John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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men from it, just as a torpedo is meant to destroy
a ship and send its crew to the bottom. A town
deserted and falling to ruin owing to loss of trade
and consequent loss of population, is as truly de-
stroyed as if it had been battered to pieces by shot
and shell.

This, it may be said, is an unkind way of stating
the matter. The superior machinery supplants
and replaces the inferior. Quite so. There is in
a general way renewal as well as destruction ; but
the superior machinery does not replace the men
who have perished in assuring its triumph on the
one side, or in succumbing to that triumph on the
other. And after all what is the general purport
of war but to replace what is inferior by what is
superior ? What are the rise and fall of civilisa-
tions, empires, states, nations and communities,
but the process of supplanting the inferior by the
superior, or at any rate the subjection of the inferior
to the superior ? Military history is the history of that
process, and it is no more the history of destruction
than any other kind of history. I do not suppose

F. M. H. 2


that the most tender-hearted member of the Society
of Friends would take exception to the study of
the legislative enactments whereby, quite apart
from warlike measures, we wrested their former
commercial superiority from the Dutch. He would
not call it a history of destruction, and yet it was
so — to the Dutch. In the case of a military war
the casualty lists are published, and everyone says
" How shocking." In the case of a commercial
war it is announced that such and such a firm has
closed its works through bankruptcy ; and few,
unless they chance to be share-holders, think more
about the matter. There may be some hundreds
of people deprived of their livelihood, but few
consider that. Military victors feed their prisoners
of war : commercial victors leave them to starve.
And yet commerce is held to be humane, and war
very much the contrary ; while captains of industry
are held in honour by men to whom the fame of a
captain in war gives sincere and conscientious

Thus you see how futile, however well-intended,
are peace-societies and similar institutions, inasmuch
as they recognise only one description — the mili-
tary — of war. It is terrible to think how true- is
the saying of Erasmus, Homo homini lupus. We
like to be successful ourselves, and we like our
friends to be successful also, but we seldom reflect


that every success is won at the cost of another's
failure. Even here in Cambridge, and among those
merriest of mortals, undergraduates, the stern
inexorable law asserts itself. For one whom a class-
list makes happy, how many does it make miserable ?
For one to whom it offers the prospect of food and
warmth, to how many does it threaten cold and
want ? Homo Tiomini lupus, that is individual
history. Gentes gentibus lupi, that is universal

But to return to a question which I have still
left unanswered, wherein lies the profit for men
not of the military profession, of studying the
principles and the history of war, with the terrible
details in which the history abounds so frequently ?
One chief profit, as I take it, is to learn the nature
of the supreme test to which a nation may be sub-
jected, so that she may equip herself morally and
physically to pass through the ordeal with success.
Let me repeat to j^ou that war is less a matter of
courage than of endurance. Of really brave men, men
who from sheer love of fighting cannot be kept out
of fire, the proportion is about one in a thousand.
Of real cowards, men who literally cannot be induced
to face fire in any circumstances, the proportion is
about the same. The remainder can by training
and discipline be brought to do their duty with
more or less bravery, which is sufficient — or at any



rate must be considered sufficient — for the purpose.
Such training and discipline are a purely military
matter, to which I shall presently return. But
endurance depends upon moral and physical attri-
butes which, though a great leader or regimental pride
may do much to enhance them, are principally
the concern of the statesman. Let us deal first
with the physical requirements of a soldier.

First and foremost he must be mature, a man
and not a boy ; otherwise, no matter how great his
pluck, he will never be able to withstand the hard
work of a campaign. There is hardly a country
which has not again and again filled up its muster-
rolls with children, and deceived itself into the
belief that it was enlarging its armies, instead of
filling up its military hospitals and graveyards.
Boys can of course do the work of garrisons within
certain limits ; but it is (to speak brutally) cheaper
to knock them on the head at once and bury them
at home than to send them upon active service in
the field. On the other hand, men must not be too
old, otherwise they succumb to rheumatic complaints
in consequence of exposure to cold and wet. For
the rest, the soundness of the feet, in order that men
may be able to march ; of the eyes, so that they may
be able to see ; and of the teeth, are of the greatest
importance. An enormous proportion of men on
active service die of dysentery or enteric fever, due


to bad and ill-cooked food ; and want of teeth to
masticate that food aggravates the evil immensely.
Bad sight and bad teeth are very common in the
inhabitants of large towns, as also of course is
inferior physique generally. Such defects weaken
a nation for war ; and a wise government will not
let them continue without endeavouring to arrest

But, apart from this, much may often be done
by care and foresight to abate the hardships of a
campaign. It is often inevitable that the men's
clothing should be in rags, and their feet almost if
not quite shoeless for a time ; as also that they
should be scantily fed and then not on the best of
food ; but, if this be borne in mind, and measures
taken to keep abundant supplies of everything at
the seat of war, together with transport to convey
such supplies to the front, privation and suffering
may be greatly lessened, and sickness propor-
tionately decreased. People who have never
studied military history do not reaHse that a
campaign is a gigantic picnic, and that, unless
careful arrangement be made long beforehand for
every detail of food, forage, clothing and carriage,
an army may perish before it can reach its enemy.
Such arrangement involves a nicety of organisa-
tion of which the ordinary civilian never dreams.
One great lesson therefore that all may learn from


the study of military history is, that the casualties
through lead and steel are a trifle to those from
hardship and the resultant sickness ; and that
these last may be very appreciably diminished by
experience, forethought and organisation.

So much for the purely physical side of an army.
The question of inspiring it with moral force could
easily lead me into an endless disquisition upon the
merits of different forms of civil government and
different systems of education. I shall not be so
foohsh as to attempt anything of the kind ; but I
shaU content myself with stating that the great
secret of an army's moral force is that (in Cromwell's
words) all ranks shall " know what they are fighting
for, and love what they know." The most power-
ful of all purely moral forces is undoubtedly religious
fanaticism, of which many instances wiU at once occur
to you ; but I question if among all its countless
manifestations there are any quite so thorough as are
found in the hosts of Islam. There are many
instajices of desperate courage and devotion among
all races and all creeds, but I do not know where
you will find a parallel, except in the annals of
Mohammedan warfare, to the attack of the hordes
of the Khalifa at Omdurman.

Another great moral force is political fanaticism ;
but as a rule there underlies all combative fanaticism,
either consciously or unconsciously, that less exalted


element of human nature which is known as greed.
Greed of course is of many kinds. It may arise from
honest hunger and poverty ; or from the less honour-
able, though hardly less cogent, persuasion that
those who have are the legitimate prey of those
who have not. But its manifestations are uni-
formly the same, though they are often embellished
by titles of honour. People who would not dream
of robbing their neighbours, if the process were
described to them in as many words, will take
credit to themselves for spoiling the heathen or the
Amalekites. Primitive tribes and clans, which have
outgrown or exhausted the territory that at one
time sufficed for their support, are not always so
squeamish. They see a w^eak and prosperous neigh-
bour, fall upon him without more ado, and eat
him up. Christian nations and Mohammedans have
frequently extinguished aboriginal tribes as heretics
and unbelievers. We ourselves used to excuse our
predatory excursions against the Spaniards upon
the ground that Popish idolators deserved nothing
better. Turn now to a case which is generally ad-
duced as an example of an army inspired by political
fanaticism — the levies which burst out from France
against her neighbours on aU sides in 1792 and 1793.
They came, as they proclaimed, to carry the gospel
of liberty, equality and fraternity into all lands ;
their evangel was to be for the healing of the nations ;


they menaced war only to the nobleman's castle :
they brought peace to the poor man's cottage.
Were they reaUy inspired by any such exalted senti-
ments ? A few enthusiasts may have been ; but
not many. Did their faith in their new creed
suffice to make them die for it cheerfully ? Not
in the least ; for they ran away like sheep, until
habit and discipline inured them to war. Did they
conduct themselves, where successful, according to
their noble professions ? Not in the least. They
plundered all classes impartially, and were loathed
by all impartially. The truth is that their real
object was not to preach a gospel at all, but to
gather plunder. France had been ruined by the
incredible folHes of the Revolution ; her resources
were exhausted ; and there was nothing for her
but to rob her neighbours or perish. Her robberies
prospered ; a soldier of fortune rose up to take
command of her armies ; and under his leadership
the principle of robbery was indefinitely extended.
As Wellington put it with his usual shrewd insight,
war to Napoleon was a financial resource.

Must hope of plunder then be reckoned as a
great moral force in war ? The question is ex-
tremely difficult to answer. Astonishing military
successes have been achieved under no other stimu-
lating influence than this — I would instance the
sack of Rome by Charles of Bourbon in 1527 — but


plunder, speaking generally, demoralises both the
army and the nation that lives by it, for it leads
to jealousy and divisions. You will remember at
once, when I recall it to you, the story in the Old
Testament of Saul's preservation of flocks, herds
and prisoners in the face of Samuel's order that
they should be annihilated. I strongly suspect
that Samuel's motive for commanding the destruc-
tion of the plunder was apprehension lest the King,
by offering to his followers a reward for their ser-
vices, should steal away the hearts of the people
and undermine the authority of the priesthood.
On the other hand Saul may perhaps have been
justified in supposing that his men would not fight
the Amalekites without the assurance of a share in
the spoil, and had consequently promised them a
share beforehand. At any rate, it is certain that
the incident so far estranged the ecclesiastical from
the civil authorities that the former put forward a
rival to oust Saul from the Kingship. This is a
curious instance of an entire community being
driven into civil war by a dispute as to plunder. Of
its demoralising influence on an army the examples
are endless, but I may mention to you the furious
combats of the Spaniards and Germans over the
spoil of Rome, which they had combined to capture
and sack ; the practical dissolution for a time of
Wellington's troops after the storm of Badajoz,


and the insubordination and disunion of Napoleon's
armies in Spain, when nearly every officer of rank
was seeking to enrich himself, and employing his
men to enrich him, instead of using them in the
legitimate operations of war.

Nevertheless men wiU not go a-fighting con-
tinuously unless there is plunder, or some composi-
tion in lieu thereof, to stimulate them to constant
exertion. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
the military profession was very nearly a mercantile
affair, pure and simple. Capitalists formed com-
panies of soldiers for hire, and sought to indemnify
themselves by plunder for their venture, very much
after the fashion of a privateer or private man-of-
war. The " purchase-system " under which, when
I was a boy, British officers still purchased their
commissions for a sum of money, was a relic of the
old practice of buying shares in a military company.
In many of our wars there was no individual plunder,
but all captures were lumped together, sold, and
divided in due proportion between all ranks of the
army engaged. The army which stormed Seringa-
patam in 1799 divided £1,300,000 in this way ; and
beyond all doubt the hope of large profits was a
great incentive to the men to endure many things
and fight hard. Soldiers are almost invariably
ill- paid. Very often their health is permanently
impaired by the hardship and privation which they


undergo ; and they demand, not unreasonably,
some compensation for all their sufferings and peril.
This is a fact which no statesman can afford to over-
look. Even in the middle of the late South African
war it was necessary to give to every private five
pounds, and to every non-commissioned officer and
officer stiU larger sums, according to their rank, as
prize money in lieu of plunder.

I come next to patriotism as a moral force. We
are apt to take it for granted that it always exists
in every country ; but this is not so, as the earlier
wars of the French Revolution most plainly prove.
Nor is it sufficient to say that the countries over
which the French armies rode rough-shod were
autocratically governed, while France enjoyed a
freer form of government, for a democracy can, and
very frequently does, govern quite as abominably
as any autocrat or oligarchy. If a large proportion
of a community be discontented with its condition
it wiU feel no patriotism, and will do little or nothing
towards defence of its country. It sees no object
in fighting to maintain a state of things which it
disapproves, and will not do so. Then, in case Ox
invasion it will submit quietly and without an effort
to the enemy's will, and allow him to take peaceful
possession of its territory. If, on the contrary, the
war be not defensive but offensive, the malcontents
will lay themselves out to embarrass the ruling


authorities as much as possible, in order to secure
political changes which they conceive to be political
advantages. So long as the seat of operations is at
a distance, the behaviour of the malcontents is
always the same, whether they are of the highest
or of the lowest class, whether the government
under which they live be popular or despotic.
Thus during the American War of Independence a
considerable section of the English aristocracy
threw the whole weight of its power and influence
in favour of the revolting colonies, and to all intents
assured their triumph. Thus also in the recent
war between Russia and Japan a large section of
the educated classes in Russia spared no efforts to
stir up internal trouble, and crippled their country
at the very moment when she bade fair to redeem
all past failures and enter upon a successful cam-
paign. In both cases the disaffected parties claimed
to be the truest patriots, inasmuch as they had
acted in the best interests of their country ; though
whether such a claim can be justified is a matter
upon which men will differ until the end of time.
It may, however, be doubted whether men can,
unless in most exceptional circumstances, benefit
their country by seconding their country's enemies ;
and it is probable that, when they profess to do so,
they are animated rather by an intense desire to
injure and humiliate their rulers than by any


principle of well-doing towards any one. If the
war were brought home to their own hearths, they
would in all likelihood make a stubborn fight for
their defence ; either from dread lest their neigh-
bours should hang them ; or, as it is more reasonable
to suppose, from honest jealousy for their country
and indignation against the invader. But because
the scene of fighting is at a distance, they think that
they may legitimately play fast and loose with their
country's fortunes.

Now I cannot help thinking that if those who
aspire to govern men, and even to lay claim to the
title of statesmen, were to study military history,
they might learn enough about the moral force of
nations and armies to set them thinking very
seriously. It is a force that is very difficult to
build up and not very difficult to destroy ; and yet
politicians of all parties trifle with it as though it
were an insignificant matter. It is impossible to
devise a form of Government or to collect an ad-
ministration which will satisfy all men ; but, though
everyone recognises the fact in theory, few make
allowances for it in practice. It is sufficient for
politicians of all ways of thinking in these days to
say solemnly that the will of the majority must
prevail. But why must it prevail ? Because the
majority is more likely to be right than the minority ?
Far from it : if we could believe that this were the


rule, the government of the world would be much
easier than it is. No, the will of the majority must
prevail because it can be enforced on the minority,
which is only another way of saying that Might is
Right. See how in this world of cant the terrible
maxim, which men think applicable to war only, is
daily in force all round us. Wise men therefore will
be always moderate in their dealing with honest
and respectable minorities, whether they differ
from the majority in matters of religious, political
or social faith, provided always that their dissent
is not merely a cloak for evading the obligations
of ordinary morality. Yet such moderation, though
of the last importance towards amity and good under-
standing in a community and therefore towards its
moral force in the event of war, is little more common
to-day than at other periods of human history. There
is really only one political or social principle which
has any permanent worth, and it is expressed in
the homely proverb " Give and take."

What is the civic form of this proverb ? It is
this, No rights without duties, no duties without
rights. In England I am afraid — though I may be
wrong — that for some time past there has been too
much prating of rights, and too little reflection upon
duties ; though the commonwealth depends for its
stability upon the equal recognition of both. What,
you may ask, do you owe to the State ? Well, you


owe to it gratitude for the fact that you can for the
most part walk about decently clad and purse in
pocket without danger of being knocked on the
head ; and that you can pursue your lawful avoca-
tion in peace. But how if your clothes are in rags
and you have no purse ? Well then, apart from all
possible benefits from the poor law, you at least
enjoy immunity from being knocked on the head
as an unprofitable member of the tribe. The great
difference between primitive and civilised societies is
that the civilised recognise misfortune as a pallia-
tive to inefficiency, which the primitive cannot
afford to do. We have still a right to say that a
criminal is an inefficient citizen, but no longer that
an inefficient citizen is a criminal ; and this, for
some of us, is a considerable gain. Even if the
State gave us no more than this, we are everyone
of us debtors for more than we can repay. But, in
the most highly organised states of the present
time, the tendency is that the community at large
shall contribute more and more towards making
men physically and mentally into efficient citizens
and towards saving them from the consequences of
misfortune, but in return shall claim from them more
exacting duties. It would perhaps be historically
more accurate to say that in some cases the duties
came first and the benefits afterwards ; but the
point is that the principle of rights for duties and


duties for rights has been faithfully observed.
Thus in Germany the State has set up machinery
for education, for insurance against misfortune,
for provision against old age, claiming in return
from able-bodied citizens two years of military
training, with liability to be recalled to the colours
up to a certain age in the event of war. There
are other states in which the same or less is given
or claimed ; but there are few of importance in
Europe in which free education is not the right,
and military training the countervailing duty.
And this system has been adopted in every case,
not only from bitter experience of disastrous defeat
in war, but because foreign statesmen read military
history. The bond of a common duty, impartially
imposed upon all classes from the highest to the
lowest, tends to soften minor dijBferences and dis-
contents, and constitutes in itself a great moral

So much for the moral force that can be instiUed
into a community by its statesmen : I come now to
that which can be inspired only by the soldier, the
unity, artificial but incomparably strong, which is
bound up with the name of discipline. Military
discipline — how some people loathe and others
worship it ; and how little the majority of both
have really thought about it ! What is its principle ?
The organised abnegation of the individual self in


favour of the corporate self. What is its object ?
That tens of thousands may act together as one
under the guidance of a single will. What are its
methods ? Immediate and unquestioning obe-
dience to superior command. Immediate and
unquestioning obedience — that is what is the
stumbhng block, the skandalon to so many. There
are of course a certain number of people who can
obey no one, but must always be a law — and an
exceedingly erratic law — unto themselves. The
name of the poet SheUey wiU probably occur to
some of you, but I am not thinking of such as
Shelley. I have in my mind rather those excellent
but generally unthinking persons who shrink with
horror from the idea of a man's abdicating his civil
rights. " What," they say, " a man must obey
even an unjust command, under pain it may be of
death ! It is monstrous ! " For purposes of civil
life it might be monstrous, but not for purposes of
implicit obedience, which is the thing that matters
in an army. Let there be justice as far as possible
by all means ; but, as a general principle, it is better
for an army that an injustice should be done than
that an order should be disobeyed. This, however,
is an argument that cannot appeal to our imaginary
objector, because he has read no military history.

Then there is the unpleasant fact that im-
mediate and unquestioning obedience is a thing not

F. M. H. 3


easily acquired even with the best of good will.
Careful and often tedious training is necessary
before the obedience becomes instinctive and a
second nature ; and the process is not always a
pleasant one. In the first place tyrannical teachers
are always to be found, who make the lesson as
odious as possible ; and in the second there are
some natures to which nothing is so revolting
as order and method in the minutest detail. The
temperament that calls itself artistic is particularly
impatient of this description of discipline, and
attaches to it the name of soul-destroying ; but I
have noticed that persons who claim to possess
that particular temperament discover equal mis-
chief to their souls in the punctual keeping of their

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 2 of 13)