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expect each capable citizen to bear his share in his
own and his country's defence.

Nor let it be supposed, because the recognition of
general liability to serve in the army implies the
power in the last resort to coerce the refractory, that
therefore the military service obtained under this
principle would necessarily, or as a general rule, be
unwillingly rendered. On the contrary, what we
should expect is, that the will would go before the
law, and that good citizens would perform, spon-
taneously and cheerfully, what the law declares to
be for the good of all. If it be asked, Where then
would be the need of compulsion ? I reply, to satisfy
all that all shall do their part, that the common burden
shall not be shirked by any. There are not a few
public duties, recognized as such by average citizens,
which yet do not get performed, simply because each
person feels that the obligation attaches to him only
in common with others. What is every man's business
is no man's business. But make it plain that all shall
take their share in the common burden, and the men
who before hung back will now cheerfully do their
part. As a matter of fact, alike in Germany and in
Switzerland the only two countries in Europe where
the experiment of a national army has been fairly
tried the army is a highly popular institution. It
is only where the conscription prevails, with its


inequalities and unfair preferences, that such prac-
tices as self-mutilation to escape military service are
resorted to. In Germany and Switzerland they are
unheard of. The public spirit of Swiss and Germans
is thus powerful enough to carry them in advance of
the law, and to make the principle of compulsion
unfelt; and why are we to assume that a level of
sentiment easily attained by Swiss and Germans is
impossible for Englishmen ?

But, in considering the question of compulsory
service in the army, one point above all must be
clearly understood. The entire virtue of the rule, as
a means towards obtaining a national army, lies in
its being applied with rigid impartiality. Exceptions
there must of course be on grounds of physical and
moral disability, as well as in consideration of some
few exceptional incidents of the citizen's position.
But privileges to the rich permission to purchase,
at whatever price, exemption from personal service
vitiate the principle at its core. For what results ?
At once to throw the burden of military service ex-
clusively on the poor ; to lose, that is to say, the
characteristic and capital advantage of a national force.
The army thus obtained will not be a national army
an army combining in due proportion all the elements
of power existing in the nation, but such an army as
that vanquished at Sadowa,* and such an army again
as that vanquished at Sedan. The truth made mani-
fest in both these instances so manifest that those
who run may read is that moral and intellectual

* Austria has not scorned to learn from her enemy, and has since
remodelled her forces on the German plan.


qualifications are elements in the strength of armies,
and elements which can only be obtained when armies
derive their materials from the whole range of the
community from which they are drawn. To do full
justice, however, to this portion of our argument,
regard must be had in an especial degree to the pre-
sent condition of the art of war, and to the bearing
of this circumstance upon the need of intelligence in
the soldier. At the present moment the most pro-
minent, and, let us freely admit, the most deplor-
able and shameful fact of the time is the extent to
which scientific knowledge has been applied to per-
fecting the arts of destruction. But of what avail
will it be to perfect the organization of our armies if
the men comprising them are, from stupidity and
ignorance, incapable of carrying into effect any but
the simplest manoeuvres ? To what purpose shall
we waste our ingenuity and money in improving our
arms of precision, if we cannot put them into hands
that can be trusted to use them ? * As M. de Lave-
leye pertinently reminds us, the two nations who have
made the most marked advance in military aptitude
of late years have been precisely those amongst whom
education is most widely diffused the Germans and

* "Military officers," says Mr. Chadwick, "have objected to putting
the arms of precision into the hands of our uneducated rank and file, on
the ground that they were incompetent to wield them ; they objected to
putting into their hands breech-loaders or repeating-guns, on the ground
that they would fire wildly and rashly, and soon exhaust their ammunition.
This is just what has happened with the like uneducated rank and file of
the French army. In their hands, inferior use has been made of the
superior weapon the chassepot which has a range one-third longer.
In the hands of the better educated German rank and file, according to
all testimony, superior use has been made of the inferior weapon. They
have been cool and steady, and have fought more intelligently and


the people of the United States. " Vivacity of mind,
foresight, are useful everywhere, even upon the field
of battle ; better far to command intelligent men who
understand what they have to do, than troops the
most irreproachable in military exercises. All Prussian
officers are in accord upon this point, that it is to the
intelligent decision of their soldiers that they owe
their success. " * I need not say how abundantly
the present war has confirmed the truth which the
Sadowa campaign had already made clear.

I turn now from the consideration of principles to
that of organization ; and, assuming the principle of
a National army as the only one capable of satisfying
the needs of the present time, I proceed to advert to
the form, or at least the main outlines of the form,
in which, in a community like ours, the idea of a
national force may be most conveniently embodied,
keeping in view the special circumstances of the coun-
try, and the aims, in the main purely defensive, of
its foreign policy. The most prominent model in this
kind available at the present moment is of course the
army of Prussia. But the Prussian military system,
however suitable it may have proved itself for the
purposes of that country, is not one which any nation
will deliberately adopt unless under the pressure of
urgent need, least of all a nation so widely separated
in many respects from Prussia as is ours. Three
consecutive years taken at the most important period
of life from the proper vocation of the citizen to be
spent in the ranks of the army, followed by four

* " La Prusse et TAutriche depuis Sadowa," vol. i. p. 70.


years more in which from two to three months are
abstracted from useful pursuits for the same purpose,
this constitutes beyond question a serious encroachment
on the field of productive industry and of civil life.
But the Prussian pattern, though it has been the most
widely copied, is not the only one that Europe supplies.
Another, still more thoroughly popular in its character,
is furnished by a State with which, small as it is,
England has, both in its civil constitution and in its
foreign policy, many more analogies than with Prussia.
The popular army of Switzerland has lately elicited
occasional notice from the press in this country ; but
the system is not, I imagine, very distinctly understood
here, even in its general outline. A brief description,
therefore, of its leading arrangements may not be
out of place.*

The widely different results which may flow from
the adoption of the popular principle in military
organization, according to the views entertained by its
promoters, are strikingly shown by a comparison of the
Prussian with the Swiss military system. In Prussia,
as we know, the permanent army, on a peace footing,
amounts to no fewer than 300,000 men. In Switzer-
land no permanent army of any sort is maintained in
time of peace ; the entire force exists exclusively in the
reserves ; yet in Switzerland, equally as in Prussia,
every able-bodied citizen is bound by law to serve in
person in the ranks, and does actually undergo com-

* The following particulars are taken from several papers read before
the Congress of Berne in 1866, and published in the Annales de r Asso-
ciation Internationale pour le Progr^s des Sciences Sociales, 5 me livraison
a work for the use of which I have been indebted to the kind offices
of M. mile de Laveleye.


plete military training. How does it happen that the
same principle, rigorously applied in both instances,
issues nevertheless in such strikingly discrepant results ?
The answer is to be found in two circumstances : in
the extensive use made in Switzerland of the school
stage of life for military training, which renders pos-
sible a corresponding reduction of the training period
in the mature years of the citizen ; and, secondly, in
the different views animating the Swiss and Prussian
Governments in framing their military organization :
the former aiming exclusively at producing a system
effective for defence ; while the views of the latter
notoriously extended to other contingencies.

The military education of the juvenile Swiss begins
in the primary schools at the age of eight years. He
there undergoes drill and other elementary exercises
suited to his years. On passing into the secondary
and the superior schools, he is instructed in the use of
light arms as soon as his strength fits him to wield
them, and takes part in annual exercises and reviews.
With the advantages of this preparation he enters at
the age of nineteen the ranks of Recruits, when he
passes to a school of military instruction. Here he
remains, according as he is destined for the infantry,
cavalry, or artillery, for from four to seven weeks.
On reaching twenty the recruit undergoes training in
the corps of his canton a process which lasts, again,
for from four to five weeks, according to the nature

of his future service. After this he is enrolled as a

member of the EKU t in which category he continues
till his twenty-eighth year, presenting himself annually
during this time for (according to his service) a week


or a fortnight's exercise. At twenty-eight he passes
into the Reserve, and from the reserve at the age of
thirty-four into the Landwehr. He finally quits the
service at the age of forty-four.

Over and above all the exercises just enumerated,
the troops of all arms are mustered and exercised
in large bodies periodically. The effective results
obtained by this organization are as follows :

Elite 80,000 men

Reserve 45 ,000 ,,

Landwehr .... 75,000

In all . . . 200,000

armed, equipped, and trained, of which 20 per cent,
(or 40,000) constitute special or scientific corps. These
were the figures for 1866; and the system had only
then been in existence for sixteen years, having been
established on its present footing in 1850. As the
entire period of liability to service covers twenty-five
years, the scheme will not have received its full
development till 1875, when it will yield a total
force of 250,000 men out of a population of about

So far as to the organization. The expense of

the system is thus stated :

The Confederation pays about .... 2,800,000

The Cantons 4,700,000

Cost to the soldiers, as estimated by M.
Staempfli, " ancien chef du departement
militaire fede>atif " 750,000

Total 8,250,000

or ^333)00 sterling.


The amount of interruption given to civil and
industrial pursuits by the calls of the army is repre-
sented as follows :

From the age of twenty to forty-five each infantry
soldier spends in military exercises and training, in
time of peace, from 100 to no days.

Each engineer, artilleryman, and carbineer, 160

Each cavalry soldier, 170 days.

Non-commissioned officers spend, in addition, 50

And officers, in addition, 100 per cent.

The entire time, it should be observed, is distributed
into portions, never exceeding from four to seven weeks
in duration, over the total period of twenty-five years.

As has been already stated, no troops are main-
tained permanently on foot ; the army is composed of
contingents from the cantons ; the only military ele-
ments of which the central authority has direct control
being the Staff, which is composed of 180 superior
officers and an indeterminate number of subalterns.*

* [Since the above was written a good deal of light has been thrown
from various quarters on the organization and present condition of the
Swiss army, with the result, I am bound to say, of convincing me that
I had very greatly .overrated the efficiency of that force. The defects,
however, which have been disclosed, are in no way connected with the
popular principle on which it rests, but in all cases are plainly traceable
to one or other of two causes : i. The excessive and even absurd
parsimony of the Swiss Federal Government, which refuses to incur
the outlay indispensable to maintaining the efficiency of the training
centres, and the proper equipment of the scientific corps ; and, 2. The
obstacles offered by the cantonal constitutions to the due organization
and training of the force. As some high military authorities in Switzer-
land as well as others occupying official positions in that country have
shown themselves fully alive to the evils of this state of things, it is to
be hoped that it will ere long cease to exist.]


Such are the leading facts of the system ; and, I
think, candid people will admit that the results
obtained an effective army of 200,000 men from a
country less populous than Scotland, and at a cost less
than we pay for ineffectives alone are such as, in
these times of military reform agitation, deserve

How far, then, is such a system suited to the require-
ments of a country like England?* And here, I
imagine, the objection that will occur to most people,
on contemplating the facts just stated, is that the
scheme is over-efficient for our purposes. A system
which from a population of two millions and a half is
capable of giving an army of 250,000 men, would, from
our population, yield an army of some 3,000,000 ; and
this result will probably be thought to confirm Lord
Derby's observation that " if you apply the principle of
compulsory service universally, you are met with the
difficulty that you are making ten times the amount
of preparation you can possibly require." But a little
consideration will show this to be a hasty conclusion.

In the first place, it is to be observed that, in pro-
portion as the population is numerous, there would be
room for greater rigour in applying the tests as to
qualifications for service. We might, for example,
raise the physical standard ; nor do I see any reason
why, more especially with a view to the qualities

* The reader will bear in mind that I am considering only the
question of home defences. The garrisoning of India and our military
stations abroad for the colonies proper, it is now understood, will
provide for their o\vn defence is a distinct question, and will, no doubt,
have to be dealt with on some such plan as that suggested by Sir Charles

r. F. R


required for the new arms, we should not enforce
an educational test. I have not seen any statement
of the requirements of the Swiss system in this
respect ; but from the large proportion of recruits
obtained, it must be supposed that at least the
physical standard is low. In Prussia, on the other
hand, we know that the standard is very high ; and
the effect of this, in conjunction with the rule for
exemptions, is shown in the elimination of more than
one-half the whole class attaining the age of military
service from the category of able-bodied available for
the army.* On the assumption, therefore, that we
adopt the compulsory principle, having regard to our
large population and comparatively limited require-
ments, we could afford to be proportionately strict in
applying our test of " able-bodiedness ; " by which
means we should, while pruning the exuberance,
improve the quality, of our force. But a still more
effectual resource remains. Those who are over-
whelmed at the magnitude of the imaginary con-
sequences they have conjured up as flowing from
a system of universal liability to military service, over-
look the fact that the results may be brought within
almost any limits desired by the simple expedient of
reducing the period of liability to service. The
results obtained by the Swiss system are enormous in
proportion to the population, because, the population
of the country being exceedingly small, the principle
was applied with the express aim of extracting from it
the largest possible results. But supposing the Swiss
had been satisfied with a small army, they could just

* See ante, Note to pp. 213-14.


as easily have obtained it, without departing from the
strictest rigour of the principle of their system. It
would have been only necessary to cut down the
extravagantly long period of liability to service a
period two-thirds greater than that enforced in Prussia
to, say, a third of the time, making it terminate, for
example, with the expiration of service in the Elite ;
and the aggregate army would at once have been
reduced to a third of the number now obtainable
namely, to 80,000, the number now existing in the
Elite. In speaking, moreover, of the great scale of
force obtainable from military organization on the
popular plan, it should be remembered that we are not
speaking of forces actually on foot, and weighing on
the resources of the country ; we are speaking, not of
actual, but of potential armies armies which have no
existence in peace, and only make their appearance in
the hour of need, in the dire extremity of war. Even
supposing that our possible forces did attain the stu-
pendous figure of 3,000,000, the expense of such a
force, constituted on the Swiss plan, would after all be
little more than the cost of the requisite subsidiary
services. More than twenty-nine thirtieths of the men
would be, to all intents and purposes, citizens engaged
in the ordinary industrial work of the country. They
would, indeed, have undergone military training ; but,
as has been shown by Mr. Chad wick * and others,
this, far from impairing, would greatly increase their

* See " On the Expediency of the General Introduction of the Military
Drill and Naval Exercises in the School Stages of the Elementary
Schools ; and of employing Soldiers on Civil Works in time of Peace,"
by Edwin Chadwick, C.B., Correspondent of the Institute. Also Mr.
Cole's piper read before the Society of Arts.

R 2


industrial efficiency, \vhile their liability to be called to
the standards in war would be simply unfelt.

The feature of the Swiss system, on which, after the
vast scale of its results, the English critic will probably
fasten, is the extremely short time allowed under its
rules for the training of the soldier. People who are
accustomed to regard twelve years as the ordinary
period of a soldier's service, and who have been taught
to believe that his martial quality improves even up to
twenty-one years for why, otherwise, should distinct
inducements be offered to him to re-engage himself for
nine years more at the end of his twelve years' term ?
will be startled to find a Swiss recruit pronounced
fit for the Elite of the force after four or five weeks'
training. The question is mainly one of professional
experience ; one, therefore, on which the opinion of
a civilian can be of no value, unless so far as it is
supported by unquestionable facts, or professional
authority. But facts and professional authority alike
place it now beyond doubt, that, whatever be the
precise minimum requisite to give complete efficiency
to the soldier, it is some period very greatly less than
the prevailing ideas in this country assume. In the
case of Switzerland, the extremely short time allowed
is at once to a large extent explained by reference to
the training given during the school stage. Still, even
taking account of this, the time assigned for con-
verting the military tyro into a proficient, will appear,
even to military reformers in this country, extraordi-
narily short ; and the doubt which will be felt respect-
ing this provision of the system will seem to find
confirmation in the much longer training time required


by the rules of the Prussian service. It cannot be
denied that there would be great force in the Prussian
precedent, if we could be sure that the three years
required by that service indicated the opinion of
Prussian military authorities on the point in question.
But this would be a quite gratuitous assumption. On
the length of time passed in the ranks depends, c&teris
paribus, not merely the efficiency of the soldier, but
the amount of standing force maintained on foot in
time of peace ; and it was to this point, doubtless,
that the attention of the present king and his advisers
was directed when, on the remodelling of the army in
1 86 1, they insisted on the three years' term. Had we
any hesitation as to the ground of the Prussian rule,
it would be removed by what we now see. From a
letter from the Berlin correspondent of the Daily News
of January 5, we learn that, in the event of further pro-
longation of the war, it is in contemplation to reduce
the standard of height for the army, a measure
which would at once bring under liability to service
large numbers of men who have never yet undergone
drill of any kind. And what is the time considered
sufficient to put these raw forces into a state fit to
take the field ? Precisely " a three months' drill, for
which, in case of need, a six weeks' drill may be
substituted." For the rest, we have the testimony of
military authorities to the admirable efficiency of the
Swiss forces ; * and we know that the Swiss them-
selves, whose remarkable military aptitude has always

* See the papers read before the International Association Congress
of Berne, 1866, passim ; and in particular the paper read by M. Ce're'sole
(Annales, 5* livraison, p. 683).


been famous, have the most unbounded confidence in
their system. On one important point, at all events,
it is certain that they have not overrated its capacity.
"In three days," said M. Staempfli * in 1866, "the
whole Swiss infantry and cavalry may be ready to
take the field. In four days, all the artillery may
be harnessed. And what is more remarkable, at all
times the munitions and materiel of war are in
readiness for this army of 200,000 men, who are
themselves always prepared to fall into line on the
first signal." The boast was actually made good this
summer so far, that is to say, as the exigency called
for performance. Within a week of the French decla-
ration of war, this small State placed 40,000 men-
infantry, cavalry, and artillery in line upon her
frontier. Par vis componere magna, the fact may well
take its place beside the world-famous e xploit in the
same kind of Count von Moltke.

" But granting," I think I hear some liberal friends
interposing, " granting the complete success of your
scheme as a military contrivance, what, after all, does
the proposal mean but a return upon the past, a re-
currence to that military regime which we had hoped
to have long left behind us ? Are military ideas,
then, to be again the dominant influences of our social
life ? Is our country once more to be turned into a
camp ? Nay, is the accursed thing to be taken even
into the haunts of childhood, and the nursery and the
playground to resound with eternal drill ? What can
all this issue in but a resuscitation of that militarism

* Ancien Membre du Conscil F&teral, et Ancien Chef du Ddparte-
ment Miiitaire Suisse.


still rampant in Germany, and the dire source of our
present dangers ? " I frankly own I have not a little
sympathy with this line of reflection, and cannot con-
template the change of prospect, which has suddenly
brought military organization into the foreground of
political questions, with any other feelings than intense
disappointment and sorrow. But what avails it to

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 18 of 27)