Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/1018

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

would have been rescued in spite of the slowness and indecision of previous movements. An army standing on interior lines, therefore, occupies a position of advantage or the reverse according to the skill of its leader and its own inherent fighting capacity, and this whether its position arises from opera- tions during the actual course of hostilities, or from circum- stances already pre-existent in peace time, as for instance, the configuration of frontiers. The phrase, therefore, " the use of interior lines, " though convenient to those who are thoroughly agreed as to its limitations, of itself explains nothing, and is a pitfall for the inexperienced.

A, however, in moving as suggested against his enemy's outer flank, exposes at the same time his own communications with any place lying directly behind his point of departure. If his army suffers only from slowness, but is really superior in fighting power, this risk may be lightly taken — victory settles all things. In proportion, however, as the result of collision is

St. Petersburg

doubtful, alternative lines of retreat or supply will be advan- tageous. Hence a broad, if possible a concave or re- entering, base or starting-line is of great importance, and, since as an invader penetrates into his enemy's country his base becomes salient, whilst that of the defender becomes re-entrant, we have here a compensating arrangement which, under given conditions of country, equipment and the like, fixes the striking radius of an aggressor precisely as was the case in former times. The case of the French invasion of Russia in 1812 is an illus- tration. The Russian base at any moment may be considered as formed by lines traced just outside the striking radius of small bands of French marauders; the French base as including all the territory in their occupation, for within that area they were free to fortify or protect any accumulations of stores and supplies they chose to make. By the time the French reached Moscow the Russians could afford to attack them from any direction, for, whatever happened, retreat into their own undevastated country was always open. The South African war affords a modern example of the same thing.

These ideas are, after all, elementary, and readily grasped even by the average intellect, though many volumes have been devoted to proving them, and yet they are all that Jomini and his followers have to offer us — a fact that both explains and justifies the contempt with which military study was so long regarded by practical soldiers in England.

Clausewitz, however, approached his subject from a higher standpoint. Gifted with a mind of exceptional power, which he had trained to the utmost in the school of German philosophy, and having seen war from the beaten side, he knew well that something more than phrase-making was needed to force a great nation to the final abnegation of its independent will. He stood throughout in the closest connexion with the directing wills which guided the German nation to achieve the final downfall of Napoleon; and he knew that these men were neither bunglers nor fools, but men whose experience well entitled them to the authority they exercised. Hence he reasoned that the catastrophes they had shared in common needed deeper analysis than they had as yet received. First of- all he sought a satisfactory definition of what war really meant, and he found the closest analogy to it in the " unrestricted competition of the business world. " Had he written in modern times he would doubtless have cast it in the Darwinian mould, viz. " war is the struggle for existence' transferred to the national plane, " and this is a far more important contribution to sociology and the welfare of humanity, and will certainly exercise much greater influence on the evolution of the nations (on which, after all, the fate of the individual depends) than all the works of Darwin and Herbert Spencer combined. This transference of the question to the national plane is in fact their very antithesis, for whereas the survival of the fittest threatens the stability of society on the principle of the Kilkenny cats, the survival of the race necessitates its coherence. Next, Clause- witz analysed his subject into its constituent factors. In this process he investigates all the theories of bases and geometrical relations, only to discard them as quite inadequate solutions of war's many phenomena; and finally, as between equally armed opponents, he shows that essentially success in war depends on the moral factors only. First is " courage " in all its forms, from its lowest manifestation in the excitement of a charge, to its highest in the fearless acceptance of supreme reponsibility in face of the most imminent personal danger. Next comes " duty," again in its widest sense, from the uncomplaining endurance of the humblest musketeer in the ranks, to the readi- ness of the whole nation to submit to the sacrifice cf, and the restraint on, personal liberty that readiness for war entails. This " readiness, " moreover, he shows to be cardinal (for nations with land frontiers), for indubitably, under the conditions then prevailing, the surest guarantee of victory in the field was the concentration of every man, horse and gun in the shortest time on the decisive point. Thus only could the advantages of greater wealth, larger population and so forth be neutralized; and the growth of modern means of communication, railways, telegraphs, &c, have only confirmed his position. It has been the gradual appreciation of portions of Clausewitz's teaching, enforced by the drastic lessons of 1866 and 1870, which has turned all Europe into an armed camp, and this fact must, for generations, stultify all ideas of European disarmament. For since everything depends on instantaneous readiness for action, it is absurd to expect that any nation will voluntarily consent to throw away the advantages these sacrifices have obtained by agreeing to delay at the very moment when its existence is most gravely threatened. An unready nation has obviously everything to gain from delay.

All this portion of Clausewitz's work is fundamental, and no changes in armament or other conditions can ever affect it; it applies as much to land as to sea power, and essentially was the doctrine of Nelson and St Vincent. Indeed, at sea Nelson was in advance of Napoleon, for he quite understood the advan- tage to be gained in paralysing the independent will-power of his opponent by a vigorous attack, and was willing to stake his existence upon this principle, notwithstanding the infinitely more uncertain elements of wind and weather which conditioned his movements. But the rest of Clausewitz's teaching is too deeply coloured by his personal experiences, and he stood in too close a relation to the events of his time to be able to focus the details of the whole subject. Although he was the first to seize the meaning of Napoleon's case-shot attack (the descrip- tion occurs for the first time in his Campaign of 1815), he did not realise how this might be applied to the destruction of what he himself formulated as the most serious of all the many indeterminate factors with which a commander is called upon to deal, viz. " the independent will-power of his opponent." He saw clearly enough that time and space were the underlying conditions of all strategical calculation, and that time could be