Owing in all probability to the happy fact in History that England has not been invaded and over-run by a foreign army since the time of William the Conqueror—an episode which had in the end an excellent influence on the national life—she has never taken the military art seriously. She alone, thanks to the protection of Providence, has never been compelled to fight on her own fields for her existence as a nation; she alone knows nothing even by tradition handed down from distant generations of the appearance of an alien soldier on her shores.10 Some of her wars, as for example the successful struggle by which the Napoleonic domination was broken up, have been fought for the purpose of safe-guarding her independence, but they were not popular with the people at large, whose short sight did not permit them to see that a defensive war may have to be fought beyond the seas; and they had little or no effect in evoking a patriotic military spirit. Napoleon's gibe that the English were a nation of shopkeepers was not unasked for, and is still seasonable.
On the other hand there are hundreds of thousands of persons on the Continent of Europe who have seen, or who are the near descendants of those who have seen, their fatherland ravaged; their homes destroyed; their relations, friends, and neighbours slaughtered in the defence; the tree of the national life maimed; and the full cup of the horrors of war drained to its dregs.
To them the prospect of an invasion is not a remote contingency to be considered and provided for at leisure after academical discussion, but a real and instant danger from which only universal service, to which fortunately for themselves they submit without much demur, as it could not be enforced upon a reluctant community, can preserve them.
The possibility of invasion is the dominant anxiety of the land-frontier nations.11 Across the frontier they can see the conscripts drilling who almost at a moment's notice may be marching in to attack them. Their armies are not sent on interesting little expeditions to restrain a too-militant tribe of hill-men or to patrol the distant marches of a magnificent Empire, but must stand at attention generation after generation, year after year, maintaining the featureless routine of military life. None of the Romance of War that falls to the lot of the British soldier—the service among strange Easterns in Asia, the building up of a new imperial province in South Africa, the constant change of scene along the posts which form a girdle round the world from Hongkong to Jamaica—falls also to the lot of the continental conscript, for whom there is only the dull waiting for the critical moment.
The land-frontier nations alone are aware of the reality of the Terror of War; it is a Thing overshadowing and, apart from every other thing in their world, which must not, cannot be expelled from their thoughts. The objects that meet the eye on all sides speak of War; the railway vehicles marked with the number of men and horses conveyable, the noble war memorials, the officers constantly in uniform, the crowds of soldiers in the streets, the military bearing and precision of even the civilian servants of the State; while upon the ears falls the sound, which is in most cases a lingering echo of the roar of war, of alien tongues spoken within the frontier, or of the tongue of the Fatherland spoken in exile without it.
On the other hand, Peace is believed to be permanently settled upon the shore of the silver streak which encloses the British Isles. The war monuments are scanty and not a few of them are grotesque; the soldier and his work are thrust into the background, and his uniform is so often a hindrance to him that on certain occasions he is permitted to appear in plain clothes, that is to disguise himself as a civilian; and this concession is officially termed a "privilege." The red tunic of the soldier, like the red rays of the spectrum which cannot be brought into focus with the other colours, fails to make a sharp impression upon the British retina, but projects an ill-defined image seen through a medium of doubt and indifference.
The nation looks upon the Army much as the individual looks upon the Policeman, as a necessary institution, but one rather to be avoided and kept in its place when its services are not actually in requisition. Little interest is taken in its difficulties, its merits, and its opportunities. It is regarded not as an indispensable protection, but rather as an expensive result of possessions in all parts of the world, and when the peace of these is in danger of being broken, the cry too often belated goes up: Send for the Soldiers. Probably nothing less than an actual landing of foreign troops or the scare of it so tremendous as to drive the nation into the opposite and equally dangerous extreme of consternation and panic will be necessary to shake its belief, that the white cliffs of Albion are immune to an invasion in force.
The nightmare of Militarism by which so many worthy persons are fanatically obsessed obscures the dangers against which Militarism is an insurance. Now Militarism is not in itself a desirable thing, and the developments and accidents of it upon the Continent of Europe are often not only irksome and absurd but also irreconcilable with the existence of a healthy feeling of self-respect in the non-military sections of the community, who are taught to regard themselves as an inferior caste; but with all its shortcomings it promotes the moral as well as the physical strength of a nation. It calls up some of the nobler qualities of human nature; self-control, self-reliance, endurance, and altruism or the devotion of Self to the good of the community; and not the least of its merits is that it corrects and restrains the dreary materialism of the Labour and Socialist movements.
The shy and distant bearing of the British nation and its persistent refusal to regard the Army as part of itself, in conjunction with the growing national passion for Sport and Athletics, fostered the idea that War itself must be a branch of them. From time immemorial the military had been eyed with suspicion by the country, which professed to believe that its liberties were in greater danger from its own soldiers than from the soldiers of a foreign power, and which for a long time withheld from its rulers the right of having a standing army. Gradually and with great reluctance it was convinced of the necessity of a permanent force, not so much for home defence as for the performance of the police duties of an Empire. As the Empire grew year by year, these duties became more onerous and responsible, but the Army itself was not taken seriously. It was confessedly too weak to engage in a European campaign, and the Navy was considered to be sufficient to protect the country against invasion.
The duties of the Army abroad were generally interesting and exciting but they did not call for the exercise of the military art with great precision, as the opponents which it was called upon to face were rarely experts, and there was a comfortable belief that the bravery and endurance of the British soldier would outweigh deficiencies in other military qualities.12
The War-as-a-Sport idea was also encouraged by the opinion still stoutly held by many persons that a good sportsman is necessarily a good soldier, and that the qualities which ensure success in Athletics or Sport make also for success in War: but this is true of certain of them only. In so far as Athletics and Sport tend to manliness, self-reliance, good comradeship, endurance of bodily hardship, and contempt of danger, they are no doubt an excellent preparatory school for War. But there is one quality without the possession of which no man is held to be a good sportsman, and that is the acceptance of defeat or non-success with equanimity and good-humour as "part of the game." Without this quality Athletics and Sport would, in fact, become impossible.
In the soldier, however, this temperament is a dangerous gift. It led to reverses, captures, loss of convoys and other "regrettable incidents" being regarded with stoical composure as "part of the game"; and the victims were condoled with on their "shocking bad luck." It would have been difficult to discern from the bearing and demeanour of the typical officer whether he was at the moment a prisoner of war in the Model School at Pretoria, or had just taken part in the magnificent cavalry charge by which Kimberley was relieved. The former plight did not greatly depress him, nor did the latter phase of military life greatly elate him. It is probable that the War would have been brought to a successful close at a much earlier date if throughout the British Army and especially among the officers hearty disgust and indignation at the failures of the first few months had taken the place of a light-hearted accommodation to circumstances. The companions of Ulysses may
With a frolic welcome take
The thunder and the sunshine,
but it is not War.
The British officer played at war in South Africa much in the same way that he hunted or played cricket or polo at home. He enjoyed the sport and the game, did his best for his own side, and rejoiced if he was successful, but was not greatly disturbed when he lost. A dictum attributed to the Duke of Wellington says that the Battle of Waterloo was won upon the Playing Fields at Eton. It would not be so very far from the truth to say that the guns at Sannah's Post were captured on the polo-ground at Hurlingham; that Magersfontein was lost at Lord's; that Spionkop was evacuated at Sandown; and that the war lingered on for thirty-two months in the Quorn and Pytchley coverts.
The sporting view of War was recognized and confirmed in Army Orders and official reports, in which the words "bag," "drive," "stop," and some other sporting terms not infrequently appeared. No one would reasonably object to the judicious and illuminating use of metaphor, but there are metaphors which impair the dignity of a cause and degrade it in the eyes of those whose duty is to maintain that cause. When the advance of a British Division at a critical period in the operations is frivolously termed a "drive," and when the men extended at ten paces' interval over a wide front are called "beaters," it is natural that the leaders should look upon their work as analogous to the duties of a gamekeeper; and when an artillery officer is instructed to "pitch his shells well up," he is encouraged to regard failure as no worse than the loss of a cricket-match.
It was at least to be expected that in the use, care, and management of horses upon which the success of a campaign, in which mounted men formed an unusually large proportion of the troops engaged, so much depended, the sporting instincts of the British officer would have made him particularly efficient; yet the evidence given by General officers before the Royal Commission showed that it was otherwise. They are practically unanimous in the opinion that all branches of the mounted troops were inefficient, except the artillery, whose work so far as horses are concerned is akin to that of the skilful but unsporting farm teamster or wagoner.
A nation greatly addicted to Sport, Games, and Athletics is a nation lacking in that earnestness of moral purpose which should be its chief strength for War. Amusements are regarded not as "recreation" or means of refreshing and re-invigorating the mind and body for the duties of life by a temporary change of occupation, but as the main objective of existence.
A retrospect into history will show that the most efficient armies were those in which the sporting instinct was non-existent. The armies which in modern times have most satisfactorily performed the duties for which armies are raised were those of Gustavus Adolphus, Napoleon, Moltke, and Oyama. Each of these was the most perfect military instrument of its day, and their exploits have never been surpassed. Yet neither the Swedes, the French, the Germans, nor the Japanese were addicted to Athletics or Sport. Their manly instincts were exercised, to the great advantage of their countries, in skill at arms and in the Military Art.13
The cult of Sport and Athletics sets up false ideals and lowers the intellectual standard. Thousands of loafers, idlers, and work skirkers live upon the anticipations or recollections of out-door sports when not actually present at them, and are ready to spend their last shilling at the turnstile of the ground on which a handful of football gladiators are at play: and are more exasperated by the defeat of the team which they patronise in a Cup Tie match than they would be by the loss of a battle by the British Army. There is this to be said for the working classes, that in youth, if not longer, they in general endure a hard and strenuous life, and at least in their school years they cannot indulge a passion for amusement; whereas the class from which the officers of the British Army are drawn is encouraged on the other hand to indulge it from childhood. Owing to the prominence given in the Public Schools and Universities to games and athletics and to the esteem in which proficiency in these is held, youths of the upper middle and upper classes are dumped upon the world not humbly but arrogantly ignorant of almost everything necessary to qualify them to take their proper place in the community. They have subsisted in a rarefied intellectual atmosphere, and to fit themselves for any profession for which they may have an inclination they have to be forced or "crammed" in a saturated atmosphere by which they are congested. The result is that "young officers now join the service with a very fair idea of cricket and football, bridge, and even motor-driving; but with no education in patriotism; no real acquaintance with the history or geography of their own or other countries; unable to write English concisely, or even grammatically;14 unaccustomed to read general information for themselves other than under the headings of the Daily Mail; unable to talk a foreign language; and with no knowledge of the sciences which are of military use."15 To this may be added the fact that these young dullards, the supply of whom is dwindling, are, on joining the service, encouraged and accepted rather with reference to their sporting and social qualities than to their military capacity.
England, as a sporting, athletic, and game-loving nation, has of late years suffered many rebuffs. By the United States she has been taught the scientific method of riding racehorses, and also of sailing yachts; she has been defeated in polo by a Transatlantic team; her selected representative horsemen are unsuccessful in the International Military Tournaments; she cannot defeat Australia on the cricket field; a Belgian crew holds its own at Henley. If these rebuffs tend to abate the mania for watching the performances of a handsome but not particularly intelligent quadruped, and for studying the various methods of imparting motion to a Ball and to show the vanity of the passion for sports and games when indulged to excess, they will have served their purpose. The nation, disgusted at its want of success in its favourite pursuits, may perhaps turn its manhood to the noblest pursuit of all, the defence of the Fatherland; and then it will not be the betting and football news that has to be blacked out of the daily papers in the free libraries, but the bi-weekly military gazettes, the reports from the military stations and the Special Correspondents' letters from Salisbury Plain during the manoeuvres.
Except the French raid at Fishguard in 1797.
The Franco-German War cost France £600,000,000 exclusive of the loss from suspension of business and commerce.
The attaché of a Great Power noticed in the South African War an aversion to the tedious duties of outposts and reconnaissance, and he remarks that "it is often openly stated by British officers that it is better to get now and then into a really tight place by the neglect of these duties than to have to endure the constant irksomeness which they entail."
Apart from the question of the relative importance of the two services, it can hardly be denied that the British Naval Officer is an asset more valuable to his country than his brother in the Army. The social side of his character may be more rugged and less acceptable, but as a rule he has had neither the time nor the inclination to fritter away his manhood in sporting pursuits which do not make for proficiency in his profession, and he therefore excels in it; in spite of trying conditions which do not exist in any other calling, for with some rhetorical exaggeration it may be said that in the lower ranks he is an abject slave, in the higher an irresponsible despot.
To the various courses, ranging from Balloons to Economics, which are open to British Officers, might be added a course in English Grammar and Composition, for the instruction of staff officers and others who may have to formulate battle orders and despatch important telegrams on active service. The art of composing a clear, terse, and unambiguous order or telegraphic message is not studied in the Army. Not a few telegrams of vital importance in the South African War were composed by impressionist staff officers who lightly assumed that what was present in their own minds must necessarily also be present in the mind of the recipient. The author particularly remembers a certain telegram from a staff officer of a column, in which it was impossible to discover from the context whether the word "they" in the concluding paragraph referred to British Columns or to Boer Commandos previously mentioned.
Major-General Baden-Powell, in Cavalry Journal, April.