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teries of the system ? Nothing, it is evident, short
of absurdities and abuses without parallel in the
civilized world, could explain the results ; absurdities

* The words are not mine, but those of the United Service Gazette :
" The army as a service, even with limited enlistment, has not become
more popular, nor has a better class of men been induced to join. On the
contrary, in both these respects it has decidedly fallen off. It is no easy
matter, if any pressure prevails, to get a sufficiency of men to enlist at
all, and everyone who knows anything about it will say that our soldiers
are, far more than they ever were, the very scum and dregs of the population.
Ticket-of-leave men abound amongst them. One-half the recruits raised
are practised rogues and vagabonds ; they only enlist for the purpose of
getting the bounty and deserting immediately after. The numbers who
are said to have done so, upon the authority of official documents, during
the last year, were no less than between 20,000 and 30,000." United
Service Gazette, for July 1861, quoted by Mr. Edwin Chadwick.


and abuses which, whatever apology history may offer
for their existence, can have no other conceivable
effect than to facilitate nepotism and extravagance, to
push incompetency into high places, and to provide
for the ruin of the country. If we desire I will not
say to play the part of an international police for
Europe but to maintain our position as an indepen-
dent State, a thorough-going and radical reform of
our military system is simply imperative ; and the
most urgent need of the country at the present
moment is to determine upon what principle this
reform is to be carried out.

Fortunately the problem has been greatly simplified
for us by recent experience and discussion, and two
or three points may at once be taken as established
in advance established, I mean, as far as reason and
experience can establish anything. In the first place,
it need scarcely be said, the purchase system must be
absolutely swept away. This has long been felt by
all who have not given themselves over to delusion,
to be an absurdity and a scandal ; but the exposure
it has within a few months received at the hands
of Sir Charles and Mr. Trevelyan, has shown it to
be at once an influence of the most malign kind
on the whole range of society in contact with the
army, and an obstacle in the forefront of hin-
drances to effective military reform. While a shred
of it remains, it is plain that nothing of any moment
can be done. Secondly, whatever be determined with
regard to the volunteers and the militia, one condition
at all events will have to be fulfilled : they must be
brought into such relation to the line, as to constitute


the whole in effect a single system, moulded by the
same training, and subject to the same discipline. A
third point might perhaps be added, so strongly does
recent experience testify in its favour, and so decidedly
is opinion setting towards it the superiority for
military purposes of short service over long. These
are changes which we may take for granted will form
articles in any really serious attempt at army reform. *
But, to place our military system on a rational basis,
to put our army into a condition in which it will be
at once adequate to the requirements of the country,
and at the same time not ruinous to our finances,
much more will be needed than the correction of a
few of the most palpable evils of the present system.
We must go deeper, and endeavour to penetrate to
the root itself of the rank abuses that luxuriate on all
sides. As preliminary to this, I shall now invite the
reader to follow me in a brief survey of the leading
types of military organization presented by the prin-
cipal countries of Europe. They will be found, with
much variety of detail, to fall naturally into three
groups or categories, which will be conveniently
designated by the terms, Standing armies, National
armies, and armies of the mixed kind that is to say,
those raised by the Conscription. For our present
purpose, the best examples of the several types are
furnished by the armies of England, of Prussia, and
of France.

The constitution and leading characteristics of the
English army result from the fact that it is a standing

* [They have all been embodied, as the reader is aware, in Mr. Card-
well's reforms of 1871.]


army supported by voluntary enlistment. As a stand-
ing army the bulk of its forces are kept constantly
on foot ; its reserves occupying in the system a com-
paratively unimportant place. Indeed, it is a question
whether it be proper to speak of the reserves of the
British army at all ; the relation of the militia and
the volunteers to the line being of a very loose and
undefined character, and these forces in their actual
state forming, according to competent opinion, not so
much reserves, as material for reserves. The army
thus maintained as a standing force is raised by
means of voluntary enlistment, and this gives occa-
sion to some of its most characteristic features. The
State being thrown for the supply of soldiers on the
labour market, and the soldier's vocation being, for-
tunately for mankind, one that with the progress of
society steadily declines in public estimation, two im-
portant consequences result : first, in order to attract
a sufficient supply of men to the ranks, the Govern-
ment is under the necessity of constantly raising its
terms, of raising them, not merely in proportion to
the general advance of the labour market, but so as
to compensate the declining honour into which the
soldier's trade has fallen ; and secondly, the recruits,
thus attracted, come more and more from the lowest
and least reputable classes of the community. The
system thus becomes constantly more costly ; while
the character of the men who fill the ranks steadily
deteriorates. Again, the plan of voluntary enlistment
necessarily leads to the rule of long service in the
ranks. The man who enters the army under a volun-
tary contract, if his object be not simply to desert
P. E. p


as soon as he receives the bounty, naturally looks to
it as a permanent vocation ; and engaging soldiers as
permanent servants of the State involves the con-
sequence of providing for them on the expiration of
their period of service. In this way the inherent
costliness of the system is enormously aggravated,
through the necessity of maintaining, over and above
the active army, a large force of ineffectives in the
character of pensioners. These circumstances, irre-
spective altogether of the special abuses of the system,
render a standing army on the English plan inevitably
and incomparably the most expensive military instru-
ment that can be devised ; and one, moreover, which
of necessity becomes more and more expensive with
every fresh step in social progress. Lastly, from all
these causes, it results that the army, thus maintained,
is not, and cannot be, a constituent portion of the
nation, but remains a class apart from it, a class
without share in the industrial work of the community,
excluded from marriage, subject to a code of laws
which is not that to which the ordinary citizen yields
obedience, unaffected by the strongest influences of
civil and political life, forming itself upon an ideal far
remote from that of the society in which it exists ;
in a word, a class which of necessity becomes a caste.
Such are the main features and necessary incidents
of a standing army on the English plan.* Of the
several types of military organization, it is the only

* The purchase of commissions I have not adverted to, because it
has obviously no necessary connection with a standing army raised by
voluntary recruiting ; it is a factitious outgrowth, and a quite gratuitous


one that is confined to a single country. England
monopolizes unchallenged the credit of the invention.
The constitution of the Prussian army offers in
every respect the most striking contrast to that which
we have just considered. The foundation of the
force is, not contract, but status ; the status of liability
incurred by every able-bodied citizen (subject to
certain specified exceptions) to serve his country as a
soldier in the ranks ; and from the impartial appli-
cation of this principle all that is really characteristic
of the system directly flows. The rule of liability to
service being so wide as to embrace the bulk of the
able-bodied population, short service in the ranks
short at least as compared with the service exacted in
standing armies becomes a necessity of the case. In
Prussia, where the capacity of the system has been
strained to an extreme degree, the period is three
years, as compared with five in France and twelve in
England ; but in other countries, where the same type
prevails, a much shorter period has been found suffi-
cient. And from this rule of short service in the
ranks, results what, from a military point of view,
must be regarded as the capital feature of this form
of force, the immense strength of its reserves as com-
pared with its active army. Owing to the strain put
upon the system in Prussia, to which I have just
referred, this characteristic is less marked in the
instance of the Prussian army than in others belonging
to the same group.* Yet even here it is sufficiently
distinct ; for though the active force on a peace footing
amounts to no less than 300,000 men, the reserves

* For example, the Swiss army, to be afterwards described.

P 2


bear to this enormous force the proportion of three
to one ; these reserves having all passed through the
same training as the active force, and being, as we
have had ample proof, in all respects equally efficient.
Another characteristic of the Prussian system is its
cheapness, an incident which again directly results
from the nature and constitution of the force. In the
first place, the service being compulsory, the State is
enabled to obtain recruits on its own terms instead of
being compelled, as under our system, to raise its bid,
not merely to keep pace with the progress of the
labour market, but to compensate for the unpopularity
of the service. It is true that the economy obtained
by this means may, to a certain extent, be ostensible
merely. Where the services of the citizen during his
career in the ranks are rated at less than their proper
worth, the burden is merely transferred from the
nation in its corporate capacity to the individuals who
endure the loss ; and as this is probably more or less
the case with all armies raised by compulsory recruit-
ing, this circumstance should undoubtedly be taken
account of in considering the cost of such armies.
Another and less equivocal source of economy arises
from the almost entire exemption enjoyed by National
armies from the charge of ineffectives a charge which
forms so large an item in the budgets of Standing
armies. The soldier, on his release from the ranks,
instead of remaining a burden on society, passes at
once to the business of productive industry and civil
life, and all the economic waste, not to speak of the
social mischief, arising from the maintenance of an
idle class, is thus avoided. The working of the system


in this respect is strikingly shown in the Prussian
military budget ; the cost of that vast organization,
which enabled her in a few weeks' time to put a
fully-equipped army of half a million of men on her
frontier, having amounted to no more than an annual
sum of ,7,000,000 sterling, plus, as I have said,
whatever should be added on the score of private
losses resulting from inadequate payment of the troops
actually under arms. These are, perhaps, the most
prominent features, in a military and financial sense,
of this description of force ; but we must not omit to
notice an attribute attaching to it, from a social and
political point of view, of the greatest interest and
importance. The type of military force represented
by Prussia is essentially national. Including the
entire potential army, line, reserve, and landwehr, the
organization comprises within its sweep, in effect,
the mass of the able-bodied population ; * and the

* This is denied by a writer in the Edinburgh Review for October
last, p. 486. But the facts, taken from authoritative sources, are thus
stated by M. de Laveleye : " The first datum to be taken account of is
the number of young men who reach each year the age of military
service, and who thus form what is called the class. The Journal of the
Royal Bureau of Statistics of Berlin, published by M. Engel, sets down
the class of 1855 at 147,613 men ; that of 1858, at 155,692 ; that of 1861,

at 165,162 ; in fine, that of 1864, at about 170,000 In Prussia, as

in France, more than half the class is exempted for deficiency of height,
of strength, or of health. In Prussia the requirements are more strict
than in France on the score of the quality of the men. Thus, in 1861,
out of 165,000 composing the class, only 69,933 were found fit to enter
the army. As the contingent amounted this year to 59,431, the lot
exempted only 10,502. The following year, 1862, 62,517 conscripts were
taken out of 69,5 1 3 young men, so that the number of the disponibles
dispensed by the lot from at once joining the ranks, amounted to 6,996."
La Prusse et V Autriche depuis Sadowa, voL i. pp. 56, 57. It appears
from this that the Prussians are strict in interpreting the qualification
" able-bodied ; " but that of the " able-bodied," thus strictly ascertained,


elements of this vast aggregate are drawn, with strict
impartiality, from all classes of the community. An
organization of this kind may, it is possible, generate
in the nation maintaining it the so-called phenomenon
of militarism how far it has in fact had this effect in
Prussia I do not now inquire but an army thus con-
stituted cannot, in the nature of things, be a caste.
It cannot but be a fair representation of the com-
munity from which it is drawn, must share its feelings
and aspirations, social and political, as well as military,
and be incapable of betraying its aims. Such an
army may, therefore, be properly characterized as
national or popular; and it is by this term that, in
the following pages, I shall designate this type of
military force.

The third type of military organization presented
by European armies is that exemplified by the army,
or what was the army, of France. As in Prussia, the
foundation of the military system is here status, not
contract ; every citizen being, according to the theory
of the law, liable to serve the State in the ranks of the
army : but the principle is in France applied through
the conscription ; the persons actually called upon to
serve are determined by lot ; and the rule is further
qualified by the privilege, accorded to those who have

from 84 to 90 per cent, go at once into the ranks, while the surplus i.e.
the 6 or 10 per cent, not required (as previously explained by M. de
Laveleye) are not exempted from service, but pass into the landuchr.
The statement, therefore, is strictly true that the mass of the able-bodied
population, as that expression is construed by the Prussian military rules,
pass into the potential army of Prussia. Even, however, though this
were not the case, the fact, which is not disputed, that the Prussian army
is recruited from all classes of the community indifferently, would alone
entitle it to be considered a National army.


the means, to purchase exemption from service. The
effect of these qualifications of the strict rule is to give
to the resulting force a character widely different from
that which I have just described as distinguishing
armies of the popular type ; for the use of the lot *
implies the limitation of the obligation of service to a
portion only of those who are capable of discharging
it ; while the privilege of exemption, accorded in con-
sideration of money payment, leads to the result of
throwing the burden of service exclusively on the
poorer classes of the population. And this, as M.
Laveleye informs us, and as indeed we might infer
from the nature of the case, is a growing tendency.
" In proportion as a larger number of families attain to
easy circumstances, the number of those exonerated by
purchase increases, and the army is no longer recruited
but from the lowest classes of the population, "f Pre-
cisely similar results are recorded as realized in the
Belgian army, which represents the same principle of
military organization. In 1866, as we are informed
by M. Fourcault,j the number of substitutes formed
no less than a fourth of the whole annual contingent
a proportion more than double what it had reached
ten years before. It thus appears that, not only in
point of quantity of the aggregate potential force,
but also in point of quality, the armies raised under
the conscription, as it is practically operative in
Continental countries, differ widely from those con-

* The lot is also used in Prussia ; but the part which it plays in the
system is quite subordinate.

t " La Prusse et 1'Autriche," vol. i. p. 74.

J " Annales de 1'Associaticn Internationale. Congres de Berne
1 866," p. 692.


stituted on the popular principle, as represented by the
Prussian army. They do not form a fair representation
of the community from which they are drawn, but, like
our own, are composed almost exclusively of a single
class, and that the lowest of the nation ; and they do
not give that development to the reserves which is
characteristic of the popular system. These results
will be found to obtain in all countries where the con-
scription reigns ; but in the constitution of the late
French army the weak points of the system were
aggravated by the political circumstances of the
country. The Imperial Government of France na-
turally enough shrank from giving military training to
the masses of the population. The army was for it
quite as much an instrument for keeping down dis-
affection at home, as for threatening its neighbours
abroad ; and accordingly its efforts were directed to
giving the utmost development to the active standing
force, to the almost entire neglect of the potential ele-
ments. One means by which this result was sought
to be attained was by employing the proceeds of the
fines, payable for exemption from service, in effecting
re-engagements with old soldiers on the expiration of
their five years' term. These soldiers accordingly re-
mained in the active army instead of passing into the
reserve force, which was thus starved in order that
the standing army might be pampered. The practical
result was to furnish France with an army which, in
spite of its nominally popular basis, had far more
analogy with our own than with that of Prussia in
effect, with a standing army, of long service, recruited
from the lowest class of the population, and without


reserves. Under the financial aspect also the French
system was not without resemblance to the English.
The cost of the late French army amounted to some
; 1 4,000,000 sterling, almost exactly the sum with
which we have contrived to maintain an army of about
one-fourth the strength, but double that which went to
support the far more efficacious organization of Prussia.
One cannot but remark with some uneasiness, in this
comparison of the French and Prussian military
systems with our own, that the points in which the
French system differs from the Prussian are precisely
those in which ours also differs from the Prussian,
though in a more extreme degree ; our system exag-
gerating in every instance those features of organi-
zation which were peculiar to the French, and to
which, it now seems tolerably plain, the collapse of
that system has been mainly due.

With this sinister omen from our review of the
military systems of Continental Europe, let us now
return to our own position, and endeavour to estimate
the extent of the danger against which we have to
provide. I have already stated what I believe to be
the general character of the foreign policy which the
nation desires to pursue. I believe in the first place
that we desire to place our national independence
beyond question ; so unequivocally so, as to render an
invasion of this country not merely a perilous enterprise,
but an undertaking so manifestly hopeless that no
statesman of moderate sagacity would contemplate it.
Accomplishing this effectually, we cannot be without
influence in Europe, since our fleet alone would then
become formidable as an offensive weapon : and a


military system which would be really effective for
defence, would quite certainly, in an extreme emer-
gency, be effective for something more. We need not,
therefore, for our present purpose, go beyond the
question of defence, and the contingency which we
have to contemplate is obviously the possibility of

Against invasion our main protection must, of course,
always be our fleet, and it is satisfactory to hear that
we have in this something more solid to rest upon
than we find in our " thin red line." But it is admitted
that our fleet may fail us. A single naval disaster,
such, for example, as the defeat at Beachy Head in
William III.'s time a defeat, by the way, suffered
when our position seemed strongest, our most formid-
able naval rival, the Dutch, being then our ally-
would now, as then, lay open our coasts to the enemy.
And supposing this to happen, what would be the
extent of the danger we should have to face ? Lord
Derby tells us that at the very utmost we should have
to deal with an army of 100,000 men. I must own
that I fail to perceive the grounds of this particular
limitation. The event occurring which we have sup-
posed, the enemy would for a time, at all events, have
free access to our coasts, and, under such circumstances,
with armies on foot of from 500,000 to 1,000,000 men,
with converging railway systems at his command, with
an adequate transport fleet in readiness, it is not appa-
rent why double or treble the number named might not
in a few weeks be placed upon our shores. We have
lately seen in the results which followed the capitula-
tions of Metz and Strasburg, what enormous forces


may be suddenly rendered disposable by the liberation
of armies engaged in merely subsidiary operations,
when war is carried on upon the scale it now assumes.
Had we, for example, at the time those capitulations
happened, been at war with Germany, what would
have prevented her with a month's command of the
sea, and with such preparations as Count Von Moltke
would have known how to make to meet this contin-
gency from placing the army of Prince Frederick
Charles on the coast of Kent? It may be that warfare
carried on by entire populations is " essentially retro-
grade ;" but retrograde or not, this is the danger against
which we have to provide. And it seems to me there
would be as little solace to our dignity as compensation
for our suffering, on finding ourselves the victims of
combinations we might easily have foreseen, to reflect
that we had only made our preparations against more
civilized methods of attack.

But, taking the danger as estimated by Lord Derby,
who is certainly not given to exaggeration, to afford
us adequate security against this to inspire us, in
presence of such a possibility as he contemplates, with
that confidence in the stability of our position, without
which it is idle to think we shall act in European
politics a part worthy of the country and of its tradi-
tions what is the state of our military resources that
the case demands ? The contingency we have to
contemplate is the landing of a hostile army of 100,000
men upon our coasts. Let us suppose we could meet
this with a force, not of 40,000 men, but, let us say, of
an equal number, and with appointments in all branches
not inferior to those of the invading army, he would


be a sanguine patriot who could calculate in such
circumstances on immediate victory. It is mortifying
to think of the generals we should probably have to
oppose, at all events in the outset, to the Prince
Frederick Charles's and Manteuffels who might be

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 16 of 27)