Sidney Whitman.

Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

efficient soHcitude for the army that, when the War of t"^," '"^,ew" ""^
1870 broke out, as if by magic the whole army was
found supphed with an excellent food, the very name of
which — the now-celebrated "pea-sausage — had never
before been heard of by the public. Such is an ' '.ce
of the ' ' new conditions ' ' of modern warfare. .iiis

wondrous efficiency,
this honest and effect-
ive administration
and devotion to duty,
which arrest our at-


We repeat, it is the
honest devotion to
duty of the unit in the
army which i m -
presses us more than
the genius of its lead-
ers. The one must
pass away, and men
will come forward
who are compara-
tively untried, but the
other can, and must,
remain at all hazards.

The ficrman subal-
tern officer works in
the midst of his men ;


In- presides not only over the drill, which in I-^ngland

left to non-commissioned offiv rs, but he is their

.noral as well as their technical instructor. Ilis whole

The subaltern




Imperial Germany,

The value of
time in army

Of conduct
and example.

heart is in his profession and with his men, like a fore-
man in a workshop. Thus he exercises an influence
over the character of the rank and file confided to his
care that remains with them in after-life. The Prussian
army has been the means of raising the moral as well as
the physical standard of the masses of the country.

The following extract from the German Field Service
Regulations for 1887, issued for the use of the rank and
file of the army, may prove interesting :

The soldier may learn to marcli and to handle his weapons
by practice ; also his body and his mental powers may be de-
veloped and steeled ; but time alone can produce that discipline
which is the key-stone of the army. This is the first condition
of every success, and must be cultivated and nurtured above
everything else. A superficial cohesion merely gained through
practice will give way in critical moments and under the influ-
ence of unforeseen occurrences. Only by the most thorough
training of the unit can the necessary cohesive action of the

many be attained The officer is the teacher and

leader in every department. This necessitates his possessing
superiority of knowledge and of experience, as well as superior
strength of character. Without fear of responsibility, every
officer in every crisis — even the most exceptional — must devote
his whole being to the task of carrying out his instructions,
even without waiting for orders respecting details. The per-
sonal behavior of the officer is the most decisive influence on
the rank and file, for the inferior is subject to the itnpression
that coolness and determination make all along the line. It is
not sufficient to command ; the manner of the commanding ex-
ercises a great influence over subordinates. Conduct and ex-
ample create confidence, and nerve the troops to action that

commands success Every one— from the highest

officer down to the youngest soldier — mustalvvaj-s bear in mind
that omission and neglect are more punishable than a mistake
in the choice of means of action.


In the Prussian army such a thing as appointment by

The Army. 177

"public form" and promotion by favoritism — not to

speak of nepotism — ^has hitherto been comparatively un- Absence of

known. An officer might enjoy the intimate personal

friendship of the old emperor William without its having

the slightest influence on his preferment. It would have

even been powerless to avert his premature retirement,

if he had been judged unequal to the responsibility of a

higher command. A rigid system of continually testing

the capacity of officers was ever at work. No length of

service would ha\e entitled a man to promotion, unless

his superiors in command were thoroughly convinced he

was in every way fitted for it. After ten or twelve years'

service as a lieutenant, a man may be judged fitted to

lead a company, and thus receives the rank of captain.

He may be the best company leader in the Prussian serv- Capacity of

, , , . , f _ , , ^- ^ f officers severely

ice, and yet not have the material for a held officer. If tested.
such be the opinion of his superiors, he has no hopes of
ever becoming a major. When his turn for promotion
comes he receives a quiet hint to retire, and, as a sop,
he carries the titular distinction of major into private life,
and silently vanishes from the scene. Service in the
Prussian army is a national duty, and not necessarily a
career for the individual. The dismissal may mean shat-
tered hopes, or a lost career it may be, but it is inevi-
table, in the interest of the community, in the interest of
the huge man-slaying machine, in which each man is the
tiniest little rivet, and nothing more.

This same test is rigorously applied to every promo-
tion up to the rank of full general. That such a merci-
less system of mutual otjservation and criticism can exist
without degenerating into a hot-bed of intrigue and
favoritism, is, in itself, the highest testimony to the
moral (lualities of tin- I'russian officer. In oilier coun-
tries the command of a wJK^le army is often gixcn lo an


Imperial Germany.

Slight regard
for fainilv and

A notable

incapable general, and the results are invariably such as
iniqht be expected.

There is no regard for individual sensitiveness in the
German army. There they root it out stump and branch
in the interest of the country. No title, no family con-
nections, however powerful, are able to do more than
enable an officer to serve in one of a few exclusive regi-
ments, but are by no means able to guarantee his pro-
motion therein. And yet, when we bear in mind what
the Prussian aristocracy has done toward making the
army what it is, we could even understand a little favor-
itism, for they have had their bones broken for genera-
tions in the army service, hardly ever earning any
material reward in return. If pride of birth be pardon-
able, it is so in this instance of generations of unselfish
devotion to a hard service. To be nearly related to a
great Prussian commander is, if anything, a drawback,
for the spirit of rigid impartiality toward one's own kith
and kin has before now been the means of even hindering
an ofificer's advancement.

Bismarck's two sons went into the Franco-German War
as privates in the Dragoon Guards, and — most remark-
able — in Germany it was only taken as a matter of course.
William Bismarck, the younger, had even served nearly
a whole year previously in the same humble capacity.
Such an absence of nepotism is to be found only in Prus-
sia. It is looked upon as a matter of course ; it exists
in all branches of the state service and is one of the
reasons the Prussion administration works so thoroughly.

One of Field-Marshal Moltke's aides-de-camp through-
out the Franco-German War — his brother-in-law — came
out of it with no higher rank than captain, and retired
some years later through ill-health as major on half-pay.
(The number of those whose health was subsequently

The Army.


shattered by that .struggle ahiiost equaled those of the
killed and wounded.)

This very poverty is one of the hoops of steel that
binds the Prussian army. The day the Prussian officers of poverty.


cease to be jjoor, that day tiie supremacy of tlic

army will be on the wane. Tlic danger <il liixiu-v is iiie<l:mger

a greater one than any foreign combinaliun. The " ' ''

j)rescnt young emperor, when still Prince William,

.said as much when he gave those peremptory orders


Imperial Germany.

of the point
of honor.

to his regiment against gambling that created such a
sensation at the time. The key-stone of the moral
influence and of the position of the Prussian officer is to
be sought in the rigid cultivation of the point of honor
that may seem almost exaggerated to our eyes. The
slightest slur on the character of a Prussian officer is
fatal to his chances of promotion, even if it does not
entail his immediate dismissal. Thus cases of suicide
are very frequent from causes that would appear trivial
indeed to those who are not conversant with the rigidity
of Prussian notions on this subject. For an officer to
become implicated in a brawl or quarrel connected with
personal violence, even if innocent, often entails ruin, as
it is the uniform he wears that must be kept sacred at all


of the " new

Importance of

moral influence.


So much for a few of the characteristics of the " new
conditions. ' ' But there are other questions besides merely
those of efficiency of commissariat, conscientiousness in
the performance of duty, intellectual acquirements of
the officers and leaders, and freedom from foul patron-
age and nepotism which come up for consideration when
we examine the qualifications of a victorious army. It
is not only the old tactical traditions which go down
before the modern improved "system"; it is the
meaner impulse that invariably succumbs to the higher,
the morally effete to the strong and healthy. As the
Persians went down before the Greeks, and as they
in their turn succumbed to the Romans, so the latter in
their effeminacy bit the dust before hardy barbarian

How clearly the importance of the moral influence
is shown bv Oliver Cromwell in his letter :

The Army.


How can we expect loafers and tapsters to stand up against
gentlemen with a keen sense of honor and loyalty to their
sovereign ? We must give them an even higher impetus : we
must appeal to their God !

And from that day forward, even without nev\- tactical
systems, down went the Royalists ! They went down
before the fierce Covenanters, who sought death at their
hands, but kept their powder dry.

In later times, we see the same "spirit" at work
deciding the fate of nations. In the American War in the American

. . • 1 1 Revolution.

of Independence the oft-victonous English had to lower

their standard to their own kin. The watchword of

' ' God s a \' e the

King " was unable

to stifle the cry of

men fighting for

their e.xistence.

The young
French Republic
singing the " Mar-
seillaise ' ' and
throwing off the
tyranny of a cor-
rupt feudalism was
\ ictorious as long
as it fought against
such, for it was not
so much the old
fighting system

that lowered IVussia's flags at Jena as the fact of its
army having become a haughty, self-indulgent, separate
caste, no longer itlentical with the nation. But as soon
as the French watchword of "glory" was seriously i„ Napoieoi
tested against th'- d. voted r-jigious fanaticism of the '-"''""p="8"^

Monument ok Victory, Lripzic.

1 82 Jiupoial CoDiaiiy.

Russians, not even the genius of a Napoleon could pre-
vail. And once the (lornian nation rose to Luther's
hymn, " Eine feste Buri;- ist unscr Gott" (A strong-
fortress is our God); when once Ernst Moritz Arndt
gave out his " Der Gott, der Eisen wachsen liess, der
woUte keine Knechte " (The God who l)id that iron be,
could never wish for slaves) ; when this spirit rose,
the day of glory ( " le jour de gloire ' ' of the ' ' Mar-
seillaise " ) had sunk into night and the French marshals
were beaten in every engagement in which the great
Napoleon did not command in person until the battle of
Leipzig gave him the finishing stroke.

It may be an effect of the imagination, but when
Dominating we remember the soul-stirring sounds of the famous

V>owcr of "^

German " Watch On the Rhine" we think we hear the manifes-


tation of that invincible spirit against which it was but
natural that the "Marseillaise" should shriek in vain.
When we recall those public gatherings in Carlsruhe,
Berlin, and elsewhere after the news of the first victories,
when the bare-headed crowd joined in those soul-stirring
chorals of Luther's, we feel that such a spirit was bound
to conquer. '

So much for the action of the divine instinct which
binds us to the unseen and unknown in its influence
on the affairs of man in war. It is divine inasmuch as it
appeals to and draws its strength from something higher

1 Regarding the spirit that animated the German troops in 1870, we hold the
following testimony from W. McKellar, an English surgeon, who acconipanieil
the German troops and was taken prisoner by the French at Orleans : " There
was any amount of heroic courage among the French, an indescribable enthu-
siasm animated the Germans. I met several, mortally wounded, who gloried
in their wounds to the exclusion of all meaner thought of self One young
fellow of the artillery — one of four brothers, two of whom fell during the war —
was brought in to me at Orleans with a thigh crushed. Quite forgetting his
mortal suffering, he raised his head and pointing to the eagle on his helmet,
cried out : 'With God for King and Fatherland ' " (the motto on the Prussian

The Army. 183

than our every-day selfishness and vanity — the devotion

of each unit to the welfare of the entirety. Where this influence of

■' devotion to

Spirit prevails in the administration as well as in the ''"'>'•
people, cartridges will be found to go off, there also
provisions will be found adequate, and there will victory
incline. May that stern sense of devotion to duty, may
that rare efificiency and integrity in its administrators,
may that earnest enthusiasm for an independent, united
Fatherland, long distinguish the Germans and preserve
them the great nation they deserve to be !


Others may try to copy the system which has shown
such excellent results, but they cannot suddenly appro-
priate the qualities that have made the German army
what it is. The one and the other are too much bound
up in the qualities of the people, and are the result of
the laborious work of generations. Parliamentary legis-
lation born of an e.xcited expression of public opinion
cannot supply such to order.

To take but one special feature that has done so much
to raise the moral value of the rank and file of the Ger-
man army — the leavening of the mass with the educated
element — the one-year service. It has been tried in riie one-year


r ranee, and had to be given up. The rank and file
of that land of equality, instead of benefiting by its asso-
ciation with the educated classes, were envious of the
favored elements, sneered at them as " aristos " (aristo-
crats;, and made their life a misery to them. The con-
sequence is that everybody in France now serves equally
liis full time in the ranks, and many of the educated 'is (failure in

•' V ranee.

clas.scs leave the army thoroughly disgusted with the
hardship and coarseness of the life and its associations.
The career of General lioulanger in itself throws a lurid

1 84

Imperial Germany.

The recipe for

Inferiority of
the Austrian

light (111 the incapacity to raise the higher ranks of the
army to a level that could inspire confidence in their

The French have copied the cunning of espionage,
but the unity of moral purpose does not seem yet to
be theirs. They have a great military history, and they
love war ; the imagination of the race is captivated by
it, but it is doubtful whether the temperament of the
people fits them for its requirements in our day. The
next struggle will solve that question. But one thing
is certain : the days of the ' ' handsome soldier ' ' of pop-
ular imagination — the prize-fighting warriors of old — are
gone from the scene of modern warfare forever. The
tactical training of the unit under a model organization
of the whole, led by the comprehensive mind, more
surely than ever wins the day. The highest discipline
without red tape seems to be the recipe for victory
nowadays, for nowhere is independence of judgment,
freedom of initiative, from the leader of army corps down
to the non-commissioned officer, so cultivated and en-
couraged as in the German army. The French temper-
ament possesses these qualities to an eminent degree,
but it lacks one of the most important qualities that
lead to success always — the due subordination of the

Of Austrian military affairs we do not often hear
much, but that little is usually of a derogatory nature.
At the time of the occupation of Bosnia and the Herze-
govina after the treaty of Berlin, their ca\ a]r\- not only
managed to receive a check at the hands of irregulars,
but, almost amusing to relate, their soldiers were on
several occasions in danger of starvation. Poor, simple
souls ; their leaders had doubtless heard of the wealth of
Prussia during the War of 1870, and, with true Austrian

The Army. 185

cunning, they had provided themselves with money !
The unimportant fact that Bosnia is not identical with
wealthy agricultural France had not suggested itself to
these strategic thinkers.

But far worse than all this was the little episode at
Graz in 1888. Austrian public opinion was in a fever An episode at

. ^ . * Graz.

of surmise at the sudden retirement of General von
Kuhn. The journals of the dual monarchy expressed
their surprise, and united in the hope that the army
would not lose the services of such an eminent soldier
in the hour of need. No sooner had public opinion
let us into its high estimate of General von Kuhn than
that distinguished officer himself assists us to form an
estimate of its egregious folly. In his speech to five
hundred officers at Graz who made a demonstration in
his favor, carrying him home on their shoulders and
flourishing their swords, he proved himself to be a brag-
gart, as the following few excerpts prove :

My prowess at Santa Lucia is known ; it belongs to history.

It is less known, perhaps, that at Custozza I stood with only General von
. I •*! ^ -ill Kuhii's speech,

two guns and without any cover aganist a whgle army corps,

and thus partially contributed to the success of the day. . . .

In the year 1859 I had the intention of taking the offensive.

That it did not take place was not my fault. If the offensive

had been followed up, things would look different in Europe

to-day ( !). If we had taken the offensive at Sadowa the victory

would have been ours.

Of such stuff are some officers who hold the highest
commands still made in Austria, and such is the
standard of the rank of the officers that five hundred
of them could be found to aj^plaud it. No wonder the
Austrian emperor judgetl it was time to retire such a
man !

It is not too much to say that the conduct of General
\on Kuhn, as well as that of the five hundred Austrian

1 86

Imperial Germany.

\oii Moltke.




officers, was as discreditable as it would be impossible In
Germany. It only proves how far the Austrians are yet
from that ideal standard of elificiency which they fancy
they have learned by their defeats from the Prussians.

What a contrast to a man such as Von Moltke ! Lord
Wolseley does not believe he will go down to posterity
as one of the greatest captains ; but strip him of strategic
exploits that seek in vain in history for a parallel to the
magnitude of their scale, strip him of the literary ability
that has given us charming books of travel, and a purity,
a terseness, a dignity of style that has earned a compar-
ison with Tacitus for the history of the War of 1870
issued by the Prussian General Staf? ; strip him of all
this, and a character remains, unsullied in its spotless
integrity as in its sober simplicity : a cultivated intellect
of the highest order.

The man whose iron, unquestioned, supreme decision
winged the flight of Prussian victory was almost a hermit
in the privacy of his Silesian retreat. In her greatest
strategist Germany produced a character of the very
highest type, one far removed from the feverish self-
advertising egotism of our time. One who stood nearest
to him by the ties of relationship and friendship once
assured us: "The field-marshal is above all a man of
almost childlike purity of mind, one to whom the shady
sides of human nature have remained, so to say, un-
known." No wonder that even victory and worldly
glory were powerless to affect the character of such a
man. His estimate of the value of popularity is best
recorded in his own words : "When I have to listen to
the boundless flatteries bestowed on one by the public, I
cannot dismiss for an instant the thought, How would it
have been if success — unexampled success — had not
crowned our enterprise?"



ptiiin ttti initnt't iiftit pot'lrdit.

Count von Moltkh.

• 87

1 88 Imperial Germany

When this silent warrior spoke, for whom tlie Ger-
larrtw"' mans have found in their expressive language the beauti-

ful words, dcr ScJiIachtcnlcnkcr, dcr Schlachtendcnkcr
(the battle-ruler, the battle-thinker), it was the trumpet-
blast of war that called for his utterances. They crys-
tallized ; they turned to granite to mark the mile-stones
of history in which his country figures victoriously.

Our Wellington in Spain, and Cincinnatus in Rome,
unite to furnish historical parallels to Count Moltke's
character. His example is the proudest possession of
the Prussian army.

On the eve of his ninety-first birthday (October 25,
1890), the Reichsanzeiger brought the following tribute
to his fame :

Field-Marslial Count von Moltke completes his ninetietli
year on Sunday. In accordance with the will of his majesty
A tribute to his the emperor and king, and the feelings of all classes of the
people, all Germany celebrates this birthday as a national fes-
tival. For the nation owes it in no small measure to the deeds
of the veteran field-marshal that it is united in a powerful em-
pire, that its prestige among the nations of Europe has been
gready enhanced, and that it has now long been able to devote
itself undisturbed to the labors of peace. It is a tribute due to
the field-marshal, glory-crowned, undefeated, and yet great
also in simplicity and modesty, when, on this day of honor,
princes and people with one accord express their gratitude to
him in the most convincing manner. Ninety years of a precious
and blessed, but also laborious, life lie behind him. They form
a reflection of the destinies of Germany. To Mecklenburg be-
longs the honor of having given the Fatherland not only Queen
Louisa and the national hero of the Wars of Liberation, Prince
Bliicher of Wahlstatt, but also the greatest general of this age.

After giving a detailed account of the field-marshal's
career, and describing the manner in which the emperor
and the people were preparing to do him honor, the
Reichsanzeiger concludes :

The Army.


But above and beyond all outward festal arrangements, our
eyes are raised in prayers of thanksgiving for all that Heaven
has given the German people in and with "our ISIoltke," and
also in the earnest hope that the venerable field-marshal may
long be permitted to enjoy the gratitude of his king and Father-


October, 1888.
Moltke is to be distinguished by the woman's hat.

land, and that the German nation and the German army may
long be destined to see him among them, their brightest ex-

And here let us add the official text of the emperor's The emperor's

, , f^ n r 1 1 1 congralula-

con^ratulatory speech lo Count .Moltke on the same Hons.
occasif>n :

My dear Field-Marshal- I have come to-day, with many
illustrious personages and the leaders of my army, to e.\ press
our heartiest and most deep-felt congratulations. For us,

IQO Imperial iicnuany

to-day is a daj- of retrospect, and especially of gratitude. First
and foremost, I express my thanks in the name of those who

Hisgiaiiuidc. Worked and f^iught along with you, and who are gone, and
whose faithful and devoted servant you wrre. I thank you for
all you have done for my house, and for the promotion of the
greatness of our Fatherland. We greet in you not only the
Prussian leader who has won for our army the reputation of
invincibility, but also one of the founders and welders of our
German Empire. Vou see before you high and illustrious
princes from all parts of Germany — above all, his majesty the
king of Saxony, who was a faithful ally of my grandfather, and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 12 of 23)