H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought online

. (page 12 of 21)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 12 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dramatic, emotional, and restricted; war in the
future will be none of these things. War in the
past was a thing of days and heroisms; battles-
and campaigns rested in the hand of the great
commander; he stood out against the sky, pict-
uresquely on horseback, visibly controlling it all.
War in the future will be a question of prepara-
tion, of long 3'ears of foresight and disciplined
imagination ; there will be no decisive victo^, but
a vast diffusion of conflict it will depend less
and less on controlling personalities and driving
emotions, and more and more upon the intelligence
and personal quality of a great number of skilled
men. All this the next chapter will expand.
And either before or after, but, at any rate, in the
shadow of war, it will become apparent, perhaps
even suddenly, that the whole apparatus of power
in the country is in the hands of a new class of
intelligent and scientificalty educated men. They



will probably, under the development of warlike
stresses, be discovered they will, discover them-
selves almost surprisingly with roads and rail-
ways, carts and cities, drains, food supply, electrical
supply, and water supply, and with guns and such
implements of destruction and intimidation as
men scarcely dream of yet, gathered in their hands.
And they will be discovered, too, with a growing
common consciousness of themselves as distin-
guished from the gray confusion, a common pur-
pose and implication that the fearless analysis
of science is already bringing to light. They
will find themselves with bloodshed and horrible
disasters ahead, and the material apparatus of
control entirely within their power. "Suppose,
after all," they will say, "we ignore these very
eloquent and showy governing persons above, and
this very confused and ineffectual multitude be-
low. Suppose now we put on the brakes and try
something a little more stable and orderly. These
people in possession have, of course, all sorts
of established rights and prescriptions; they
have squared the law to their purpose, and the
constitution does not know us ; they can get at the
judges, they can get at the newspapers, they can
do all sorts of things except avoid a smash but,
for our part, we have these really most ingenious
and subtle guns. Suppose, instead of our turning
them and our valuable selves in a fool's quarrel
against the ingenious and subtle guns of other



men akin to ourselves, we use them in the cause
of the higher sanitj^ and clear that jabbering war
tumult out of the streets." . . . There ma}' be
no dramatic moment for the expression of this
idea, no moment when the new Cromwellism and
the new Ironsides will come visibly face to face
with talk and baubles, flags and patriotic dinner-
bells; but, with or without dramatic moments, the
idea will be expressed and acted upon. It will
be made quite evident then, what is now, indeed,
only a pious opinion namely, that wealth is, after
all, no ultimate power at all, but only an influence
among aimless, police-guarded men. So long as
there is peace the class of capable men may be
mitigated and gagged and controlled, and the
ostensible present order may flourish still in the
hands of that other class of men which deals with
the appearances of things. But as some super-
saturated solution will crystallize out with the mere
shaking of its beaker, so must the new order of
men come into visibly organized existence through
the concussions of war. The charlatans can es-
cape everything except war, but to the cant and
violence of nationality, to the sustaining force
of international hostility, they are ruthlessly com-
pelled to cling, and what is now their chief support
must become at last their destruction. And so it
is, I infer, that, whether violently as a revolution
or quietly and slowly, this gray confusion that
is democracy must pass away inevitably by



its own inherent conditions, as the twilight
passes, as the embryonic confusion of the cocoon
creature passes, into the higher stage, into the
higher organism, the world-state of the coining



IN shaping anticipations of the future of war
there arises a certain difficulty about the point
of departure. One may either begin upon such broad
issues as the preceding forecasts have opened, and
having determined now something of the nature
of the coming state and the force of its warlike
inclination, proceed to speculate how this vast, ill-
organized, four-fold organism will fight; or one may
set all that matter aside for a space, and having
regard chiefly to the continually more potent appli-
ances physical science offers the soldier, we may
try to develop a general impression of theoretically
thorough war, go from that to the nature of the
state most likely to be superlatively efficient in
such warfare, and so arrive at the conditions of
survival under which these present governments
of confusion will struggle one against the other.
The latter course will be taken here. We will deal
first of all with war conducted for its own sake,
with a model army, as efficient as an imaginative
training can make it, and with a model organiza-
tion for warfare of the state behind it, and then
' 193


the experience of the confused modern social or-
ganism as it is impelled, in an uncongenial met-
amorphosis, towards this imperative and finally
unavoidable efficient state, will come most easily
within the scope of one's imagination.

The great change that is working itself out in
warfare is the same change that is working itself
out in the substance of the social fabric. The es-
sential change in the social fabric, as we have ana-
lyzed it, is the progressive supersession of the old
broad labor base by elaborately organized mech-
anism, and the obsolescence of the once valid
and necessary distinction of gentle and simple. In
warfare, as I have already indicated, this takes
the form of the progressive supersession of the
horse and the private soldier which were the liv-
ing and sole engines of the old time by machines,
and the obliteration of the old distinction between
leaders, who pranced in a conspicuous^ 7 danger-
ous and encouraging way into the picturesque
incidents of battle, and the led, who cheered and
charged and filled the ditches and were slaugh-
tered in a wholesale dramatic manner. The old
war was a matter of long, dreary marches, great
hardships of campaigning, but also of heroic con-
clusive moments. Long periods of campings
almost always with an outbreak of pestilence
of marchings and retreats, much crude business
of feeding and forage, culminated at last, with
an effect of infinite relief, in an hour or so of



"battle." The battle was always a very intimate,
tumultuous affair; the men were flung at one an-
other in vast, excited masses, in living, fighting ma-
chines, as it were; spears or bayonets flashed; one
side or the other ceased to prolong the climax, and
the thing was over. The beaten force crumpled as
a whole, and the victors as a whole pressed upon it.
Cavalry with slashing sabres marked the crown-
ing point of victory. In the later stages of the
old warfare musketry volleys were added to the
physical impact of the contending regiments, and
at last cannon, as a quite accessory method of
breaking these masses of men. So you " gave bat-
tle" to and defeated your enemj^'s forces where-
ever encountered, and when you reached your
objective in his capital the war was done. . . .
The new war will probably have none of these
features of the old system of fighting.

The revolution that is in progress from the old
war to a new war, different in its entire nature
from the old, is marked primarily by the steady
progress in range and efficiencj 7 ^ of the rifle and of
the field-gun and more particularly of the rifle.
The rifle develops persistently from a clumsy imple-
ment, that any clown may learn to use in half a day,
towards a very intricate mechanism, easily put out
of order and easily misused, but of the most extraor-
dinary possibilities in the hands of men of courage,
character, and high intelligence. Its precision at
long range has made the business of its care, load-



ing, and aim subsidiary to the far more intricate
matter of its use in relation to the 'contour of the
ground within its reach. Even its elaboration as
an instrument is probably still incomplete. One
can conceive it provided in the future with cross-
thread telescopic sights, the focusing of which, cor-
rected by some ingenious use of hygroscopic ma-
terial, might even find the range, and so enable it
to be used with assurance up to a mile or more.
It will probably also take on some of the charac-
ters of the machine-gun. It will be used either for
single shots or to quiver and send a spray of al-
most simultaneous bullets out of a magazine even-
ly and certainly over any small area the rifleman
thinks advisable. It will probably be portable
by one man, but there is no reason really, except
the bayonet tradition, the demands of which may
be met in other ways, why it should be the in-
strument of one sole man. It will, just as prob-
ably, be slung, with its ammunition and equip-
ment, upon bicycle wheels, and be the common
care of two or more associated soldiers. Equipped
with such a weapon, a single couple of marksmen
even, by reason of smokeless powder and carefully
chosen cover, might make themselves practically
invisible, and capable of surprising, stopping, and
destroying a visible enemy in quite consider-
able numbers who blundered within a mile of
them. And a series of such groups of marksmen
so arranged as to cover the arrival of reliefs, provi-



sions, and fresh ammunition from the rear, might
hold out against any visible attack for an indefi-
nite period, unless the ground they occupied was
searched very ably and subtly by some sort of
gun having a range in excess of their rifle fire.
If the ground they occupied were to be properly
tunnelled and trenched, even that might not avail,
and there would be nothing for it but to attack
them by an advance under cover either of the
night or of darkness caused by smoke-shells, or by
the burning of cover about their position. Even
then they might be deadly with magazine fire at
close quarters. Save for their liability to such
attacks, a few hundreds of such men could hold
positions of a quite vast extent, and a few thou-
sand might hold a frontier. Assuredly a mere
handful of such men could stop the most multitu-
dinous attack or cover the most disorderly retreat
in the world, and even when some ingenious, dar-
ing, and lucky night assault had at last ejected
them from a position, dawn would simply restore
to them the prospect of reconstituting in new
positions their enormous advantage of defence.

The only really effective and final defeat such an
attenuated force of marksmen could sustain would
be from the slow and circumspect advance upon
it of a similar force of superior marksmen, creep-
ing forward under cover of night or of smoke-
shells and fire, digging pits during the snatches
of cessation obtained in this way, and so coming



nearer and nearer and getting a completer and
completer mastery of the defender's ground until
the approach of the defender's reliefs, food, and
fresh ammunition ceased to be possible. There-
upon there would be nothing for it but either sur-
render or a bolt in the night to positions in the
rear, a bolt that might be hotly followed if it were
deferred too late.

Probably between contiguous nations that have
mastered the art of war, instead of the pouring
clouds of cavalry of the old dispensation,* this

* Even along such vast frontiers as the Russian and Austrian,
for example, where M. Bloch anticipates war will be begun with
an invasion of clouds of Russian cavalry and great cavalry
battles, I am inclined to think this deadlock of essentially de-
fensive marksmen may still be the more probable thing. Small
bodies of cyclist riflemen would rush forward to meet the ad-
vancing clouds of cavalry, would drop into invisible ambushes,
and announce their presence in unknown numbers with
carefully aimed shots difficult to locate. A small number of
such men could always begin their fight with a surprise at the
most advantageous moment, and they would be able to make
themselves very deadly against a comparatively powerful frontal
attack. If at last the attack were driven home before supports
came up to the defenders, they would still be able to cycle away,
comparatively immune. To attempt even very wide flanking
movements against such a snatched position would be simply
to run risks of blundering upon similar ambushes. The clouds
of cavalry would have to spread into thin lines at last and go
forward with the rifle. Invading clouds of cyclists would be in
no better case. A conflict of cyclists against cyclists over a
country too spacious for unbroken lines would still, I think,
leave the struggle essentially unchanged. The advance of
small unsupported bodies would be the wildest and most un-
profitable adventure ; every advance would have to be made
behind a screen of scouts, and, given a practical equality in the
numbers and manhood of the two forces, these screens would
speedily become simply very attenuated lines.



will be the opening phase of the struggle, a vast
duel all along the frontier between groups of skill-
ed marksmen, continually being relieved and re-
freshed from the rear. For a time quite possibly
there will be no definite army here or there; there
will be no controllable battle; there will be no great
general in the field at all. But somewhere far
in the rear the central organizer will sit at the
telephonic centre of his vast front, and he will
strengthen here and feed there, and watch, watch
perpetually, the pressure, the incessant, remorseless
pressure, that is seeking to wear down his counter-
vailing thrust. Behind the thin firing line that is
actually engaged, the country for many miles will
be rapidly cleared and devoted to the business
of war; big machines will be at work making
second, third, and fourth lines of trenches that
may be needed if presently the firing line is forced
back, spreading out transverse paths for the swift
lateral movement of the cyclists, who will be in
perpetual alertness to relieve sudden local press-
ures, and all along those great motor roads our
first Anticipations sketched, there will be a vast
and rapid shifting to and fro of big and very long
range guns. These guns will probably be fought
with the help of balloons. The latter will hang
above the firing line all along the front, incessantly
ascending and withdrawn; they will be contin-
ually determining the distribution of the antago-
nist's forces, directing the fire of continually shift-



ing great guns upon the apparatus and supports
in the rear of his fighting line, -forecasting his
night plans and seeking some tactical or strategic
weakness in that sinewy line of battle.

It will be evident that such warfare as this in-
evitable precision of gun and rifle forces upon
humanity will become less and less dramatic as
a whole, more and more as a whole a monstrous
thrust and pressure of people against people. No
dramatic little general spouting his troops into
the proper hysterics for charging, no prancing
merely brave officers, no reckless gallantry or
invincible stubbornness of men will suffice. For
the commander-in-chief on a picturesque horse
sentimentally watching his "boys" march past
to death or glory in battalions, there will have to
be a loyal staff of men, working simply, earnestly,
and subtly to keep the front tight; and at the
front every little isolated company of men will have
to be a council of war, a little conspiracy under
the able man its captain, as keen and individual
as a football team, conspiring against the scarcely
seen company of the foe over yonder. The battalion
commander will be replaced in effect by the or-
ganizer of the balloons and guns by which his
few hundreds of splendid individuals will be guid-
ed and reinforced. In the place of hundreds of
thousands of more or less drunken and untrained
young men marching into battle muddle-headed,
sentimental, dangerous, and futile hobbledehoys



there will be thousands of sober men braced up
to their highest possibilities, intensely doing their
best; in the place of charging battalions, shatter-
ing impacts of squadrons and wide harvest fields
of death, there will be hundreds of little rifle
battles fought up to the hilt, gallant dashes here,
night surprises there, the sudden, sinister, faint
gleam of nocturnal baj^onets, brilliant guesses
that will drop catastrophic shell and death over
hills and forests suddenly into carelessly exposed
masses of men. For eight miles on either side of
the firing-lines whose fire will probably never
altogether die away while the war lasts men will
live and eat and sleep under the imminence of un- '
anticipated death. . . . Such will be the opening
phase of the war that is speedily to come.

And behind the thin firing line on either side a
vast multitude of people will be at work; indeed,
the whole mass of the efficients in the state will
have to be at work, and most of them will be simply
at the same work or similar work to that done in
peace time only now as combatants upon the lines
of communication. The organized staffs of the big
road managements, now become a part of the mili-
tary scheme, will be deporting women and chil-
.dren and feeble people and bringing up supplies
and supports; the doctors will be dropping from
their civil duties into pre-appointed official places,
directing the feeding and treatment of the shifting
masses of people and guarding the valuable man-



hood of the fighting apparatus most sedulously
from disease;* the engineers will -be intrenching
and bringing up a vast variety of complicated
and ingenious apparatus designed to surprise and
inconvenience the enemy in novel ways; the
dealers in food and clothing, the manufacturers
of all sorts of necessary stuff, will be converted by
the mere declaration of war into public servants;
a practical realization of socialistic conceptions
will quite inevitably be forced upon the fighting
state. The state that has not incorporated with
its fighting organization all its able-bodied man-
hood and all its material substance, its roads, ve-
hicles, engines, foundries, and all its resources of
food and clothing ; the state which at the outbreak
of war has to bargain with railway and shipping
companies, replace experienced station-masters by
inexperienced officers, and haggle against alien
interests for every sort of supply, will be at an
overwhelming disadvantage against a state which
has emerged from the social confusion of the pres-
ent time, got rid of every vestige of our present
distinction between official and governed, and
organized every element in its being.

I imagine that in this ideal war, as compared

* So far, pestilence has been a feature of almost every sustained
war in the world, but there is really no reason whatever why it
should be so. There is no reason, indeed, why a soldier upon
active service on the victorious side should go without a night's
rest or miss a meal. If he does, there is nrnddle and want of
foresight somewhere, and that our hypothesis excludes.



with the war of to-day, there will be a very con-
siderable restriction of the rights of the non-com-
batant. A large part of existing international law
involves a curious implication, a distinction between
the belligerent government and its accredited agents
in warfare and the general body of its subjects.
There is a disposition to treat the belligerent
government, in spite of the democratic status of
many states, as not fully representing its people,
to establish a sort of world-citizenship in the com-
mon mass outside the official and military class.
Protection of the non-combatant and his property
comes at last in theory, at least within a meas-
urable distance of notice boards: "Combatants
are requested to keep off the grass." This dis-
position I ascribe to a recognition of that obsoles-
cence and inadequacy of the formal organization
of states which has already been discussed in
this book. It was a disposition that was strongest,
perhaps, in the earliest decades of the nineteenth
century, and stronger now than, in the steady
and irresistible course of strenuous and universal
military preparation, it is likely to be in the fut-
ure. In our imaginary twentieth-century state,
organized primarily for war, this tendency to dif-
ferentiate a non-combatant mass in the fighting
state will certainly not be respected; the state will
be organized as a whole to fight as a whole; it will
have triumphantly asserted the universal duty of
its citizens. The military force will be a much am-



pier organization than the "army" of to-day; it
will be not simply the fists, but the body and brain
of the land. The whole apparatus, the whole staff
engaged in internal communication, for example,
may conceivably not be state property and a state
service, but if it is not it will assuredly be as a
whole organized as a volunteer force, that may
instantly become a part of the machinery of de-
fence or aggression at the outbreak of war.* The
men may very conceivably not have a uniform,
for military .uniforms are simply one aspect of
this curious and transitory phase of restriction,
but they will have their orders and their universal
plan. As the bells ring and the recording tele-
phones click into every house the news that war
has come, there will be no running to and fro upon
the public ways, no bawling upon the moving
platforms of the central urban nuclei, no crowds
of silly, useless, able-bodied people gaping at in-
flammatory transparencies outside the offices of
sensational papers because the egregious idiots
in control of affairs have found them no better
employment. Every man will be soberly and
intelligently setting about the particular thing

* Lady Maud Rolleston, in her very interesting Yeoman
Service, complains of the Boers killing an engine-driver during
an attack on a train at Kroonstadt, " which was," she writes,
" an abominable action, as he is, in law, a non-combatant."
The implicit assumption of this complaint would cover the en-
gineers of an ironclad or the guides of a night attack every-
body, in fact, who was not positively weapon in hand.



he has to do even the rich share-holding sort of
person, the hereditary mortgager of society, will
be given something to do, and if he has learned
nothing else he will serve to tie up parcels of am-
munition or pack army sausage. Very probably
the best of such people and of the speculative class
will have qualified as -cyclist marksmen for the
front; some of them may even have devoted the
leisure of peace to military studies and may be
prepared with novel weapons. Recruiting among
the working classes or, more properly speaking,
among the people of the abyss will have dwindled
to the vanishing point; people who are no good
for peace purposes are not likely to be any good
in such a grave and complicated business as mod-
ern war. The spontaneous traffic of the roads in
peace will fall now into two streams, one of wom-
en and children coming quietly and comfortably
out of danger, the other of men and material going
up to the front. There will be no panics, no hard-
ships, because everything will have been amply
prearranged we are dealing with an ideal state.
Quietly and tremendously that state will have
gripped its -adversary and tightened its muscles
that is all.

Now the strategy of this new sort of war in its
opening phase will consist mainly in very rapid
movements of guns and men behind that thin
screen of marksmen, in order to deal suddenly and
unexpectedly some forcible blow, to snatch at



some position into which guns and men may be
thrust to outflank and turn the advantage of the
ground against some portion of the enemy's line.
The game will be largely to crowd and crumple
that line, to stretch it over an arc to the break-
ing point, to secure a position from which to shell
and destroy its supports and provisions, and to
capture or destroy its guns and apparatus, and
so tear it away from some town or arsenal it has

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 12 of 21)