A page featuring selected quotes from this military history book from 1987. The book uses four examples — Alexander, Wellington, Grant and Hitler — to study generalship through the ages.
~ Alexander the Great: Heroic Leadership
~ Wellington: The Anti-Hero
~ Grant: Unheroic Leadership
~ Hitler: False Heroic
~ Conclusion: Post-Heroic, Command in the Nuclear World
~ Beyond The Book
# INTRODUCTION: Pre-Heroic Leadership
This book is about generals, who they are, what they do, and how what they do affects the world in which men and women live.
Commonality of traits and behaviour I certainly see in commanders of all periods and places. But even more strongly do I perceive that the warfare of any one society may differ so sharply from that of another that commonality of trait and behaviour in those who direct it is overlaid altogether in importance by differences in the purposes they serve and the functions they perform... the generalship of one age and place may not at all resemble that of another.
For the general — the word itself is pregnant with ambiguity — may be many things besides the commander of an army, though he will certainly be that. He may be king or priest: Alexander the Great was both. He may be a diplomat: in their different ways Marlborough and Eisenhower excelled as much at conciliation as at strategy. He may be thinker rather than doer: Moltke the Elder's qualities were intellectual rather than executive. He may command by surrogate authority of a monarch, as Wellington did, or by endorsement of a democratic assembly, which gave Grant his powers. He may be owed obedience only for as long as his decisions bring victory, the uneasy lot of generals in the Boer free states. He may be demagogue-turned-tyrant, and yet sustain his military authority, as Hitler did almost until five minutes past midnight.
Generalship is, in short, much more than command of armies in the field. For an army is, to resort to cliche, an expression of the society from which it issues. The purposes for which it fights and the way it does so will therefore be determined in large measure byu what a society wants from a war and how far it expects its army to go in delivering that outcome. A general may, given strong character traits and effective behaviour, carry both society and army farther than they believed they wished to travel. But he too, even if, like Alexander, he both rules and commands, will in the last resort act as a man of his time and place: when Alexander learnt in India that his army yearned from Greece more strongly than for new worlds to conquer, he managed an appearance of good grace and turned his step homeward.
Just as modern strategists have learnt to perceive that the aims of the mercantilists — who perceived trade as a form of piecemeal conquest — were misconceived, so too have modern strategists come to teach that the methods and aspirations of earlier practitioners were rooted in false perception... There is no place, modern strategists insist, for moderation in warfare, of the sort that seemed to suffuse the warfare of cabinets and kings. Its only justification is victory, and victory is won by methods of extreme ruthlessness — decision, concentration, offensive action. These are 'the principles of war' which we owe to the greatest of the strategic theorists, Karl von Clausewitz, who began to publish at the beginning of the 19th century.
Clausewitz is often called 'the interpreter of Napoleon'. But that description misleads because it is entirely circular. Napoleon, though achieving power rather than being born or thrust into it, both ruled and commanded, as Alexander had done. He, too, knew that war is an extension of policy by other means and his emperorship was a sustained exercise in that duality. Clausewitz, who might as well be characterized as the 'interpreter of Alexander' or of Caesar, Wallenstein, Frederick the Great or any other statesman-general, was clearly not writing for his or for their like. On the contrary, he was writing for a new class of warrior, whose upbringing and way of life distanced its members from the realities of politics by deliberate purpose.
Europe, almost until the end of the ancien regime, remained a society in which the ruling class was also a military class... But the growing wealth of ancien regime states produced classes — mercantile, legal, academic — that would not tolerate their exclusion from politics simply because of their swordless status. The Revolution was indeed, in one of its aspects, a revolt by the swordless against the swordbearers... Power did pass, as a result of the events of 1789, from those those who held wealth as a result of ancestral feats of arms to those who produced, extracted, manipulated or lent it... Military status migrated from the few to the many. 'Every man a soldier' had been one of the principal slogans of the Revolution... Military command devolved from amateurs to professionals. The old swordbearing class, which had justified its social primacy by its availability to lead in battle, gave up its monopoloy of military leadership to a new class, drawn partly but not exclusively from it, whose sole purpose was officership.
Political liberation logically required that
all citizens should bear an equal share of the state's military burdens...
The Revolution, however, taught anyone connected with politics, whether
in old monarchies or new republics, that professional soldiers in command
of mass armies were not merely a menace but the principal menace to the
stability of government. Napoleon's career was dramatic evidence of that
danger, and the word coined to denote it, Bonapartism, was taken from his
name. If the new military class was not to hold governments under permanent
threat of blackmail, displacement of supplantation — Professor Samuel Finer's
famous categorization of the levels at which soldiers intervene in politics
— it must, then, both be excluded from politics and denied political skills.
The military academies which sprang up all over the Western world contemporaneously
with the Revolution were dedicated to that end. Not only did they raise
their inmates in monastic isolation from public life; they also sought
to inculcate the belief — with very large success, it must be said — that
politics is none of a soldier's business.
But that, of course, is a nonsense, as the most famous of Clausewitz's dicta points out. War is indeed an extension of politics and, if it is to be fought in a manner that serves political ends, soldiers must understand how the two interact.
19th century Europe... sought to educate soldiers in the means by which war may serve politics... The many texts which imitated Clausewitz's "On War" are the classroom texts of that syllabus. And very strange, distorted and partial texts they are as a result. For, if soldiers were to be forbidden all part in the calculations of foreign or domestic policy, then they gad to be taught a method of war-making into which calculation of the political effects of their doing came not at all. It was enough that they should know that war had political purpose and that wars which exceeded in cost the value that victory might bring were no politically worth fighting. That being the case, the texts on which pupil officers have been raised since the mid-19th century preached a form of warfare that makes no room for political or diplomatic calculation at all. The commander's purpose, they have been taught, is to deliver victory by the quickest and cheapest means he can find, leaving it to statesmen to decide what 'cheapness' means in that context and how victory can be used once it has been won.
Take up any military academy text of the last 150 years and the illustrations of principle on which it draws will be found to come almost exclusively from epics of triumph or disaster — the conquest of Gaul, the First Crusade, Malborough's Bavarian campaign... Napoleon's retreat from Moscos, Waterloo, Gettysburg, the Franco-Prussian War, the 1940 Blitzkrieg and Pearl Harbor. Yet the reality of warfare is no more wholly conveyed by the World Slump of 1929-31 or the reality of politics by the Watergate scandal. For enormous periods of time, even in Western Europe, crucible of the conquering impulse, warfare was not triumphalist but a cautious, local, piecemeal, protracted and indecisive business. The urge to fortify, defend and deflect in that continent, and even more so in others, was quite as strong as that to campaign, Indeed, if it were possible to quantify in military history it would probably be revealed that altogether more money and human labour has been expended, over the whole period of collective military effort before the two world wars, in fortification than in fighting... In that perspective, President Reagan's urge to realize a Strategic Defence Initiative, and so protect his United States against the threat of wholesale ballistic missile attack, belongs not to some utopian dream of the future but to one of the deepest and oldest of all human responses to military danger.
The phenomenon of the conqueror cannot, however, be wished away simply because conquest is the exceptional result of the result of military force... If 'strategy' means what military academies have taught these last 150 years, it is a crippled concept of distorting effect... Even if 'strategist' is wrongly equated with 'conqueror' and 'conqueror' with 'general', Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon cannot be dematerialized. Not only did they exist in their time and do that they did; generations of commanders have sought to emulate their achievements and will continue to do so. The critical questions that pose themselves, therefore, are whether there is an alternative style of leadership to that which they practised, dedicated to a strategy not of conquest but of strategy, and, if so, how and why it came to be supplanted?
Once leadership implanted itself in warmaking, the age of the hero stood close at hand. Clearly, on the primitive battlefield, there could be no heroes because, while heroism is exceptional, primitive warriordom required that all behave identically. Insofar as there was exceptional behaviour of any sort, it was that of the elders — whom we may call 'pre-heroic' leaders — standing ready to mediate when levels of violence exceeded accepted norms.
The leader of men in warfare can show himself to his followers only through a mask, a mask that he must make for himself, but a mask made in such form as will mark him to men of his time and place as the leader they want and need... What they should know of him must be what they hope and require. What they should not know of him must be concealed at all cost... What follows is an attempt, across time and place, to penetrate the mask of command.
# ALEXANDER THE GREAT: Heroic Leadership
Imagine a Highland Napoleon. Imagine a Bonny
Prince Charlie with European ambitions who, having won back Scotland from
King George II, sets off at the head of his clans not just to conquer England
— a mere preliminary — but to cross the Channel, to meet and beat the French
army on the River Somme, then journey south to Spain to besiege and subdue
its principal fortresses, return north to challenge the Holy Roman Emperor,
twice confront and defeat him at the head of his forces, seize the Crown,
burn his capital, bury his corpse and finally depart eastward to corss
swords with the Tsar of Russia or the Sultan of Turkey. Imagine all this
compressed into, say, the years 1745-56, between the princeling's 22nd
and 33rd birthdays. Imagine, on his death, at the age of 32, the crowns
of Europe shared between his followers ...and London garrisoned by a crew
of bare-kneed highlanders. Finally, imagine most of the Jacobite empire
enduring into the 19th century, parts of its into the 20th, and its last
fragment into the 21st.
Or imagine, if you preder, a George Washington Bolivar, a Founding Father who determines also to be the Liberator of Latin America; who, having endured the long winter of Valley Forge, and the setbacks of the middle years of the War of Independence, to exult at last in the capitulation of Yorktowm, conceives the ambition of ridding all the Americas of foreign government. Imagine him embarking the Continental Army in the ships of the new-born US Navy to voyage south, clear Mexico of Spanish troops, garrison the West Indies with Virginians or New Englanders and make a landing on the shores of South America. Then, victorious in Peru, he crosses the Andes, defeats the Spanish army of the east, and expires on the approaches to the empire of Brazil.
Thus is it just possible to grasp how extraordinary was the career of Alexander the Great. The distances and obstacles of either enterprise defeat the imagination — and they have indeed, no parallel in any reality except that of Alexander's own life.
The world has, of course, known conquerors of extraordinary ambition in its time: Attila the Hun; the Arab successors of Mahomet; the songs of Genghis Khan. Napoleon, a devotee of the Alexander epic, came close to re-enacting it in the years between 1797 and 1812, as again did Hitler... His orgy of victory of victory was, of course, even more telescoped in time than Napoleon's, who in turn gave battle more often than Napoleon ever did. Yet the achievements of none of the other earthshakers quite match those of the original. Napoleon and Hitler scarcely ventured beyond their own continent... Alexander, by contrast, first made himself master of the Greek world, then translated himself to another, the Persian Empire, and finally ventured into a third in India. At his death in June 323 BC, he had subdued the largest tract of the earth's surface ever conquered by a single individual — Genghis Khan's short-lived empire excepted — and ruled as overlord, emperor or king from Mount Olympus to the Himalaya. Who was Alexander and how did he do what he did?
Alexander was the son of Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias; he was not the King's first son, any more than Olympias was the King's first wife. Philip, an intensely physical man in every aspect of his being, had already married three times and fathered three legitimate children. He was later to marry another three times, and the tally of his offspring, legitimate and by-blows, has never been agreed. He took women where he found them, and, as he spent his life on the move and in impressing his will on the world, the women were many and the outcome of his encounters with them unreckoned. But the marriage with Olympias was a love match, the love contracted at a celebration of certain mysterious and orgiastic religious ceremonies held a year before Alexander's birth on the Aegean island of Samothrace, which no girl of demure character would have attended. Olympias, already divorcedPhil, had no demure reputation and would not acquire one as time passed. Though she and Philip were soon to fall out, the attraction between them was probably that of equivalent, rather than complementary, spirits — wild, carnal and contemptuous of convention... Alexander was the immediate outcome of their passion, and perhaps the only one. For war, politics and the death of love quickly drew Philip away from Olympias into whose exclusive care Alexander seems to have fallen in infancy and boyhood. Not until he was 12 or so do we hear of his father taking an interest in the upbringing his son was given.
Philip chose Aristotle (as Alexander's tutor), already famous as Plato's most brilliant pupil, brought him to his court and set up a school for him at Mieza, a beauty spot near the capital of Pella, where Alexander and a group of young Macedonian noblemen spent the next three years under his care.
Aristotle, to the modern world, is a philosopher, the founding father of empiricism. In his own time he was a universal man, who, as Robin Lane Fox lists it, "wrote books on the constitutions of 158 different states, edited a list of the victors in the games at Delphi, discussed music and medicine, astronomy, magnets and optics, made notes on Homer, analysed rhetoric, outlined the forms of poetry, considered the irrational side of men's nature, set zoology on a proper experimental course, was intrigued by bees and began the study of embryology." We know that he also indulged Alexander's existing interests, because he prepared him a special copy of the Iliad, which Alexander apparently kept thereafter under his pillow... Aristotle also wrote pamphlets (now lost) for his pupil on kingship and colonies and schooled him in the disciplines of gemetry, rhetoric and eristics, the art of arguing a case first from one side then from the other.
The period (after defeating Darius at Issus) was filled with intense and violent activity, but directed chiefly at the destruction of Persian naval power in the Mediterranean. He had told Parmenio a year earlier that he intended to 'conquer the Persian fleet from the land', a mysterious phrase to modern ears but instantly comprehensible once the essential nature of galley warfare is understood. Galleys were not, as sailing ships are, an extension of the elements. Being instruments of muscular exertion, like the swords and bows of the crews that manned them, they were an arm of land power at sea, and usually hinged from it at a port. In the confined waters of an inland sea or archipelago, army and galley fleet may indeed have been essential to each other... and were certainly a formidable combination when working in concert. The combination's point of vulnerability was the hinge, hence the fortification lavished on ports during the early years of Mediterranean naval warfare. It was these points that Alexander chose to attack in the months after Issus. At Tyre, in modern Lebanon, Alexander reduced what was then the strongest port in the Mediterranean. The operation lasted seven bloody months and culminated in the mass slaughter of the inhabitants.
This was an extraordinarily incisive piece of strategic judgment; an obvious analogy is with MacArthur's scheme at the outset of the South Pacific campaign to outflank Japan's naval advantage by seizing only those islands that he needed as stepping-stones northward, leaving the rest to "wither on the vine". Alexander's decision, like MacArthur's, was justified by its results. After the reduction of the last great Persian fortified ports at Tyre and Gaza in 3323, the Persian fleet began to disintegrate. Its squadrons were recruited from precisely those Phoenician cities that Alexander had made his targets and, as one after another fell, the crews lost heart and made for home.
Alexander's Companions differed from those of Homer in arms and style of combat. The Greeks of the Trojan wars had been charioteers. Alexander's were horsemen, for the 'cavalry revolution' had intervened between the 12th century and the 4th. But in approach to life and cast of mind they were beings of the same blood, men whose worth in their own eyes and those of their equals was determined by disregard for danger and contempt for the danger. To do the right thing in the present moment, and to suffer the consequences as they might be, was the code by which the Companions lived. Sword and steed were their armour against fate.
How did Alexander form his military judgments?
...He took surveyors, secretaries, clerks, doctors, scientists and an official
historian in his entourage, and he consulted anyone whose expert knowledge
promised to enlarge his own picture of how the future could be made to
fall out... On the eve of his march into Asia he was certainly one of the
best-informed men in the Greek world. But between information and decision
falls the shadow. Did Alexander find his way through the dark alone, or
did he require the minds of others to guide him to the right choice of
...Our main sources give no real hint that Alexander used his circle of friends as a sounding-board for his plans. That was not their function: it was personality and character that were under test when Alexander was among his close Companions... When in doubt — and Alexander probably took the trouble to disguise doubt though he felt it but rarely — he turned to the most experienced professional at the court, Parmenio, to help him fix his ideas, using the old general's temperamental prudence as a catalyst to precipitate his preference for the bold and immediate option.
Alexander's soldiers formed, it is important to remember, neither a tribal war band nor a royal regular army, nor were they conscripts or mercenaries (though there were mercenaries among them). They were, insofar as such a body can be said to have existed before the rise of conscious nationalism, a sort of nation-in-arms, recruited from those classes deemed socially eligible for military service in Macedonia and, though undoubtedly paid, following their king as much out of comradeship as obligation. It was the assembled army, after all, that elected the king ("a real choice," says his biographer N.E.L. Hammond, "even if the candidates were restricted to members of the Temenid house") and, though the election was irreversible, the authority thereby invested in him did not entitle him to abuse or misuse them... Alexander sought to lead by indulgence as well as by example.
If Alexander was a supreme theatrical performer to the point achieved by the greatest of actors — not consciously calculating the impact of his performances, but letting its force transcend both his own and his audience's emotions — he was at the same time the most calculating of dramatic orators. Oratory, whose public importance in our own time has been overtaken by the small intricate skills of the electronic conversationalist, retained its power to move hearts and sway minds even in the age of the printed word... Before the book, even before the theatre, the gift of speaking in a forceful and collected style to an assembled gathering was thought a semi-divine gift. It brought a livelihood to those who hoped only to divert or entertain; to those who sought or held power it multiplied manifold their ambition and authority. Alexander certainly possessed the envied power of oratory to a supreme degree.
"I have no part of my body, in front at least,
that is left without scars; there is no weapon, used at close quarters,
or hurled from afar, of which I do not carry the mark. I have been wounded
by the sword, shot with arrows, struck from a catapult, smitten many times
with stones and clubs — for you, for your glory, for your wealth."
- Alexander, speaking to his army
His men knew that he lived no better than they did, woke earlier, worried worse and suffered wounds more frequently than any of them.
The dinner among friends, important to all upper-class Greeks, was central to the life of the hero... But, when blood was in the air and drink flowed, as it did on the terrible night of his assault on Cleitus, dinner could take a form that let no one forget he belonged to a society of passion whose ultimate expression was death.
For an encounter with the enemy Alexander dressed in a special and conspicuous style. Leaders of a later age — Frederick the Great, Napoleon when emperor, Wellington, Grant — affected an unostentatious appearance, but their was a style of leadership reflective and managerial rather than heroic; they were to 'lead' from the rear. Alexander, who led in the precise sense of the word, need to be seen and to be recognized instantaneously, and he dressed accordingly.
Alexander's wound history is a sort of shorthand index of his style of leadership. We have a record of eight wounds, four slight, three serious and one nearly mortal... The increasing frequency with which Alexander was wounded as he led the army towards the limits of the known world imples a growing quality of desperation in his leadership and anticipated the probability of a serious wound.
Alexander's battles may be divided into four groups: the Balkan punitive strikes before the departure for Asia; the battles inside Persia and eastward of its borders after the defeat of Darius; the sieges; amd the three great battles — the Granicus, Issus and Guagemala — which brought Darius down.
Throughout his generalship Alexander preferred the more to the less difficult among options and regarded evidence that the enemy had sought to increase the difficulty of a difficult option — by choosing a naturally strong position — as evidence of infirmity of purpose in the opposition. When he detected that the enemy had artificially enhanced the strength of a strong position those signs seem to have clinched his conviction that it was there he should attack, since they signified that there the enemy was most vulnerable to attack, in psychic if not material terms.
Siege warfare, until the advent of rapid-firing weapons, was always — and rightly — judged the most dangerous of military operations. Indeed, in retrospect we can now see that the tragedy of the First World War was that the waging of siege warfare and the proliferation of rapid-firing weapons had suddenly coincided without the military establishment of the Western world having had time to detect their coincidence or draw the appropriate conclusions from it.
Mountain skirmishing and siege warfare cannot substiture tutorially for the test of leadership in pitched battle. It is on the open field, where armies clash face to face in the grip of those terrible unities of time, place and action, that a man's real powers of anticipation, flexibility, quick-thinking, spatial-perception, thrift and prodigality with resources, phyical courage and moral strength are tied to the extreme. The trial is potentially destructive for any leader; perhaps no fate on earth is worse than that of the defeated general who must live out his days with the burden of wasted life on his conscience. For the heroic leader it is destructive in the most direct sense. To know when and how to risk his person entails a narrowness of choice between death and triumph.
Guagemala, though leaving Alexander much campaigning in the recesses of the Persian empire, was that rarest of events, a truly decisive battle. It substituted, by right of conquest, the legitimacy of his rule for that of Darius, and, after Darius's death at the hands of treacherous courtiers in July 330, reduced all who opposed him to the status of rebels. By the summer of 328, at the end of a campaign that had telescoped into two years's fighting as much pacification as it took the British in India a century to achieve after Plassey, he had established his authority over the whole of the empire and was poised to march 'to the end of the earth'. Alexander's triumph was, therefore, complete by the evening of October 1, 331. He was not materially to add to his extraordinary — in the truest sense unique — success.
In the management of his army, Alexander was materially practical and psychologically acute: his men were well fed and promptly paid, rested, entertained, flattered, rewarded, and granted leave. The brave were decorated, the sick tended, the wounded praised and comforted. Alexander punished when he had to, bribed when he had to, never forgot that homesickness and the strains of celibacy were afflictions he had imposed on his followers. Superhuman though he sought to appear, he accepted and indulged the ordinary human nature of his soldiers.
Power corrupts, but its real corruption is among those who wait upon it, seeking place, jostling with rivals, nursing jealousies, forming expedient cabals, flaunting preferment, crowing at the humiliation of a demoted favourite. The life of the camp corrupts less than that of the court: battle tests the real worth of a man as politics never can. But even in Alexander's warrior circle resentment seethed. Twice it boiled over in plots against him.
Simply because Alexander chose to pursue glory within the dramatic unities of time, place and action that warfare imposes upon those who practise it, the perfection of his performance should not blind us to the harshly limited nature of his achievement. He destroyed much and created little or nothing. The Persian empire, a force for order in the ancient world, to summarize its function at its lowest, did not survive the Alexandrian conquest. Within a generation of his death, it had been torn to pieces by the quarrels his successors, the Diadochi. The conquest itself was made at the cost of great suffering to many.
There is the nobility of self-forgetting in his life — danger forgotten, hunger and thirst forgotten, wounds forgotten. But they were forgotten with the amnesia of savagery, to which all who opposed his will were subject. His dreadful legacy was to ennoble savgery in the name of glory and to leave a model of command that far too many men of ambition sought to act out in the centuries to come.
# WELLINGTON: The Anti-Hero
"I see that the fire has communicated from
the haystack to the roof of the chateau. You must however still keep your
men in those parts to which the fire does not reach. Take care that no
men are lost by the falling in of the roof, or floors. After they will
have fallen in, occupt the ruined walls inside of the garden, particularly
if it should be possible for the enemy to pass through the embers to the
inside of the House."
- A note from Wellington to the commander of the Hougoumont position at Waterloo
Wellington's clarity of mind and conciseness of expression were famed. To have written such purposeful and accurate prose (the note contains both a future subjunctive and a future perfect construction) on horseback, under enemy fire, in the midst of a raging military crisis is evidence of quite exceptional powers of mind and self-control.
What had prepared this extraordinary man for the mental, moral and phsyical ordeal of the four days of Waterloo — days that left those who had merely fought, without any of the strain of command Wellington had borne and perhaps less of the danger, shocked into pallor and silence by the horrors of the slaughter, drugged by fatigue and physically deafended by close-range discharge of musketry? That Wellington had borne a greater share of danger than his subordinates is unarguable. Whenever the pressure of attack had flowed from one section of the line to another, he had followed it, leaving the units he had been supervising to a respite of which he had none at all.
Wellington's decision to risk Indian exile — it would last 8 years — was decisive. It entailed large dangers, personal and professional. 18th century India was a graveyard of European lives. It was also a graveyard of ambition, for service there removed an officer from the eye of those who preferred and promoted. But he had the luck to arrive at a moment when India was suddenly about to accelerate rather than obliterate fortunes. For thirty years British power in India had stagnated — since 1763 and the end of the Seven Years' War, the feudatories of the moribund Moghal court had skirmished with the East India Company, sometimes surrendering a little territory but generally playing British off against French to their own advantage. The outbreak of the French revolutionary war in Europe now invested these distant squabbles with strategic importance. The British determined to supplant French influence with their own wherever it operated in the sub-continent. Soldiers with the wit necessary to maneuver armies in Indian conditions — bad roads, intermittent supply, epidemic sickness, appalling climate — and to win battles when the enemy could be brought to fight were guaranteed reputation. The challenge Wellington faced was to prove himself a soldier of that quality. He rose to it as if his whole life had been a preparation for nothing else.
All that favoured Wellington, or any other British general committed to the campaign, was the disunity of his enemies. The French had sought to throw a web of alliances across the fissiparous principalities owing allegiance to the Moghuls, but all had tasted the pleasures of autonomy too deeply to co-operate trustfully among themselves. The British were thus presented with the opportunity to defeat them 'in detail', which they proceeded to do. In 1799 Wellington took part in the overthrow of the leading southern ruler, Tippoo Sultan, at Seringapatam, and in the following year, in independent command, hunted down a local warlord, Dhundia Wagh, who was terrorising Tippoo's former kingdom.
So much had confusingly worked to alter the
equipment of armies in the period between Guagamela and Waterloo, so much
to alter the nature and composition of armies themselves... But this is
a book not about the evolution of warfare but about the techniques and
ethos of leadership and command. And there the pace and intensity of change
had been far less marked than in warfare generally, so much less marked
as regards technique, indeed, if not ethos, as to amount to scarcely any
change at all.
Take, for example, the critical question of the distance at which Alexander and Wellington respectively placed themselves from the enemy on the battlefield. Alexander, bound and inspired by the heroic ideal, placed himswlf initially very close to and finally in the forefront of the battle line. Wellington also commanded from close at hand. In this, he was perhaps exceeding contemporary expectations of risk-taking. Though he suffered nothing like Alexander's succession of wounds, being in fact hurt only once... his list of narrow escaped is not the record of a general who shunned danger.
Wellington, like it or not, had to command from close at hand for many of the same reasons that impelled Alexander to do so. It was only be keeping close to the action that he could see what was happening in time to react to events, his means of communication on the battlefield being no better than those available 2000 years earlier: mounted messengers and trumpet calls.
The steppe and Islamic armies, ferocious though they were, ultimately failed to translate their light cavalry power from the semi-temperate and desert regions where it flourished into the high-rainfall zone of Western Europe. Wherever it encountered, on their own territory, peoples who lived by intensive agriculture, accumulating thereby food surpluses which enabled them to sustain campaigns longer than the foraging nomads ever could, and bred on their rich grasslands horses which outmatched the nomad pony in battle, it had to admit defeat. Light cavalry conquerors were in time either forced back into the arid environment where nomadism flourished, as on the borders of Western Europe, or, as in China, corrupted by the softness of agricultural civilization and absorbed by it. In the long run, the only warriors to succeed in rooting their power in the land, in consolidating their military instructions as stable states, and, when they learnt the skills of oceanic expeditions, in exporting their conquering capabilities far from home, were to be Europeans. But it was no merely material factors which determined their success, but also those of time. Peoples, however favoured by soil and climate, however enriched by ready accessibility to mineral resources and the skills to work them, however united by social tradition, however sharpened by literacy and numeracy, need leadership if their advantages and qualities are to be directed into the power of conquest over others. It was to be a decisive ingredient of European mastery of the world that the continent's culture worked to produce leaders, so much separated in time but so little differentiated in motive and method, like Alexander and Wellington.
The armies of Western Europe emerged from warriordom at the end of the Middle Ages, passing for the second time through the heroic stage, which resurrected itself after imperial rule by the Romans. Europe's early modern armies were to display exactly that mixture of soldier-types so characteristic of those of the Mediterranean world before Roman power beat all into the same shape on its legionary anvil. Mercenaries and professionals, officered by warrior aristocrats, formed the backbone of the French and Habsburg armies from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Town militias, equivalents of the city-state armies of Greece, succeeded in surviving for much of the same period. It was not until the 1790s that these multiform bodies were to encounter, in the conscript levies of the Revolution, a military model which first challenged and then overcame their dominance. Wellington was to prove himself one of the very few ancien regime officers with the talent to meet Revolutionary armies on their own terms and defeat them in battle. The British army was to be his instrument.
In the Peninsula, Wellington was to institute a mapping service of his own. In India, time and the enormity of space surrounding his army precluded that. He had to proceed as Alexander had done, by questioning locals, sending out spies and making reconaissance. His maplessness may not altogether have been the frustration we imagine. Good maps impose their own drawbacks, inflicting too much information on those who use them. To simplify what they tell required direct observation of ground, which a commander may acquire himself or by questioning eyewitnesses. In that way he builds up a mental map of key points and their interconnections, of much the same sort as a chess master does of the nodal centres on his board... Ultimately, Wellington found no substitute for the evidence of his own eyes. Always well-mounted, and a tireless, bold and skilful horseman, Wellington commonly rode scores of miles a day: 45 before Assaye, when he discovered the ford that was the key to the position, 60 on successive nights in Spain to catch officers in dereliction of their duty.
Wellington's mental powers were very great indeed, in both assimilation and exposition. He have his own description to his friend Stanhope of how his mind worked: "There is a curious thing that one feels sometimes. When you are considering a subject, suddenly a whole train of reasoning comes before you like a flash of light. You see it all, yet it takes you perhaps two hours to put on paper all that has occured to your mind in an instant. Every part of the subject, the bearings of all its parts upon each other, and all the consequences are there before you."
Telescopes, unknown to Alexander, might appear an important addition to the commander's tools, but they were of such low magnification — only three or four — that they did not greatly extend the range of his vision. It was mental powers, not aids to them, which distinguished the true commander from the military functionary.
Wellington's taciturnity grew with age and elevation. As a young officer he had been a tremendous talker (as he remained with friends in private company all his life), bursting with ideas he had picked up from his extensive reading. High command drove the loquacity out of him... At the deepest level, he may have shunned speech because he found so few minds the equal of his own... Hence his contempt for the arts of theatre and oratory which came so easily to Alexander.
Alexander was a king, Wellington a gentleman, perhaps the most perfect embodiment of the gentlemanly ideal England has ever produced. It had no counterpart in the Greek world because the values on which it rested — reticence, sensitivity, unselfseeking, personal discipline and sobriety in dress, conduct and speech, all married to total self-assurance — were at extreme variance with the extrovert style of the hero. Only in the ethic of noblesse oblige do the gentlemanly and heroic codes overlap.
"Bengal enjoys the advantage of civil government
[it was under British authority] and requires its military force only for
its protection against foreign enemies. All the other barbarous establishments
called governments [the 'heroic' warlordships of the Mahrattas] have no
power beyond that of the sword. Take from them the exercise of that power...
and they can collect no revenue, can give no protection and can exercise
- Wellington, writing in 1804
"The enthusiasm of the people is very fine
and looks well in print; but I have never known it produce anything but
confusion. In France what was called enthusiasm was power and tyranny,
acting through the medium of popular societies, which have ended by overturning
Europe and establishing the most powerful and dreadful tyranny that ever
existed... I therefore urge you, wherever you go, to trust nothing to the
enthusiasm of the people. Give them a strong, and just and, if possible,
a good government; but above all, a strong one, which shall enforce them
to do their duty by themselves and their country."
"You are big enough, unless much altered,
to walk alone; and you will accomplish your object soonest in that way."
- Wellington, advice to a friend
Though bad logistics may lose a campaign, even good logistics will not win a battle.
Warfare in India, despite all the noise and smoke that firearms brought to Mahratta battlefields, had not changed in essentials since Alexander had campaigned in the Punjab 2000 years earlier. The armies of Sindhia and Berar were, like those of Darius or Porus, vast travelling caravans of which the fighting element formed but a small part and the fighting elite a smaller element still. Alexander's and Wellington's recipes for defeating many with few in such circumstances were identical: to make the elite their target and break it by ferocious attack. Their methods differed only in that Alexander rode point, while Wellington directed from the rear.
Bussaco and Salamanca, representing the early and late Wellingtonian method in the Peninsula, tell us together as much about it as we need to know. Each demonstrates his essential methods: the careful matching of tactical intentions to topographical conditions; strict precautions to limit casualties by sheltering his troops behind cover as long as possible; hawkeyed scrutiny of enemy maneuvering to watch for an advantage; resolute seizure of the chance when it occurred; on-the-spot supervision of each successive phase of the battle and refusal to delegate any responsibility central to the outcome of the engagement.
Wellington knew his own worth. It was his judgement of himself, by his own austere standards of what was 'gentlemanlike', that determined how he reckoned his achievement and his place in the world. Self-satisfaction was the opposite of what he felt. Judicious self-regard, on the other hand, that pride in inherited talents and their meet application which Hume held should properly form an individual's opinion of himself, was at the centre of the Duke's character.
Wellington understood and accepted the weakness of the multitude, their fears, their selfishness, their inclintation towards the easy way, because he detected those tendencies in himself, knew the trouble it had taken to overcome them, recognized by what constant effort they were held at bay, conceded that birth and upbringing gave him a power to master himself greater than others possessed.
Wellington's mind, at a calculating level, had to carry an inventory of his own forces, their dispositions in breadth and depth, their cumulative loss and their persisting combat ability. Perceptively, he had to try to calculate how the enemy stood by the same indices. Both sets of calculations had to be run against a mental clock of the passage of time, since the onset of darkness must bring battle to an end. And throughout he had to form estimates of the fluctuating resolution of his opponents, both of those he could see — the enemy soldiers on the front line — and those he could not, particularly the commander against whom he was pitting his will. In that sense, Wellington felt a great deal, risked indeed a mental and emotional overload which commonly brought lesser commanders to breakdown.
Wellington understood the world in which he lived. The dynastic nation state, of which he was the perfect servant, represented to him supreme value... An established church, parliament elected by limited franchise, a constitutional monarchy, an independent judiciary, a regular army — these were guarantees of that separation of function from feeling which he believed to the bulwark of liberty. The army he commanded was, in a way, a microcosm of society as he thought it ought to be ordered, a hierarchy of classes, in which the best ruled, but with justice, regularity and regard for the liberties to which those beneath them were entitled. His conception of liberty was not a modern one.
"If you increase but a little the democratic
powr in the state, the step can never be withdrawn. [You] must continue
in the same course until you have passed through the miseries of revolution,
and thence to a military despotism."
The step from the indulgence of the feelings of the many to acqueiscence in the feelings of a tyrannical individual was thus, in the Duke's view, short and unavoidable. It had been the chief experience of Europeans in his lifetime, and he had dedicated his life to opposing and then correcting it. Napoleon was to him not simply an opponent. He was an enemy, an embodiment of that principle of personal will to which his own austere cultivation of the anti-heroic personality was the antithesis. Not for him popularity, public adulation or the trickery of rhetoric, theatre and display.
Heroism to the Greeks, Professor Moses Finley has explained, contained "no notion of social obligation". It was ultimately self-indulgent, self-flattering, solipsistic. 'Pothos', Alexander's "burning desire" to do something as yet not done by other men, perfectly encapsulates its ethos. Such a notion was abhorrent to the very centre of Wellington's being.
"I conceive it to be my duty to serve with
unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his Government
may think proper to employ me."
- Wellington (1806)
He was to risk his life on 30 battlefields in performance of that duty. Through its discharge he would eventually become commander-in-chief of the army, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Prime Minister of England and idol of every last common man in the country. "Not once or twice in our rough island story," went Tennyson's ode for his funeral. "The path of duty was the way to glory." For the notion of glory as the common man comprehended it, the Duke reserved one of the most cutting dismissals from his famously caustic repertoire. Asked if he were pleased to have been mobbed by the ecstatic population of Brussels on his return from Waterloo, he rejoined, "Not in the least; if I had failed, they would have shot me."
# GRANT: Unheroic Leadership
Shiloh was not one of those battlefields on which European generals expected to practise their craft, a swarth of grassland or open plough, like Waterloo or even Guagamela. It was a tract of territory, indeed, on which no European army would ever have offered or given battle, a tangle of forest and scrub that denied a discerning eye all chance to survey the fighting line in its entirety. Smoke filled its rides and hollows, thickets distorted and deflected the noise of genfire that shredded leaf and branch, streams and swamp separated unit from unit. There were no landmarks, no inhabitants to point the way... It was an entirely American landscape, one of those wildernesses which settlement as yet had scarcely touched, and Grant, like a native trapped, pioneer or man of the woods, had to deal with it in an entirely American way. A European general would have sounded retreat at the first hint of trouble, thinking to regroup on safer ground and fight another day. Grant, oppressed by the knowledge that the Union could afford to take "no backward step" in its struggle with Southern rebellion, banished all thought of retreat and rode like fury from blind spot to blind spot, keeping his men in place.
Wellington was fortunate
to have commanded armies at the culmination of almost two centuries in
which warfare had changed scarcely at all. Gunpowder had transformed the
battlefield in the 16th century. The technical revolution it then brought
about had dissolved all the old certainties by which war had been waged
for 4000 years, and with them the social system they supported. Gunpowder,
by substituting chemical energy for physical strength, put the under-fed
and hastily trained on level terms with the muscular man-at-arms, whose
raison d'etre was fighting. It made the foot soldier the equal, if indeed
not the master, of the cavalry-man, and robbed the over-mighty subject
of sanctuary from his overlord behind castle walls. It made those feudal
rulers who had the wit to invest their revenues in cannon into kings and
emperors and transformed simple seafarers who bought guns for their ships
into world empire-builders.
But the gunpowder revolution was breathtakingly short-lived. By an effort of adaptation almost without parallel in human affairs, the Europe in which it occured succeeded in little more than three generations in comprehending its nature and limiting its effect. The Renaissance and the Reformation are inconceivable without gunpowder. But by the end of the 16th century those two whirlwinds had been contained by the traditional aristocrats, whom Renaissance, Reformation and gunpowder together had threatened to rob of power, and absorbed them into a new social order of which gunpowder was the controlling instrument.
Rulers in Madrid, Vienna, Paris and London resolved to monopolize the power unleashed by the gunpowder revolution and make that power the prerogative of the state. The embodiments of that prerogative were to be the new state armies, the first Europe had known since the collapse of the Roman legionary system, in the 5th century.... They were enlisted under a code of military law, usually ferocious in its sanctions. They were, in principle if not always in practice, regularly paid from central state funds, thereby imposing a charge on the revenues which required that tax-gathering become a bureaucratic procedure instead of an arbitrary exaction.
Calculating costs against
benefits (to apply a modern mode of thinking perhaps inappropriately to
the past), 17th-century commanders arrived at the conclusion that simple
drill and simple weapons served their purposes better than more refined
weapons and less simple drill might have done... Rifled muskets, being
more complicated as well as slower to load than smooth-bores, would have
required a multiplication of drill steps and so imposed a retrogression
on battlefield tactics... Neither weapon technology nor drill sequences
altered in essentials from the third quarter of the 17th century until
almost the middle of the 19th. The British Tower Musket, popularly called
the Brown Bess, equipped Marlborough's soldiers, Wolfe's soldiers and Wellington's
soldiers alike... and the system of drill dictated by its simple technology
won the battles of Blenheim, Leuthen, Bunker Hill, Austerlitz, Waterloo
...But Grant was not born an American for nothing. In the long run, technology, as he rightly insisted, cannot be denied. The rifle, invented as early as 1615, was by 1815 a weapon whose time had come. Riflemen played a significant role at Waterloo, as they had done also in the Peninsula and as early as the American War of Independence, when the Kentucky breed had galled Redcoats at ranges that generals raised on European battlefields thought ungentlemanly if not actually unethical... 'Enfield' rifled muskets would equip many soldiers of the American Civil War. And during the course of that war firearms engineered first to be breech-loading and then magazine-fed would come into use, thus inaugurating the technolgy which dominates infantry fighting to this day.
Wellington's certainty of touch in controlling his armies may thus be seen to have derived, in part at least, from the absence of tactical and technical change in warfare over the 150 years that preceded Waterloo. 18th century warfare has often been described as resembling a game of chess. Of course it did not, for the range and power of the 'pieces' available to the general were not arbitrarily limited as as those of chessmen. But his 'pieces' — infantry battalions, cavalry regiments — did nevertheless equate to each other in power and range of action to a quite remarkable degrees. As a result good generals could 'play' a battle in a fashion not dissimilar from that by which a chessmaster plays his board; and a general of the intelligence and experience of Wellington, able to carry in his head an index of the speed at which his own and his opponent's units could move across the space separating them, and the distance from each other at which their fire would prove effective, and the mutual loss they were likely to inflict, enjoyed against a commander not his equal something of the advantage that a grand master does against a merely competent challenger.
The passion that animated the armies of the Revolution, and was transfused from them into the armies of Napoleon, derived from the idea that every man must, but also could, be a soldier.
"Every Frenchman is
permanently requisitioned for service with the armies. The young men shall
fight; married men will manufacture weapons and transport stores; women
shall make tents and nurse in the hospitals; children shall turn old linen
into lint; the old men shall repair to the public squares to raise the
courage of the warriors and preach the unity of the Republic and hatred
against the kings."
- France's Committee of Public Safety (1793)
This detachment of military obligation from constraints of property, class, age of sex was truly revolutionary. It may indeed be regarded as the most revolutionary of the principal ideas put into circulation by the Revolution. 'Fraternity', after all, is a Christian virtue; 'Liberty' was the central value of the Greeks... but the notion that one man is as good as another acquired real meaning if "all shall be soldiers."
One soldier, in the age of the flintlock musket, was as good as another.
The culmination of the French wars of 1792-1815 was rich in portents for the future... The pool of potential warriors that states could bend to their service comprehended a far larger proportion of the population than they had earlier been willing or able to enlist... The pool required disciplining and drilling in the traditional manner if it were to obey orders... Drill had begun to cede its central role in warfare to superior weapon power, represented primarily by the rifle, which promised to transfer advantage to whichever society the processed of technological change.
In only one advanced country was the title to military rank confined to those qualified to hold it by professional education. That country was the United States, which in 1802 founded what may well be regarded as the most significant of the world's officer-training institutions, its Military Academy at West Point. It was the school that was to produce Ulysses Simpson Grant.
Grant had had a good (Mexican) war. He was promoted lieutenant and breveted captain. But it was not by Grant's fastidious political judgement a good war at all. At the human level, of course, it had been a young man's wonderful adventure.... It can be seen as the young American regular army's share in that extraordinary 19th century romance lived out by European soldiers in the world's distant, hot and exotic corners. Grant was entranced in Mexico by the character of its landscape and people in exactly the same way as were British officers by the relics of Moghul India and the customs of the Sikhs, or French officers by the oases of the Sahara and the nomadism of the Tuareg. For the warfare of imperialism was a cultural exploration as well as an exercise of subjection, and it produced a literature of travel and ethonography of a quality that can distract the reader altogether from the purpose which brought the writer into touch with his subject in the first place. The purpose, nevertheless, was conquest and annexation, and of both Grant the republican and democrat disapproved to his bones.
In 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Grant, aged 39, with four children at home and scarcely a penny in the bank, had made no mark on the world and looked unlikely to do so, for all the boom conditions of mid-century America. His Plymouth Rock ancestry, his specialist education, his military rank, which together must have ensured him a sheltered corner in the life of the Old World, counted for nothing in the New... The Civil War would, as perhaps only the Civil War could, rescue him from his social disability.
Alexander distinguished not at all between his role as ruler and his role as warrior... His state was the supreme expression of Reason and Will; he, as its ruler, Superman. Wellington, rooted in a society of law and institutions, would have been affronted by both notions; to him tyranny and raison d'etat were equally repugnant. For all the power he exercised, he strictly circumscribed his own freedom to question orders or contest strategies... He drew the sharpest distinction between his political opinions and his military duties... Like Wellington, Grant rejected Alexander's identification of military with political power. Unlike Wellington, he fought for his country not because birth made him its subject but because he judged its cause just.
Desertions were to plague both armies throughout the war and, in an essentially populist society, defy containment by punishment... Neither army had the resources to imprison the recalcitrants who, if really determined not to serve, could always make their escape to the open frontier or the immigrant-swollen cities of the North. Some 200,000 Union soldiers, out of 2 million enlisted, deserted temporarily or permanently during the war; only 141 of those caught actually underwent execution, the maximum penalty, for their crime. That so many did run is not the least surprising in view of their unreadiness for the hardship of campaign and the horror of the battlefield... In a land of immigration and free settlement, with the sketchiest of civil bureaucracies and a strongly egalitarian spirit prevailing among the soldiers of both sides, it was their willingess to accept discipline, rather than their officers' power to impose it, that ultimately kept them under arms. That willingess derived, when all allowance had been made for the inducement of regular rations and pay, from belief in the cause — Confederacy or Union, as the case was — thus making the Blue and the Gray the first truly ideological armies of history. No issue of personality blurred the quarrel, as it had in the English Civil War, and none of freedom or subjection to foreign rule, as in the struggles of Washington and Bolivar against Britain and Spain. The American Civil War was a civil war in the strictest sense, and its soldiers required to be led, not driven, to battle. Grant understood that.
All who preceded Grant in the supreme command of the Union armies had tried to fight the American Civil War by methods inappropriate to its nature. Scott correctly foresaw in his Anaconda Plan that the South would have to be isolated and blockaded, but expected rebellion to then collapse from within. McClellan sought to wage war as he had seen it made by European armies in the Crimea; he would move nowhere without mountains of supplies and myriads of men, driving Lincoln to exasperation. Burnside (whose magnificient chop whiskers gave us 'sideburns') was much less fierce of heart than of face; he had twice refused the supreme command and when persuaded to accept it muddled his way into defeat. 'Fighting Joe' Hooker, who succeeded him, was unsuited to high command for different reasons. He would not take Lincoln into his confidence — a supreme failing in a political war — and commanded none among his colleagues. Meade, his replacement, could not grasp the political nature of the war at all; he resented the requirement for "the war to be made on individuals" and wanted to win it by the old strategy of maneuver between armies.
Grant knew, or was quickly to discover, that in a war of people against people, dispersed in a vast, rich but almost empty lanbd, an army need have no permanent base at all. All that it required to operate was the ability to draw military supplies behind it by river and railroad, while it fed itself on the produce of the districts through which it marched. All that it then required to win was drill, discipline and belief in itself. Grant could supply all three.
"Complaints have come
in of the outrageous conduct of the 7th Kansas... stopping to plunder the
citizens instead of pursuing the enemy... Their present course may serve
to frighten women and children and helpless old men but will never drive
out an armed enemy."
- Grant, in a letter to a subordinate commander
There was no direct correlation between, on the one hand, civilian success or military obscurity and, on the other, victorious generalship. McClellan, outstandingly good at business both before and after the war, had no military dynamism at all. Jackson, the rustic college professor, possesses something like military genius. Grant's commercial incapacity we have already noted. Only Sherman, among the regulars, and Forrest, among the amateurs, showed both military and civilian competence.
There is nevertheless significance in the wider civilian experience of the Northern leadership. In a war of amateur armies, transported by railroad, controlled by telegraph, paid by taxes voted by democratic assemblies of which the soldiers were themselves electors, the likelihood was that man who had known the workings of commerce, industry and politics at first hand would be better attuned to the ends and means of the conflict that those who had spent their lives within barrack walls. The likelihood, moreover, is born out by events. For all their operational expertise, Lee and Jackson proved men of limited imagination. Neither found means of forcing the North to fight on their terms, as they might have done had they tempted the Northern armies to enter the vast spaces of the South and maneuver out of touch with their railroad and river lines of supply. Both though in terms of defending the South's frontiers rather than exhausting the enemy. The defeat of the Confederacy was in part the consequence of their essentially conventional outlook.
As a writer, Grant exceeds Wellington in his powers of extended composition. His 'Memoirs', dictated (and, after his voice failed, written) while he was dying in agony from cancer of the throat, are not only a triumph of physical and moral courage — his family depended on their completion for rescue from bankruptcy — they are also an enthralling history of one man's generalship, perhaps the most revelatory autobiography of high command to exist in any language... He had the novelist's gidt for the thumbnail sketch of character, dramatic setting of mood and introduction of the telling incident; he had the historian's ability to summarize events and incorporate them smoothly into the larger narrative; he had the topographer's feel for landscape and the economist's instinct for material essentials; and he had the philosophical vision to balance the elements of his story of his 'apologia pro sua vita' — which was how a just triumphed over an unjust cause. The result is a literary phenomenon. If there is a single contemporary document which explains "why the North won the Civil War", that abiding conundrum of American historical enquiry, it is the 'Personal Memoirs of US Grant'.
Grant's simplicity of speech, style and manners was not affectation. It was an expression of deep-seated character... While campaigning for the presidency in 1867 he managed to avoid making almost any speech at all. He appears never to have addressed his troops and thought it pointless to do so... The attitude was partly temperamental; but it may have been reinforced by his low opinion of most of the political generals, great speechifiers, whom the party system inflicted on him, as well as by the feeling that talking had got the country into much of the difficulty out of which he was called to fight it free.
War, Grant might have explained, had become too important not to be left to the general. Captains, colonels, even brigadiers might die at the head of their men. The commander's place was out of range of fire, which, since the introduction of the rifle, swept the field in a density and to a range which would have made Wellington's habits of exposure suicidal. "Those are bullets," Rawlins at Shiloh had to explain to Grant's paymaster, who had thought the noise in the trees overhead rainfall pattering on the leaves. The bullets, Minie balls weighing nearly two ounces, could be projected 1,000 yards and still inflict the worst small-arms wound ever known in warfare.
Though Porter took private precautions to avert assassination attempts, Grant refused to practise caution. As a leader of a people's army Grant could no more hide himself from the population among which he conducted the war than Lincoln could from the nation in whose name it was fought. Their shared disregard for the killer instinct among their enemies nearly brought them to a common end; it was only Grant's distaste for publicity that caused him tod ecline the President's invitation to join him in the threate box where Lincoln was murdered.
Since Grant refused to lead by example, he had to command by other means? What were they? First and foremost through the written despatch, often transmitted by telegraph. The introduction of the telegraph underlay the first clear technical transformation of the general's role since the beginning of organized warfare. St Arnaud, Napoleon III's commander in the Crimea, thought it the death of generalship; it spelt for him the loss of all independence in the field, linking as it did headquarters directly with the seat of government. His anxieties proved unfounded: governments quickly discovered that the telegraph, though providing them with the means to interfere, did not convey the power to oversee. The man on the spot continues to know best, as he continues to do even in these days of 'real time intelligence' and satellite and drone obversations. But, if the telegraph could not make politicians into commanders, it could enormously enhance the power of generals to collect intelligence, summon reinforcements, rapidly dispose their forces, and co-ordinate the movements of widely separated formations.
Campaign study had helped Grant to develop the most valuable of all aptitudes, that of seeing the mentality of his opponents. We have his own account of how he began to trust this capacity he found in himself. At the very start of the war, as Colonel of the 21st Illinois, he set out to engage a Confederate regiment operating in the vicinity. Expecting to find it waiting to engage him, he pressed only because he lacked "the moral courage to halt". When he found that the enemy had decamped, "my heart resumed its place. It occured to me at once that he had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting the enemy". More than that, he began to guess how they would react to his initiatives, and even how they would arrive at independent decisions.
Alexander, who in any case kept to a fixed place on honor in the centre of the vanguard, fought on battlefronts two miles wide at most. Wellington at Waterloo, admittedly a small though not unusually small battlefield for the period, had about a mile of ground to cover. At Fort Donelson in 1862 Grant's front extended over three miles, at Shiloh over five miles, at Chattanooga in 1864 about eight miles and, in the eastern campaign of 1864-65, ten miles at the Wilderness and twelve at Five Forks. These extentions marked an irreversible trend. As armies grew to consume the whole manhood of nations, fronts would span frontiers, making it impossible for generals to see for themselves the course of events, confining them to central headquarters for most of the time, and determing that 'in front never' was the answer they had to give to the question about where a commander should station himself. But in 1861-65 it was still just possible for a general with the will to do so to ride about his line while his army was in action. Grant had the will.
By the evening of April 6 at Shiloh, the dead Johnston's army had itself suffered such casualties as to reduce its strength to 20,000. Grant's own army, reinforced by 25,000, then twice outnumbered it. The Southerners fought throughout the morning of April 7 with a bravery that, it is said, changed Grant's view of the quality of the Southern cause for good. Thitherto he had thought its soldiers the dupes of demagogues. Thereafter he knew them to be patriots, never againt to be underrated in action. But outnumbered patriots cannot carry a field by force of feeling.
Grant found the means to put generalship at the service of a cause. In the moment of victory his political understanding would be quite overshadowed by his soldierly achievement. But in retrospect, great though Grant's generalship is seen to be, it is his comprehension of the nature of the war, and of what could and could not be done by a general within its defining conditions, that seems the more remarkable.
The United States, uniquely among the polities of the age, had begun its existence as a fully-formed state, of which its founding fathers had fixed at the outset the exact and respective powers of its executive, legislative and judicial authorities. By that constitutional donation, America was brought at the moment of its birth to a situation which older societies had taken centuries of internal struggle to achieve, at which, indeed, many have still not arrived... State making, in practice, is a bloody business. Britain, of which the United States may be seen as the philosophically consistent duplicate, had rough-cut the pattern of 'separation of powers' taken by the founding fathers as their constitutional matrix only as a result of repeated internal conflicts, of which its own 17th century civil war was but the most politically explicit. For all its high-mindedness, however, the United States constitution is sprinkled with blood, not only that of the British redcoats who fought to deny the colonists their independence but also of the loyalists who opposed independence as an ideal. The reasons for which they choose to do so were complex, and by no means all were extinguished by Washington's victory. 'Sectionalism' was one: the belief that the interests of any one region of settlemnt would not necessarily be served by a sovereign government planted elsewhere on American soil... It was felt most strongly by Southern states, bedded in their slave economies, which they were neither willing nor able to transform, which they knew to be repugnant to their fellow citizens of other sections, and which they could only defend only by a manipulation of the constitutional machinery which a growing majority of Americans thought alien to its informing principles. America was thus brought, in the 1860s, to confront an internal contradiction in its politics, of a sort all too familiar to the Europeans.
"The cause of the great
War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed
to slavery. Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees
for its security wherever it existed; and in a country like ours where
the larger proportion of it was free territory inhabitated by an intelligent
and well-to-do population, the people would naturally have but little sympathy
with demands upon them for its protection. Hence the people of the South
were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure
the perpetuation of its favorite institution.... This was a degradation
which the North would not permit any longer than until they could get the
power to expunge [slave] laws from the statute books. Prior to the time
of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had
no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to
have it for themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police
for the South in the protection of this particular institution."
- Ulysses S. Grant, "Memoirs"
From Shiloh on Grant knew that Americans were two peoples, and could be made one only through the defeat of the minority by the majority. Even after he had come to that conclusion however, he persisted in seeing beyond the war's end to the necessity of victors and vanquished learning to live together in harmony.
Just as Grant saw that legal propriety required humility to the authority of government, so too did he see that American propriety required humility to the sovereignty of the people. Grant was probably not, in his heart of hearts, a humble man. The truly humble flee power, even when it is thrust upon them; Grant refused no power that was offered him and, by every report of outward appearance, was gratified and enlarged by it.... Generalship is bad for people. As anyone intimate with military society knows only too well, the most reasonable of men suffuse with pomposity when stars touch their shoulders. Because 'general' is word which literature uses to include in the same stable Alexander the Great and the dimmest Pentagon paper-pusher, perfectly well-balanced colonels begin to demand the deference due to the Diadochi when promotion carries them to the next step in the rank. And military society, that last surviving model of the courts of heroic war leaders, regularly does them the favour of indulging their fantasties. Grant resisted fantasy with republican sternness.
'Familiar reverence' is about as far as Americans think it is proper to go in saluting a hero, while Grant's unheroic heroism was perfectly adjusted to the population he led to victory. A divergence from either style would have been untruthful to what Europeans recognize as distinctively American in the civilization of the New World and, regrettably, in that repsect at least, resistant to transplantation. In the Old, surrender to the appeal of the hero as leader, war chief and superman remained a possibility rooted in the subconscious of traditional societies. In the mid-20th century, that possibility was to become a disastrous reality.
# HITLER: FALSE HEROIC
Few today think of Hitler as a soldier. But it was as a soldier, quite as much as a politicians or an artist — strangest of his delusions — that he thought of himself... 36 hours after signing his name to his political testament, still dressed in his personal version of the German soldier's field-grey tunic he had indeed worn throughout the war, he put a loaded service pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. It was not merely by outward symbolism or the nature of his death that Hitler lived the life of the sword. By his accession to the German presidency in 1934 he became titular head of the German army and navy. In 1938, by the creation of the OKW, he invested himself with supreme operational authority over the armed forces. And on December 18, 1941, when he dismissed Brauchitsch from command of the German armym he himself acceded to that post and thereafter exercised direct control of the German armies in the field. He was, moreover, to hold high command for a longer continuous period than any other German during the Second World War... Hitler was, therefore, supreme commander not only in name but in fact, and so indeed "the first soldier of the Reich".
But Hitler's five and a half years of high command as he so constantly emphasized, were not his first experience of the military life. His service in the First World War had been almost as extended and honourable enough for any German of his generation to have taken pride in it as a record of duty. Frontkampfer — front fighter — was what he called himself, and with perfect accuracy. Thrice wounded, he took part in twelve battles, served 25 other spells of duty in the trenches, and was five times distinguished or decorated, finally with an Iron Cross First Class... Hitler found the war "the greatest of all experiences".
The First World War remains, to the Western mind even at the end of the era of the 20th century, *the* war, by reason not only of the destruction it brought to the primacy of the Old World and the agony it inflicted on the manhood and family feelin of a whole European generation, but of its abiding mysterious character. "How did they do it?" the first question put to anyone confronted by the terrible reality of the trenches, gives way almost at once to a second, even more imponderable, "Why was it done?" Why did the armies persist in the impossible? ...No armies ever before, not even in the worst passages of siege warfare, sustained courage or casualties with the suicidal recklessness of those on the Western Front. The nature of Western Front fighting seems to defy nature itself.
The result of the military population explosion was to put under the hands of the generals of 1914 armies larger by exponential measure than any yet seen before. The French peacetime army of 1914 was almost as large as the Grand Army that Napoleon led to Moscow... The German army, on its expansion to its war strength of 5 million, was larger by far than all the European armies of the Napoleonic wars put together.
The defect of the military organizations that went to war in 1914 was that they were too strong, so strong both in numbers and firepower that none could hope to defeat another in the open field, and all in consequence were fated to fight a stalemate warfare in static positions... Liddell Hart demonstrates that the concentration of manpower on the fighting front from Switzerland to the sea was so dense and the capability for rapid reconcentration of reserves by lateral railroad along its length so large that no army, with the weapons and equipment then available to it, could hope to assemble a breakthrough force.
The solution which the military intellectuals of the decade before the First World War proposed to the problem confronting them was that fire should be heavier and soldiers braver. But more fire plus more courage was a recipe calculated, could they have but seen it, to postpone, not hasten, the battlefield decision they sought. So, at any rate, realities proved. The armies that marched to war in 1914 could produce volumes of firepower inconceivable even by the expectations of moderns like Grant or Sherman. Cannon, apportioned in Napoleon's army in a ration of 3 to a 1000 men, not only had doubled in proportion but fired 20 times faster. The infantryman's personal weapon fired 8 times faster, to a range 10 times as great. A brigade of infantry, 3000 men, when supported by its third of the divisional artillery, could in consequence discharge each minute a volume of fire equal to that of the whole of Wellington's army of 60,000 firing volley and salvo at Waterloo. The consequences not only were to be expected, but might have been calculated.
A month after Hitler's baptism of fire at Ypres, trenches and barbed wire ran in a continuous line for 500 miles from Switzerland to the sea. Courage and fire, expended in torrents, had both failed to deliver the decision that would have averted the stalemate thus imposed. The problem henceforth was to dissolve stalemate.
The First World War, it had become a convention to state, was an artillery war.
General staffs were anguished at their inability to resolve the conundrum — a conundrum that was costing a million deaths a year by 1917. The tank, deployed by the British and French in 1916, provided a local remedy; German infiltration tactics, developed in 1918, offered another. But at the root of the problem, unperceived by those closest to it, was a structural defect in the artillery approach to warmaking. Those who wielded the weapon could not direct its impact. Generals, who as late as 1862 could directly observe the effect of their orders on the fighting, had now been driven, by the very intensity of the fire they unleashed, so far from the seat of action that the power to influence its ebb and flow had been taken from their grasp... The high commands could not see what was passing in the offensives they had set in motion... And what held true for the generals did so also for the artillery commanders who were the principal agents of their plans. Bombardment and barrage plans could be pre-ordained. They could not be altered once the fighting had begun. Artillery warfare was, in fact, self-defeating. The enormous preliminary bombardments gave a defender all the warning he needed to bring reinforcements forward to the threatened sector.
In the last resort, the success of operations in the First World War rested — as far as it could — with the humble individuals whose duty it was to run across the ground that broken telephone lines traversed, taking news of the worst from the front to the guns, in the hope they might shift their fire in time to stem an enemy assault or help their own infantry forward to take an objective denied by the enemy's. Twenty years later the magic, unbreakable filigree of radio transmissions would substitute for the trench telephone networks that, bury tham deep the army engineers would, shellfire always found out. Until a dependable wireless set came, it was the brave runner, hurrying with his XXX messages between the shellholes, who had to knit up the ravelled sleeve of communication between front and rear. Hitler won his Iron Cross First Class on just such a mission, having volunteered... In his years of power, it was a constant refrain of Hitler's reproaches to his generals that he knew more about war than they did. And such was often the exact truth. A high proportion of the generals with whom he began the Second World War had been staff officers, or gunners, or both, during the First. Gunners by the nature of the role... could not fully comprehend what misery lay at the other end. Staff officers had by army policy been kept out of the fighting altogether... Thus, of Hitler's three army group commanders of 1939-41 — Runstedt, Bock and Leeb — all brought back from the First World War an unbalanced view of its nature.
Confronted by the reality of proletarian militarism and patriotismn, all the great socialist parties of Europe simply abandoned their effort to characterize the growing war as 'capitalist', a conflict between class-brothers, and cast their weight unprotestingly behind the parliamentary majorities of nationalists, conservatives and liberals who supported it. The outbreak of the First World War may therefore be seen, in some sense, as the triumph of a silent reaction by Europe's armies against the ethos of liberty, equality and fraternity with which they had been taunted ever since the original Bastille day — the first naked defeat of an army by a popular movement — 125 years earlier. For all its ambiguous attitude to war, the Revolution — whether as reality in 1789, or idea, in the writings of Marx — stood for principles anathema to the military class. It was anti-officer, anti-order and anti-discipline. The armies made every effort to reverse every one of those principles between 1914 and 1916, but, through the effects of defeat in Russia, Germany and Austria, failed and so conceded the Revolution a second chance. So complete was the collapse of the army in Russia, destroyed from within by the 'contradictions' of trench warfare, that in that country the reborn revolution took root. In Germany and Austria enough of the traditional military structure and values survived to crush it in the making, but the outrage and embryo revolution aroused led in both countries to the rise of political movements whose stated purpose was to deny it by violence a third chance. Uniforms and banners were their outward symbols, 'front fighters' their self-appointed leaders. The Nazi party and Hitler, both insignificant at the moment of their entry into politics, exemplified the phenomenon. Of the two, Hitler was by far the more significant. The infant Nazi party was flotsam in the tidewrack of defeat. He — for all the half-educated rhetoric of his writings and speeches, his psychological tophamper of rancours, insecurities and imagined injustices, and the muddled hatreds of what he called his philosophy — was a man in touch with a mainstream of life. He knew the power of the appeal to manhood, comradeship and warriordom, knew how to articulate it and knew how to bend it to his political purpose. That purpose, manifest in everything he said and wrote from the moment of his return from the trenches, was to refight the world war but bring it to the conclusion of a German victory.
One of the amnesiac spots in modern memory of the First World War is the nearness by which Germany had indeed come to victory in 1918. In mid-June of that year, only four months before the armistic, German armies or those of their allies controlled more of Europe than they had at any stage since the outbreak... The Second World War, in a sense, was fought to realize the victory that had nearly been Germany's in 1918... Hitler never shrank from conflict either at home or abroad — direct confrontation with the German army excepted, after the disastrous failure of the Munich putsch of 1923 — that he courted war in the full knowledge of its risks from 1936 to 1938 and that, when it came in 1939, he accepted without demur its necessity to the realization of his foreign policy.
The essence of Hitler's achievement of dominance over the German army may be briefly stated: finding it humbled and diminished, he gave it back its strength and pride, but he took from it in compensation, though in scarcely perceptible instalments, its independence and autonomy and so eventually its dignity and conscience.
Internally, Versailles had missed its mark. Designed to stunt the German army by making it ridiculous, it contrarily succeeded in transforming it into an elite. Enlistment in the ranks was eagerly competed for in an economy where steady jobs were few; officers' commissions, far from losing their cachet, attracted an even higher proportion from the nobility than they had under the last Kaiser... Under a despised republic, the nobility saw service in the army as a sort of substitute monarchy and eagerly espoused it. Innere emigration, 'internal emigration', is the term used by sociologists to describe the phenomenon.
Of the 1400 men who held general rank in the army and Luftwaffe from 1939 to 1945, no fewer than 500 had been killed or gone missing in action, an extraordinarily large proportion, perhaps without parallel in any other war fought by an advanced country. Hitler's generals, by the the token of faithfulness until death — is there any higher? — had served him well. He, by the token of victory or defeat, had served the offices of supreme commander disastrously badly. How, when his early generalship was so brilliant, did he succeed in leading Germany to catastrophe? The brief answer is that the Second World War, when widened to include the Soviet Union and the United States among Germany's enemies, was a war that Germany could not win.
Barbarossa was a flawed plan; like Schlieffen's, it hovered uncertainly between the aim of destroying the enemy's armies and the aim of neutralizing his capital.
It is of greatest significance that Hitler served exclusively in the West from 1914 to 1918 and so never experienced either the climatic extremes or spatial vastness of the Eastern Front.
The human connection between the holocaust of the First World War and the holocaust of the concentration camps must seem undeniable to anyone who can confront the visual evidence; without the anterior conditioning of the trenches to accustom men to the physical fact of industrialized killing, how would the necessary numbers have been found to supervise the processes of extermination? Hitler, by all testimony, closed his mind to that side of his warmaking. To the physical extermination of his soldiers he could not. For he, as supreme commander, bore the ultimate responsibility for it; his responsibility was unalleviated by any gesture, let alone actuality, of shared risk; and ultimately it could be expiated only by the delivery of victory. By the spring of 1945 the last shred of hope in victory had been dissipated. He, the frontfighter, was left with the guilt of having delivered the sons of his own generation to death in millions and Germany to a second defeat. Feebly he ranted that, if the war were lost, it would be because the German people had not been worthy of him, but inwardly, if any rationality remained — and all observers testify that he retained his rationality to the end — he must have known that precisely the contrary was true: it was *he* who had not been worthy of the German people, and his progressive physical disintegration was the outward sign of his inward collapse under that knowledge.
For Hitler's supreme command had been no more than a charade of false heroics. It had been based... ultimately on the ritual of suicide as the equivalent of death in the face of the enemy. Few suicides are heroic, and Hitler's was not one of them. Among all the epitaphs that have been written for him since April 30, 1945, 'hero' is a word that finds no place among them. Nor is it probable that it ever shall. Heroes, in the last resort, die at the head of their soldiers and find an honoured grave. Hitler died in the presence of no man and his ashes are scattered in a place that today cannot even be found.
# POST-HEROIC: Command in the Nuclear World
It is overriding importance to recognize that military achievement is not an end in itself. Primitives may fight in blissful unconsciousness of performing any larger function than masculine self-expression. The professional warriors of advanced states may deny that they are anything more than simple soldiers doing their duty as they see it and dying when duty demands. Even their leaders may decry political purpose in strategy, claiming to be moved by military imperatives that stand at the furthest extreme from the dictates of diplomacy or the statesman's perception of national interest. "A la guerre comme a la guerre," say soldiers; by which they mena that war changes how warriors look at the world, altering their priorities and submerging the preoccupations that animate peaceful society ... But, remote though the battlefield is from the market-place and the court of law, its pre-existence, or the potentiality of recourse to it, underlie all assumptions citizens make about the order of things as they find them. Force, blind themselves to its sanction as the right-thinking may, provides the ultimate constraint by which all settled societies protect themselves against the enemies of order, within and without; those with the knowledge and will to use it must necessarily stand close to or at the very centre of any society's power structure; contrarily, power-holders who lack such will or knowledge will find themselves driven from it.
Force finds out those who lack the virtue to wield it. Such virtue, in theocratic societies, is deemed to descend from God or the gods, and rulers by divine right may in consequence despatch their subjects to the battlefield without thought or imputation of need to lead them there. Secular rulers enjoy no such moral exemption; in their worlds the virtues that attach to force are those by which it is resisted — resilience, tenacity, hardihood, but above all else, courage. They must therefore either go in person or find the means of delegating the obligation without thereby invalidating their right to exercise authority outside the battlefield and in times of peace.
No development — political, cultural, intellectual or economic — from heroic society was possible as long as the elite's preoccupations were consumed by the repetitive and ultimately narcissistic activity of combat. All societies which achieved escape from the constrictions of heroism did so by separating out the hero from the rest of society and according equal or superior prestige to functions more creative than his — those of the judge, scholar, diplomat, politician and merchant.
Successful escape from heroism was to be by one of two routes. The first, epitomized by the society of which Wellington was a paragon, lay through the creation of a military class compensated for its isolation from political power by an apparatus of established rewards and privileges. Such classes emerged in few societies and at rare periods in history, and the process by which they did so remains deeply mysterious. The Roman empire's class of professional soldiers is one example of the phenomenon... Western Europe's regular armies are another. They are, indeed, a historical phenomenon in their own right, but the stages by which they detached themselves from the muddle of feudal levies, royal retainers and hired freebooters who had served the medieval kingdoms are still shrouded in obscurity... By the 18th century they existed in a finished form and by their liberation of their rulers' other subjects from the performance of military duties, they had released the energies of the rest of society for the tasks of creation — commercial, industrial, intellectual and artistic — which were to make Europe the master of the known world, and the conqueror of the globe's hidden parts, in their own time.
Soldiers who have gone to the battefield as the sovereign's surrogates and risked their lives in the name of the king instinctively recoil from the demand that they shed blood in the name of 'the people', a figment which can never be brought to represent the hero in any form. All peoples who have attempted any rapid transition from monarchial to representational rule have, in consequence, encountered military opposition, the manifestation of which is called revolution. By extraordinary ideological determinism, as in the United States at its founding, or by subtle gradualism, as in 19th century Britain, a few have nevertheless succeeded in creating democratic constitutions to which soldiers could give their professional obedience. But the achievement of peaceful revolution does not dissolve the requirement for heroic leadership when a popular state calls on its people to die in battle.
An elected leader... will pay a terrible price if he inflicts on his people burdens heavier than they can or will bear: the disappeance of the French government of 1940 into one of history's oubliettes is warning to that effect; the political extinction of President Lyndon Johnson at the height of Vietnam may be another.
Hitler's suicide may be perceived as the due he had to pay the German people for leading them to defeat in 1945, and his foreknowledge of its inevitability appears, in retrospect, as a spectre with which he had long lived.
The halfway house of 'sometimes' [leading troops in person] or "I have shared such risks in my time" may not answer well either. Napoleon III's presence at the battle Sedan could not rescue him from obloquy. Jefferson Davis, who had been severely wounded in the Mexican War, lose all hope of heroic epitah when he cravenly fled from Richmond in 1865 at the appearance of Grant's army.
All such men of power may be judged to have met the fates they did and deserve the reputations they enjoy from simple failure to understand the demands levied on them by the imperatives of command. Government is complex; its practice required an endless and subtle manipulation of the skills of inducement, persuasion, coercion, compromise, threat and bluff. Command, by contrast, is ultimately quite straightforward; its exercise turns on the recognition that those who are asked to die must not be left to feel that they die alone.
Command, the cliche has it, is a lonely task. But so it must be. Orders derive much of their force from the aura of mystery, more or less strong, with which the successful commander, more or less deliberately, surrounds himself; the purpose of such mystification is to heighten the uncertainty which ought to attach to the consequences of disobeying him. The taskmaster who eschews mystification, who makes himself, his behaviour and his responses familiar to his subordinates, must then evoke compliace either by love or by fear. But love and fear, strong through the role if each is in the masculine world of war, are emotions ultimately self-limiting in effect... In the short-term, fear can drive men to self-sacrifice. In the long-term it loses its power... caught between two fears, the subordinate will eventually seek escape from both.
Mystification supplies the medium through which love and fear, neither ever precisely defined, cajole the subordinate to follow, often to anticpate, the commander's will. Mystification is a function of distance, real or illusory, which the commander must impose or contrive.
The Diadochi (Alexander's companions) were as much competitors in heroism with Alexander as mediators, and the posthumours fragementation of his empire was the result of their desire to equal his achievement rather than propagate it. His essentially unstable system was held in equilibrium only by his day-to-day efforts; when his death disturbed the balance, both army and empire fell apart. Wellington and Grant, representatives rather than embodiments of a system, used their circle of intimates to much more fruitful effect. Their intimates fulfilled the role on the one hand of remembrances to the commander of his responsibility for the army's welfare, and on the other of witnesses to the army of the commander's concern for it... Grant and Wellington both succeeded, in short, in creating a bond of kinship between themselves and their followers by surrounding themselves with men who posed no threat to their primacy yet were of sufficiently soldierly quality to command the army's respect. Alexander, on the other hand, was fated to be surrounded by men who, while their soldierly qualities were not in doubt, so powerfully shared his ethic of heroic individuality that he could never truly rest at ease with them. Hitler went to the other extreme: his intimate circle was selected by the test of sycophancy, which made for perfect domestic ease at headquarters but denied him any bond of understanding with the fighting men at the front.
Grant did not regularly hang or imprison for cowardice or disobedience, because his citizen armies themselves tolerated such divergemces from good military practice, recognizing them to be inseparable from their amateurism. For the same reason neither he nor his soldiers placed any high value on decoration or exceptional payments; service freely undertaken for a cuase (the Norther did not conscript until 1863) was held in itself to be a badge of honour, to which others were superfluous, if indeed not odious.
Armies are in a sense mechanisms designed to allow the will of an individual to bear directly on outcomes... If the long experience of war demonstrates any one thing, however, it is that those moments when the scope of action and the size of armies lie in optimum relationship to each other — those moments, that is, when the flow of information upwards and orders downwards will most nearly match the pace of events — are very, very few. The masters of gunpowder warfare, among whom Wellington and Frederick the Great were outstanding, operated at such optima... At almost all other times before or since, however, disequilibrium has normally prevailed... Armies have either been too small for a commander seized with a vision of outcome to achieve it; or too large for any commander, however elaborate his information-gathering means, to grasp where the opportunity for outcome lay. Strategic indecision — by far the most common end of all campaigns — results in the first case; painful and bloody attrition the all too frequent product of modern warmaking, in the second.
Wellington and Grant — but also Caesar among their predecessors, Guderian and Montgomery among their successors — accepted that neither *knowing* nor *seeing* alone return an answer to the challenge of events. Sometimes a commander's proper place will be in his headquarters and at his map table, where calm and seclusion afford him the opportunity to reflect on the information that intelligence brings him, to ponder possibilities and to order a range of responses in his mind. Other times, when crisis presents itself, his place is at the front where he can see for himself, make direct and immediate judgements, watch them taking effect and reconsider his options as events change under his hand.
The death of the legions with that of the Roman empire brought back the heroic style. But with the return of regular armies, of which Wellington's was the most perfected type, the compromise between prudence and exposure re-asserted itself. Wellington's close encounters with death were never haphazard, but the result of a mathematical calculation of the ebb and flow of danger... If one dimension of command is the theatrical, one would say that, while Alexander's performance was relentlessly Grand Guignol, Wellington's was brilliant melodrama, a succession of perfectly timed exits and entrances, each advancing the plot to its triumphant conclusion by spectacular and risk-fraught effect.
The simulated absolute monarchy of chateau generalship ultimately provoked the military equivalent of revoltuion in almost all the armies on which it was imposed. In May 1917, after the failure of some particularly heartless offensive plans, nearly half the divisions of the French army downed tools, announcing their unwillingness to attack the Germans again until their grievances were redressed. In October of that year the Russian army, disillusioned by the pointlessness of its suffering, simply "voted for peace with its feet", as Lenin put it, allowing him to transform the power vacuum which resulted into political revolution... It was a crisis of morale in the Germany army in September 1918 that prompted Ludendorff to tell the German government it must treat for peace. And even the British army, in the aftermath of the March retreat of 1918, suffered a collapse of morale... At the root of all these spiritual crises lay a psychological revolt by the fighting soldiers against the demands of unshared risk.
For two or three or four years... orders had emanted from an unseen source that demanded heroism of ordinary men while displaying heroism in no whit whatsoever. From from it: chateau generals had led the lives of country gentlemen... The elaborate hierarchies of modern armies — fourteen ranks interpose between a private and general — act as a system of screens to camouflage the altitude at which dangerous orders are generated. Since the subordinates most exposed to the consequences, ordinary fighting men, receive those orders from someone scarcely less exposed than themselves, or perhaps even more so — the platoon or company leader — resulting dissatisfactions are dissipated at that level if they are indeed felt or expressed. It takes much time for a bad or inconsiderate general's qualities to diffuse downwards through the barrier layers of rank, and even more time for that diffusion to type him for what he is. Even when so typed, he continues to be protected by a parallel mechanism of suppression, the code of military law... Yet, as even bad generals now, hierarchy and discipline cannot suppress the implications of risk disparities forever.
That the commanders of citizen armies should have so gravely abused the reasonable expectations of their followers is evidence of how artificial and unreal was the general staff culture in which contemporary commanders had been raised... The sudden heigtening of danger on 19th century battlefields quite properly required the commander to withdraw himself, and the consequent delay in the acquisition of 'real time' intelligence rightly demanded that subordinates should act for him at times and places when and where he could not be present. The cultural mistake lay in elevating those subordinates to the status of an elite and their function to superior expertise.
Armies have, by the nuclear revolution of 1945, seen set aside from that central place in the defence of nations they have occupied since time immemorial... Armies are now but one means by which states of the first rank — deploying nuclear weapons or belonging to an alliance which does — defend themselves, and not only that: they are a subordinate means. Truly critical command functions no longer belong to generals, but have emigrated to the centre of political power itself, have been returned into the hands of the constitutionally sovereign authority itself and subject those who exercise them — president, prime minister, first secretary — to their burdens... Today the political leaders of the nuclear states have become Alexanders, the repositories of ultimate military as well as political responsibilityu in the polities they head, but with this unmanning difference: that those whose hands lie closest to the weapons by which society is defended are those who, in the eventuality of their use, would be placed furthest from the physical consequences of their impact... Those least involved in the prosecution of war and least equipped to protect themselves against its consequences — babies, nursing mothers, the sick, the lame, the very old — would stand in the front line; heads of government would be sheltered in deep headquarter bunkers... The weak would risk most, the 'strong' least of all.
So comprehensive is the American nuclear command and control system that the role of the man at its centre, the President, has been described as that not of implementing nuclear reponse (or attack) but of precisely the contrary: assuring that missiles will always remain in their silos... The President is, in short, like the wise elder of a pre-heroic society, an inhibitor of conflict, not its instigator, director or leader. The President's command centre, writes Paul Bracken, has as its function "not to act as a trigger to launch nuclear weapons but as a safety catch preventing other triggers from firing".
The governments of democratic states which are also nuclear powers — those of nuclear autocracies should also take heed, but are under less compulsion to do so — must establish a new form of military command. It is best characterized as 'Post-Heroic Leadership'.
Mankind, if it is to survive, must choose its leaders by the test of their intellectuality; and, contrarily, leadership must justify itself by its detachment, moderation and power of analysis. Hopes of transition to such a style of leadership need not be based on mere wish. The history of the world's first and only acute nuclear crisis lends substance to the belief that it may be achieved. That episode was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, which brought the US and USSR to the brink of war... The crisis developed in a way which ensured that the velocity of events did not accelerate the velocity of decision-making, with all the undesirable consequences of rushed and unconsidered judgment that might otherwise have ensued... The deployment of Russian missiles to Cuba would take two weeks to complete while the appropriate American military dispositions required only 48 hours, thus leaving 12 days for rational consideration.
The history of the Cuba crisis therefore offers both reassurance and hope that future nuclear crises may be resolved as rationally and harmlessly. But it must be rememberd that the world has moved on since 1962, and moved on apace... Today Soviet missiles are disposed on submarines from which their flight-times to targets within the continental United States are measured in minutes.
The modern supreme commander is seeking to return from the complexities of strategy to the simplicities of tactics; to a situation in which the warrior both sees his target and, by direct observation of its behaviour, launches or stays his weapon (long-range, short-flight missiles) accordingly.
The possibility that
the supreme commander of a nuclear weapons state will at some time in the
future yield to the temptation of false heroics and seek to play the tactician,
just as Hitler did, cannot be ruled out of account. The prospect is potentially
catastrophic. How can it be forestalled?
Two methods suggest themselves. The first is to decelerate the two velocities — of events and appropriate responses — that drive the critical velocity of decision making... Efforts to decelerate are afooot though the vast American (and Soviet) scientific enterprise called the Strategic Defense Initiative... Total missile-proofing probably lies beyond the capacity of any scientific community to achieve. That is not to say, however, that Star Wars is without merit, politically or militarily. On the contrary, it is an enormously hope-giving initiative, if it is seen, as it properly should be, as a mechanism to ensure not total defence but relative delay... Nuclear weapons strategy within a Star Wars system would, if a crisis boiled from menace to action, almost certainly result in some missiles reaching their target on one or both sides. But, horrible though such an experience would prove, the event would not only be bearable in a way that Mutually Assured Destruction would not. It would also allow the contestants to think and calculate rationally during the course of the exchange and to perhaps extricate themselves from deepening trouble rather than be driven further into it by velocities of events and response... of reverting from the diplomacy of the hair-trigger to the more traditional rhythms which animated international relations before the coming of nuclear weapons.
Manking needs not new hardware but a change of heart. It needs an end to the ethic of heroism in its leadership for good and all... For much of mankind's known past, the heroic ethic, in some guise or other, has characterized the style of government by which he has conducted his affairs in most quarters of the globe. A few people in a few places have found other means to legitimize the authority under which they have lived. The theocracies of China and the Middle East represent one alternative form. The liberal democracies of the 19th century West represent another. Both chose to preserve and cultivate the heroic ethic none the less, in certain carefully isolated sectors of their societies, and to sustain the creed of struggle within their larger political philosophies.
The traditional means by which the leader sought to validate his followers' sharing of the risk he led them to face — the cultivation of a sense of kinship, the use of sanction, the force of example, the power of prescription, the resort of action — now all fail. Indeed, what is asked first of a leader in the nuclear world is that he should not act, in any traditionally heroic sense, at all. An inactive leader, one who does nothing, sets no striking example, says nothing stirring, rewards no more than he punishes, insists above all in being different from the mass in his modesty, prudence and rationality, may sound no leader at all. But such, none the less, is the sort of leader the nuclear world needs, even if it does not know that it wants him. 'Post-heroic' is the title he might take for himself. For all is changed, changed utterly. Passing brave it may once have been to ride in triumph through Persepolis. Today the best must find conviction to play the hero no more.
Quotes from other works
by John Keegan:
Warpaths * Intelligence In War * Soldiers * First World War * History of Warfare
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