Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

of that fact is that the authority of public law has been shaken or destroyed, and with this aggravation, that the sheer force exercised by Napoleon ruled during a time of war, whereas the present lawless state of Europe has sprung up and exists during a period of protracted peace-of peace, indeed, not undisturbed by frequent alarms, and imposing upon the overburdened populations of the Continent an enormous expenditure of men and money in military establishments scarcely less intolerable than war itself. Such, however, is the present position of European politics. Our object in the following remarks is not to dwell on the diplomatic incidents of the day, to which this writer appears to us to devote inore attention than they deserve, but rather to point out those general principles which must ultimately regulate the policy of nations and the course of human affairs.

The actual condition of the principal states of the Continent as described by this writer resembles that of machines charged to excess with explosive materials, and ready to burst forth upon some triling occasion in all the horrors of universal war; but we seek in vain in these pages for any clear intimation of a direct cause sufficient to justify the outbreak of hostilities, and we entirely deny that the occurrence of disturbances among the semi-civilised peoples of the Balkan, or in the remoter parts of the globe, is an adequate cause for a contest which would convulse the world. In this respect Prince Bismarck has shown a wise and haughty indifference to the petty incidents which are made the most of by newspaper correspondents and officious diplomatists, and he places the maintenance of peace upon far broader and higher grounds than the possession of an island in the Pacific Ocean or the independence of Bulgaria. Lord Beaconsfield is said to have remarked that we make our • lives miserable by the anticipation of evils which never * happen,' and we should escape the scares which periodically agitate the stock exchanges and fill the newspapers with idle rumours if we looked with more confidence to the general political principles which must govern the conduct of statesmen. This writer himself, who draws such formi. dable inferences from the present state of European politics, and appears to see a conflagration breaking out at every corner of the European fabric, is obliged to acknowledge that • Rumours of war are bad enough, but it is not easy to see whence at this moment actual war is likely to come. France does not intend that war shall grow out of the Egyptian question. France is not going VOL. CLIVI. NO. CCCXL.

00

6

to attack Germany in a single-handed struggle. Germany is not going to attack France. Russia is the one power that is a comet of eccentric orbit rather than a planet in the European system.' But we go further, and we shall endeavour to show that the enormous preparations for war which are supposed to betoken the imminence of that catastrophe do in reality render its actual occurrence rather less than more probable, and that it is an entire misapprehension to suppose that because the armies of the Continent—or what are called armies—are reckoned by millions of men, it is more easy or more possible for the great continental Powers to carry on protracted hostilities. This writer founds the whole of his speculations on the enormous numerical forces of armed men which he conceives to be in existence. We very much doubt the accuracy of his figures, and it is impossible to compute the real fighting power of an armed but uninstructed population. But it may be argued, we think with reason, that the magnitude of these armies is rather an impediment than an aid to effective operations in war, and would entail intolerable burdens on a nation which should endeavour to bring its whole virile population into the field.

We are asked to believe that France has a force of 3,408,000 instructed and 701,000 untaught men, or 4,109,000 in all; or, all deductions being made, it is stated that · France possesses ‘an army of 2,500,000 men, with artillery and cavalry proper • for an army of 2,000,000, able at once to stand in line upon the frontier, and to carry on simple though not complicated movements in the field.' The strength of the German armies is stated to be somewhat inferior in numbers, but superior in training and military traditions; and when our author travels to Russia, he asserts that the Russian peace army amounts to 890,000 men, whilst, if all her contingents be taken into account, he conceives that Russia could place six millions of men in the field. We are utterly incredulous as to the existence of these armed hordes, which would resemble the bands of Attila rather than the regular troops of a civilised power; and, even if they existed, it could be shown that the exigencies of such forces are incompatible with the operations of scientific war, and we should deny them the true character of an army at all.

For what is an army? It consists, as regards the rank and file, not merely of men taught the use of arms and a few military movements, but of men who have acquired by time and service that tenacity of discipline which constitutes a soldier--men who, by the habit of implicit obedience, have

[ocr errors]

merged their individual will in the collective strength of the body to which they belong, by absolute confidence in their commanding officers, and by equal confidence in mutual support. Such was the character of the small British detachments which enabled them to resist the furious onslaught of the warriors of the desert against the most fearful odds. Next come the non-commissioned officers. They are the bone and sinew of the military body, whose cohesion depends on their steady, permanent, and watchful authority. Armies in which these men hold their posts for a short time, or are eagerly awaiting promotion to the higher ranks, run the risk of losing their most important organs. Above them are the regimental officers, whose first duty it is to acquire the absolute confidence of their men. On this point General Boulanger, to do him justice, delivered the other day some judicious remarks to the division now under his command.

In modern warfare we need something besides rules and equations. We must take the human factor into account. You may have the most perfect armament in the world, the very best methods of attack, the most admirable strategic plan ; all that is no good if you cannot bring the private soldier up to the scratch, and if you have it not in you to make the common soldier, whether he carry a sabre or a rifle, bring all his manhood to bear in the struggle. Well, you can only do that by constant contact with the private soldier. is by inspiring the rank and file with thorough confidence, by giving them the example of coolness under fire, and not by speculative and scientific theories, that officers fit themselves for war. It is thus that the qualities of the soldier have to be acquired, and those qualities we need more than ever at the present day.'

No doubt these are the qualities most needed in troops, but they are precisely the qualities most difficult, not to say impossible, of attainment in popular armies composed of men under short compulsory service. They can only exist where there is a long and intimate connexion between all ranks of the corps. You may have highly educated officers, but nothing but time and long discipline can create the close moral influence of the officers on the soldier.

In the higher ranks the same knowledge and mutual confidence are indispensably required between the generals whose duty it is to cooperate with each other. But all this fails to constitute an army without the absolute commanding intelligence that must pervade and direct every part of it as a compact and indissoluble whole. To a considerable extent it must be said that the German armies have attained this very high character, to which are due their successes

in the field. This result is attributable to the Spartan discipline of nearly a century, to the strictly local character of the service, and to the peculiar geographical position of the country. But we fail to perceive that these essential conditions are, or are likely to be, attained by the democratic or popular armies of other states. Regular, or, as we may term them, professional armies are composed of men who look to military service as the duty and the object of their lives. National armies raised by universal compulsory conscription consist of men torn from the avocations by which they live, who do not regard military service as their profession, and who are eager to escape from the bondage of the ranks and return to civil life. Time and habit are wholly wanting to form them into regular soldiers, and they retain at best but the character of a militia, serviceable for the defence of their country, but entirely useless for the offensive operations of scientific warfare.

It deserves to be noted that wars carried on by very large bodies of comparatively raw troops, commanded by inexperienced officers, are far more sanguinary than the skilful operations of a regular army. The experience of the late American Civil War affords conclusive evidence of the fact. That contest was carried on with extreme violence between two armed peoples-or two divisions of the same peoplewithout experience of war. Enormous masses of troops were brought into the field. General Grant boasted that he had commanded a million of men, and he owed his victory to the numerical force which crushed the enemy. But the loss of life was prodigious. It is believed that half a million of men perished in the struggle, on the two sides ; a result due to the inexperience of the commander and the rashness of untrained troops. The risk of life is greatest in armies which have not learned to protect themselves, and the civil combatant (as he may be termed) runs far greater dangers than the experienced soldier.

The greatest achievements in war, from the time of Alexander to the time of Napoleon, were wrought by comparatively small bodies of men trained to the highest perfection of military unity. Thus the great campaign of 1805 was won by the consummate efficiency and long training of the army of Boulogne, which enabled Napoleon to advance with irresistible force on Ulm and Vienna. But at Austerlitz Napoleon brought only 65,000 men into the field, and of these only 45,000 were engaged in the battle. Other examples of the same kind are not wanting in our own

history. It is obvious that all the difficulties attending the movements of large bodies of men increase in a geometrical progression with their size. Food, ammunition, forage for horses, even water for the troops, must be found on an enormous scale, and, failing any of these supplies, the larger the army is the more it becomes incapable of action.

Moreover, military service on this scale, which involves the mobilisation, as it is termed, of the whole virile population, would necessitate the interruption of all the functions of civil life; the fields would be untilled, the manufactories deserted, labour arrested, and, in place of the earnings of the national industry, the entire cost of the maintenance of these armed millions must be borne by the State. It is evident that although such an effort may for a short time be made pro aris et focis, its continuance for years would be unendurably ruinous, and would not be tolerated for the purposes of offensive war. To speak plainly, in our humble judgement the thing is overdone. Stupendous machinery has been constructed at infinite cost, but it is too big to be set in motion. Such armies as these remind us of the enormous floating fortresses, iron-belted, turret-armed and served by fifty engines, with every device of mechanical skill, which may serve as the guardships of the realm, but which will never, as we believe, fight one of those great naval actions in mid ocean which decide the mastery of the seas.

But above all the supreme difficulty in the management of these vast armaments lies in the want of an all-embracing, all-foreseeing, uncontested, absolute authority of command. What intellect, what genius, without a highly perfected traditional system, can suffice for these things ? General Changarnier said to the writer of these lines some twenty years ago—that is, before the Franco-German war, and when armies had not attained their present dimensions--that although he held himself and some half-dozen officers of the time to be competent to command 60,000 men, and thought the defence of France might be entrusted to several corps d'armée of that strength, yet he believed there was no living man in France capable of directing the combined forces of hundreds of thousands of troops in the field, and that when the Emperor Napoleon himself endeavoured in 1812 and 1813 to carry on war on that scale he signally failed.

It would be presumptuous in us to criticise the present condition of the French army, of which we have no practical knowledge; but it must strike even a foreign observer that

« AnteriorContinuar »