subject very closely connected with our present considerations, which must be settled before full light can be thrown on the whole, we mean the strategic reserve.
A RESERVE has two objects which are very distinct from each other, namely, first, the prolongation and renewal of the combat, and secondly, for use in case of unforeseen events. The first object implies the utility of a successive application of forces, and on that account cannot occur in strategy. Cases in which a corps is sent to succour a point which is supposed to be about to fall are plainly to be placed in the category of the second object as the resistance which has to be offered here could not have been sufficiently foreseen. But a corps which is destined expressly to prolong the combat, and with that object in view is placed in rear, would be only a corps placed out of reach of fire, but under the command and at the disposition of the general commanding in the action, and accordingly would be a tactical and no strategic reserve.
But the necessity for a force ready for unforeseen events may also take place in strategy, and consequently there may also be a strategic reserve, but only where unforeseen events are imaginable. In tactics, where the enemy’s measures are generally first ascertained by direct sight, and where they may be concealed by every wood, every fold of undulating ground, we must naturally always be alive more or less to the possibility of unforeseen events, in order to strengthen, subsequently, those points which appear too weak, and, in fact, to modify generally the disposition of our troops, so as to make it correspond better to that of the enemy.
Such cases must also happen in strategy, because the strategic act is directly linked to the tactical. In strategy also many a measure is first adopted in consequence of what is actually seen, or in consequence of uncertain reports arriving from day to day, or even from hour to hour, and lastly, from the actual results of the combats; it is, therefore, an essential condition of strategic command that, according to the degree of uncertainty, forces must be kept in reserve against future contingencies.
In the defensive generally, but particularly in the defence of certain obstacles of ground, like rivers, hills, &c., such contingencies, as is well known, happen constantly.
But this uncertainty diminishes in proportion as the strategic activity has less of the tactical character, and ceases almost altogether in those regions where it borders on politics.
The direction in which the enemy leads his columns to the combat can be perceived by actual sight only; where he intends to pass a river is learnt from a few preparations which are made shortly before; the line by which he proposes to invade our country is usually announced by all the newspapers before a pistol shot has been fired. The greater the nature of the measure the less it will take the enemy by surprise. Time and space are so considerable, the circumstances out of which the action proceeds so public and little susceptible of alteration, that the coming event is either made known in good time, or it can be discovered with certainty.
On the other hand the use of a reserve in this province of strategy, even if one were available, will always be less efficacious the more the measure has a tendency towards being one of a general nature.
We have seen that the decision of a partial combat is nothing in itself, but that all partial combats only find their complete solution in the decision of the total combat.
But even this decision of the total combat has only a relative meaning of many different gradations, according as the force over which the victory has been gained forms a more or less great and important part of the whole. The lost battle of a corps may be repaired by the victory of the army. Even the lost battle of an army may not only be counterbalanced by the gain of a more important one, but converted into a fortunate event (the two days of Culm, 1813). No one can doubt this; but it is just as clear that the weight of each victory (the successful issue of each total combat) is so much the more substantial the more important the part conquered, and that therefore the possibility of repairing the loss by subsequent events diminishes in the same proportion. In another place we shall have to examine this more in detail; it suffices for the present to have drawn attention to the indubitable existence of this progression.
If we now add lastly to these two considerations the third, which is, that if the persistent use of forces in tactics always shifts the great result to the end of the whole act, the law of the simultaneous use of the forces in strategy, on the contrary, lets the principal result (which need not be the final one) take place almost always at the commencement of the great (or whole) act, then in these three results we have grounds sufficient to find strategic reserves always more superfluous, always more useless, always more dangerous the more general their destination.
But the point where the idea of a strategic reserve begins to become inconsistent is not difficult to determine: it lies in thesupreme decision. Employment must be given to all the forces within the space of the supreme decision, and every reserve (active force available) which is only intended for use after that decision is opposed to common sense.
If, therefore, tactics has in its reserves the means of not only meeting unforeseen dispositions on the part of the enemy, but also of repairing that which never can be foreseen, the result of the combat, should that be unfortunate; strategy on the other hand must, at least as far as relates to the capital result, renounce the use of these means. As a rule, it can only repair the losses sustained at one point by advantages gained at another, in a few cases by moving troops from one point to another; the idea of preparing for such reverses by placing forces in reserve beforehand, can never be entertained in strategy.
We have pointed out as an absurdity the idea of a strategic reserve which is not to co-operate in the capital result, and as it is so beyond a doubt, we should not have been led into such an analysis as we have made in these two chapters, were it not that, in the disguise of other ideas, it looks like something better, and frequently makes its appearance. One person sees in it the acme of strategic sagacity and foresight; another rejects it, and with it the idea of any reserve, consequently even of a tactical one. This confusion of ideas is transferred to real life, and if we would see a memorable instance of it we have only to call to mind that Prussia in 1806 left a reserve of 20,000 men cantoned in the Mark, under Prince Eugene of Wurtemberg, which could not possibly reach the Saale in time to be of any use, and that another force of 25,000 men belonging to this power remained in East and South Prussia, destined only to be put on a war-footing afterwards as a reserve.
After these examples we cannot be accused of having been fighting with windmills.
Economy of Forces
THE road of reason, as we have said, seldom allows itself to be reduced to a mathematical line by principles and opinions. There remains always a certain margin. But it is the same in all the practical arts of life. For the lines of beauty there are no abscisses and ordinates; circles and ellipses are not described by means of their algebraical formulae. The actor in war therefore soon finds he must trust himself to the delicate tact of judgment which, founded on natural quickness of perception, and educated by reflection, almost unconsciously seizes upon the right; he soon finds that at one time he must simplify the law (by reducing it) to some prominent characteristic points which form his rules; that at another the adopted method must become the staff on which he leans.
As one of these simplified characteristic points as a mental appliance, we look upon the principle of watching continually over the co-operation of all forces, or in other words, of keeping constantly in view that no part of them should ever be idle. Whoever has forces where the enemy does not give them sufficient employment, whoever has part of his forces on the march—that is, allows them to lie dead—while the enemy’s are fighting, he is a bad manager of his forces. In this sense there is a waste of forces, which is even worse than the employment to no purpose. If there must be action, then the first point is that all parts act, because the most purposeless activity still keeps employed and destroys a portion of the enemy’s force, whilst troops completely inactive are for the moment quite neutralised. Unmistakably this idea is bound up with the principles contained in the last three chapters, it is the same truth, but seen from a somewhat more comprehensive point of view and condensed into a single conception.
THE length to which the geometrical element or form in the disposition of military force in war can become a predominant principle, we see in the art of fortification, where geometry looks after the great and the little. Also in tactics it plays a great part. It is the basis of elementary tactics, or of the theory of moving troops; but in field fortification, as well as in the theory of positions, and of their attack, its angles and lines rule like lawgivers who have to decide the contest. Many things here were at one time mis-applied, and others were mere fribbles; still, however in the tactics of the present day, in which in every combat the aim is to surround the enemy, the geometrical element has attained anew a great importance in a very simple, certainly, but constantly recurring application. Nevertheless, in tactics, where all is more movable, where the moral forces, individual traits, and chance are more influential than in a war of sieges, the geometrical element can never attain to the same degree of supremacy as in the latter. But less still is its influence in strategy; certainly here, also, form in the disposition of troops, the shape of countries and states is of great importance; but the geometrical element is not decisive here, as in fortification, and not near so important as in tactics.—The manner in which this influence exhibits itself, can only be shown by degrees at those places where it makes its appearance, and deserves notice. Here we wish more to direct attention to the difference which there is between tactics and strategy in relation to it.
In tactics time and space quickly dwindle to their absolute minimum. If a body of troops is attacked in flank and rear by the enemy, it soon gets to a point where retreat no longer remains; such a position is very close to an absolute impossibility of continuing the fight; it must therefore extricate itself from it, or avoid getting into it. This gives to all combinations aiming at this from the first commencement a great efficiency, which chiefly consists in the disquietude which it causes the enemy as to consequences. This is why the geometrical disposition of the forces, is such an important factor in the tactical product.
In strategy this is only faintly reflected, on account of the greater space and time. We do not fire from one theatre of war upon another; and often weeks and months must pass before a strategic movement designed to surround the enemy can be executed. Further, the distances are so great that the probability of hitting the right point at last, even with the best arrangements, is but small.
In strategy therefore the scope for such combinations, that is for those resting on the geometrical element, is much smaller, and for the same reason the effect of an advantage once actually gained at any point is much greater. Such advantage has time to bring all its effects to maturity before it is disturbed, or quite neutralised therein, by any counteracting apprehensions. We therefore do not hesitate to regard as an established truth, that in strategy more depends on the number and the magnitude of the victorious combats, than on the form of the great lines by which they are connected.
A view just the reverse has been a favourite theme of modern theory, because a greater importance was supposed to be thus given to strategy, and, as the higher functions of the mind were seen in strategy, it was thought by that means to ennoble war, and, as it was said—through a new substitution of ideas—to make it more scientific. We hold it to be one of the principal uses of a complete theory openly to expose such vagaries, and as the geometrical element is the fundamental idea from which theory usually proceeds, therefore we have expressly brought out this point in strong relief.
On the Suspension of the Act in Warfare
IF one looks at war as an act of mutual destruction, we must of necessity imagine both parties in a general way as making some progress; but at the same time, as regards the existing moment, we must almost just as necessarily suppose the one party in a state of expectation, and only the other actually advancing, for circumstances can never be exactly the same on both sides, or continue so. In time a change must ensue, from which it follows that the present moment is more favourable to one side than the other. Now if we suppose that both commanders have a full knowledge of this circumstance, then the one has a motive for action, which at the same time is a motive for the other to wait; therefore, according to this it cannot be for the interest of both at the same time to advance, nor can waiting be for the interest of both at the same time. This opposition of interest as regards the object is not deduced here from the principle of general polarity, and therefore is not in opposition to the argument in the fifth chapter of the second book; it depends on the fact that here in reality the same thing is at once an incentive or motive to both commanders, namely the probability of improving or impairing their position by future action.
But even if we suppose the possibility of a perfect equality of circumstances in this respect, or if we take into account that through imperfect knowledge of their mutual position such an equality may appear to the two commanders to subsist, still the difference of political objects does away with this possibility of suspension. One of the parties must of necessity be assumed politically to be the aggressor, because no war could take place from defensive intentions on both sides. But the aggressor has the positive object, the defender merely a negative one. To the first then belongs the positive action, for it is only by that means that he can attain the positive object; therefore, in cases where both parties are in precisely similar circumstances, the aggressor is called upon to act by virtue of his positive object.
Therefore, according to this manner of viewing it, a suspension in the act of warfare, strictly speaking, is in contradiction with the nature of the thing; because two armies, being two incompatible elements, should destroy one another unremittingly, just as fire and water can never put themselves in equilibrum, but act and react upon one another, until one quite disappears. What would be said of two wrestlers who remained clasped round each other for hours without making a movement. Action in war, therefore, like that of a clock which is wound up, should go on running down in regular motion.—But wild as is the nature of war it still wears the chains of human weakness, and the contradiction we see here, that man seeks and creates dangers which he fears at the same time will astonish no one.
If we cast a glance at military history in general, there we find so much the opposite of an incessant advance towards the aim, that standing still and doing nothing is quite plainly the normal condition of an army in the midst of war, acting, theexception. This must almost raise a doubt as to the correctness of our conception. But if military history has this effect by the great body of its events, so also the latest series of them redeems our view. The war of the French Revolution only shows too plainly its reality, and only proves too plainly its necessity. In that war, and especially in the campaigns of Buonaparte, the conduct of war attained to that unlimited degree of energy which we have represented as the natural law of the element. This degree is therefore possible, and if it is possible then it is necessary.
How could any one in fact justify in the eyes of reason the expenditure of forces in war, if acting was not the the object? The baker only heats his oven if he has bread to put into it; the horse is only yoked to the carriage if we mean to drive; why then make the enormous effort of a War if we look for nothing else by it but like efforts on the part of the enemy?
So much in justification of the general principle: now as to its modifications, as far as they lie in the nature of the thing and are independent of special cases.
There are three causes to be noticed here, which appear as innate counterpoises and prevent the over-rapid or uncontrollable movement of the wheel-work.
The first, which produces a constant tendency to delay, and is thereby a retarding principle, is the natural timidity and want of resolution in the human mind, a kind of power of gravity in the moral world, but which is produced not by attractive, but by repellent forces, that is to say, by dread of danger and responsibility.
In the burning element of War, ordinary natures appear to become heavier; the impulsion given must therefore be stronger and more frequently repeated if the motion is to be a continuous one. The mere idea of the object for which arms have been taken up is seldom sufficient to overcome this resistant force, and if a warlike enterprising spirit is not at the head, who feels himself in war in his natural element, as much as a fish in the ocean, or if there is not the pressure from above of some great responsibility, then standing still will be the order of the day, and progress will be the exception.
The second cause is the imperfection of human perception and judgment, which is greater in war than anywhere, because a person hardly knows exactly his own position from one moment to another, and can only conjecture on slight grounds that of the enemy, which is purposely concealed; this often gives rise to the case of both parties looking upon one and the same object as advantageous for them, while in reality the interest of one must preponderate; thus then each may think he acts wisely by waiting another moment, as we have already said in the fifth chapter of the second book.
The third cause which catches hold, like a ratchet wheel in machinery, from time to time producing a complete stand still, is the greater strength of the defensive form. A may feel too weak to attack B, from which it does not follow that B, is strong enough for an attack on A. The addition of strength, which the defensive gives is not merely lost by assuming the offensive, but also passes to the enemy just as, figuratively expressed, the difference of a+b and a-b is equal to 2b. Therefore it may so happen that both parties, at one and the same time, not only feel themselves too weak to attack, but also are so in reality.
Thus even in the midst of the art of war itself, anxious sagacity and the apprehension of too great danger find vantage ground, by means of which they can exert their power, and tame the elementary impetuosity of war.
However, at the same time these causes without an exaggeration of their effect, would hardly explain the long states of inactivity which took place in military operations, in former times, in wars undertaken about interests of no great importance, and in which inactivity consumed nine-tenths of the time that the troops remained under arms. This feature in these wars, is to be traced principally to the influence which the demands of the one party, and the condition, and feeling of the other, exercised over the conduct of the operations, as has been already observed in the chapter on the essence and object of war.
These things may obtain such a preponderating influence as to make of war a half-and-half thing. A war is often nothing more than an armed neutrality, or a menacing attitude to support negotiations or an attempt to gain some small advantage by small exertions, and then to wait the tide of circumstances, or a disagreeable treaty obligation, which is fulfilled in the most niggardly way possible.
In all these cases in which the impulse given by interest is slight, and the principle of hostility feeble, in which there is no desire to do much, and also not much to dread from the enemy; in short, where no powerful motives press and drive, cabinets will not risk much in the game; hence this tame mode of carrying on war, in which the hostile spirit of real war is laid in irons.
The more war becomes in this manner a half-and-half thing, so much the more its theory becomes destitute of the necessary firm pivots and buttresses for its reasoning; the necessary is constantly diminishing, the accidental constantly increasing.
Nevertheless in this kind of warfare, there is also a certain shrewdness, indeed, its action is perhaps more diversified, and more extensive than in the other. Hazard played with rouleaux of gold seems changed into a game of commerce with groschen. And on this field, where the conduct of war spins out the time with a number of small flourishes, with skirmishes at outposts, half in earnest half in jest, with long dispositions which end in nothing, with positions and marches, which afterwards are designated as skilful only because their infinitesimally small causes are lost, and common sense can make nothing of them, here just on this very field many theorists find the real art of war at home: in these feints, parades, half and quarter thrusts of former wars, they find the aim of all theory, the supremacy of mind over matter, and modern wars appear to them mere savage fisticuffs, from which nothing is to be learnt, and which must be regarded as mere retrograde steps towards barbarism. This opinion is as frivolous as the objects to which it relates. Where great forces and great passions are wanting, it is certainly easier for a practised dexterity to show its game; but is then the command of great forces, the steerage in storm and tempest, not in itself a higher exercise of the intelligent faculties? Is then that kind of conventional sword-exercise not comprised in and belonging to the other mode of conducting war? Does it not bear the same relation to it as the motions upon a ship to the motion of the ship itself? Truly it can take place only under the tacit condition that the adversary does no better. And can we tell, how long he may choose to respect those conditions? Has not then the French revolution fallen upon us in the midst of the fancied security of our old system of war, and driven us from Chalons to Moscow? And did not Frederick the Great in like manner surprise the Austrians reposing in their ancient habits of war, and make their monarchy tremble? Woe to the cabinet which, with a shilly-shally policy, and a routine-ridden military system, meets with an adversary who, like the rude element, knows no other law than that of his intrinsic force. Every deficiency in energy and exertion is then a weight in the scales in favour of the enemy; it is not so easy then to change from the fencing posture into that of an athlete, and a slight blow is often sufficient to knock down the whole.
The result of all the causes now adduced is, that the hostile action of a campaign does not progress by a continuous, but by an intermittent movement, and that, therefore, between the separate bloody acts, there is a period of watching, during which both parties fall into the defensive, and also that usually a higher object causes the principle of aggression to predominate on one side, and thus leaves it in general in an advancing position, by which then its proceedings become modified in some degree.
On the Character of Modern War
THE attention which must be paid to the character of war as it is now made, has a great influence upon all plans, especially on strategic.
Since all methods formerly usual were upset by Buonaparte’s luck and boldness, and first-rate powers almost wiped out at a blow; since the Spaniards by their stubborn resistance have shown what the general arming of a nation and insurgent measures on a great scale can effect, in spite of weakness and porousness of individual parts; since Russia, by the campaign of 1812 has taught us, first, that an empire of great dimensions is not to be conquered (which might have been easily known before), secondly, that the probability of final success does not in all cases diminish in the same measure as battles, capitals, and provinces are lost (which was formerly an incontrovertible principle with all diplomatists, and therefore made them always ready to enter at once into some bad temporary peace), but that a nation is often strongest in the heart of its country, if the enemy’s offensive power has exhausted itself, and with what enormous force the defensive then springs over to the offensive; further, since Prussia (1813) has shown that sudden efforts may add to an army sixfold by means of the militia, and that this militia is just as fit for service abroad as in its own country;—since all these events have shown what an enormous factor the heart and sentiments of a nation may be in the product of its political and military strength, in fine, since governments have found out all these additional aids, it is not to be expected that they will let them lie idle in future wars, whether it be that danger threatens their own existence, or that restless ambition drives them on.
That a war which is waged with the whole weight of the national power on each side must be organised differently in principle to those where everything is calculated according to the relations of standing armies to each other, it is easy to perceive. Standing armies once resembled fleets, the land force the sea force in their relations to the remainder of the State, and from that the art of war on shore had in it something of naval tactics, which it has now quite lost.
Tension and Rest
The Dynamic Law of War
WE have seen in the sixteenth chapter of this book (page 117), how, in most campaigns, much more time used to be spent in standing still and inaction than in activity. Now, although, as observed in the preceding chapter, we see quite a different character in the present form of war, still it is certain that real action will always be interrupted more or less by long pauses; and this leads to the necessity of our examining more closely the nature of these two phases of war.
If there is a suspension of action in war, that is, if neither party wills something positive, there is rest, and consequently equilibrium, but certainly an equilibrium in the largest signification, in which not only the moral and physical war-forces, but all relations and interests, come into calculation. As soon as ever one of the two parties proposes to himself a new positive object, and commences active steps towards it, even if it is only by preparations, and as soon as the adversary opposes this, there is a tension of powers; this lasts until the decision takes place—that is, until one party either gives up his object or the other has conceded it to him.
This decision—the foundation of which lies always in the combat-combinations which are made on each side—is followed by a movement in one or other direction.
When this movement has exhausted itself, either in the difficulties which had to be overcome, as upon its own friction, or through new resistant forces, then either a state of rest takes place or a new tension with a decision, and then a new movement, in most cases in the opposite direction.
This speculative distinction between equilibrium, tension, and motion is more essential for practical action than may at first sight appear.
In a state of rest and of equilibrium a varied kind of activity may prevail that is one that results from opportunity, and does not aim at a great alteration. Such an activity may contain important combats—even pitched battles—but yet it is still of quite a different nature, and on that account generally different in its effects.
If a state of tension exists, the effects of the decision are always greater, partly because a greater force of will and a greater pressure of circumstances manifest themselves therein; partly because everything has been prepared and arranged for a great movement. The decision in such cases resembles the effect of a mine well closed and tamped, whilst an event in itself perhaps just as great, in a state of rest is more or less like a mass of powder puffed away in the open air.
At the same time, as a matter of course, the state of tension must be imagined in different degrees of intensity, and it may therefore approach gradually by many steps towards the state of rest, so that at the last there is a very slight difference between them.
Now the real use which we derive from these reflections is the conclusion that every measure which is taken during a state of tension is more important and more prolific in results than the same measure could be in a state of equilibrium, and that this importance increases immensely in the highest degrees of tension.
The cannonade of Valmy decided more than the battle of Hochkirch.
In a tract of country which the enemy abandons to us because he cannot defend it, we can settle ourselves differently from what we should if the retreat of the enemy was only made with the view to a decision under more favourable circumstances. Against a strategic attack in course of execution, a faulty position, a single false march, may be decisive in its consequence; whilst in a state of equilibrium such errors must be of a very glaring kind, even to excite the activity of the enemy in a general way.
Most bygone wars, as we have already said, consisted, so far as regards the greater part of the time, in this state of equilibrium, or at least in such short tensions with long intervals between them, and weak in their effects, that the events to which they gave rise were seldom great successes, often they were theatrical exhibitions, got up in honour of a royal birthday (Hochkirch), often a mere satisfying of the honour of the arms (Kunersdorf), or the personal vanity of the commander (Freiberg).
That a commander should thoroughly understand these states, that he should have the tact to act in the spirit of them, we hold to be a great requisite, and we have had experience in the campaign of 1806 how far it is sometimes wanting. In that tremendous tension, when everything pressed on towards a supreme decision, and that alone with all its consequences should have occupied the whole soul of the commander, measures were proposed and even partly carried out (such as the reconnaissance towards Franconia), which at the most might have given a kind of gentle play of oscillation in a state of equilibrium. Over these blundering schemes and views, absorbing the activity of the army, the really necessary means, which could alone save, was lost.
But this speculative distinction which we have made is also necessary for our further progress in the construction of our theory, because all that we have to say on the relation of attack and defence, and on the completion of this double-sided act, concerns the state of the crisis in which the forces are placed during the tension and motion, and because all the activity which can take place during the condition of equilibrium can only be regarded and treated as a corollary; for that crisis is the real war and this state of equilibrium only its reflection.