Thursday, September 15, 2016

Military Ends and Moral Means

Review of:
Military Ends and Moral Means by Colonel James Graham.

It is greatly to be wished that a larger number of soldiers were capable of employing, and willing to employ, their abundant leisure in writing about their profession, for it is full of all sorts of interesting problems. Some of these Colonel Graham has tried to discuss in the volume before us. He has produced a praiseworthy but not a very successful book. It is difficult to say precisely what its object is, unless indeed it be to contain all the observations which had occurred to the author on matters connected with the less technical side of his calling. It shows, however, a great deal of very heterogeneous reading. Colonel Graham is obviously fond of serious studies, and rather too fond of solemn quotations. Having occasion to discuss the evidence given before a Committee on Enlistment, he finds it necessary to quote Mill's Logic, Dr. Whewell on Morality, Pascal's Pensées, Adam Smith's Theory of the Moral Sentiments, and Tucker's Light of Nature, to confute the various heresies propounded by the witnesses, and by those who examined them. It is well to read such books, and it is also well to use them for practical purposes; but a man may argue logically without quoting Mr. Mill, and may assume that recruits would not enlist if they did not like it, without quoting Abraham Tucker to show that “present satisfaction being our constant pursuit, nothing remote could ever move us if it did not afford an immediate enjoyment in the expectation.” This, however, is a pardonable foible, and certainly it is by no means an unnatural one. If a soldier does happen to have read a number of metaphysical books, he is likely to be reduced to choose between airing his knowledge à propos of enlistments and leaving it altogether unaired.

The general scheme of the book is, as we have already observed, rather obscure, but it discusses in succession the following subjects, which are no doubt more or less like each other, an which all relate to war. The first chapter is called Moral Ascendancy—it does not very clearly appear why, except indeed in so far as it illustrates, by a number of anecdotes, the influence of individual leaders over armies. The second and third are more practical, and deal with the theory of Voluntary Enlistment, and with Standing Armies. The fourth and fifth relate to Military Eloquence and the Influence of Music; the sixth, to the Causes, Forms, and Policy of War; the seventh—which is divided into seven sections, and fills nearly half the book—relates to Stratagems. It reads like a law-book compiled out of the Reports, and filled with short statements of cases, for it is a mass of precedents, taken from the wars of all ages and nations. They follow each other in a singularly confused and bewildering manner. For instance, in a couple of pages we find references to the conduct of Soult at Bayonne, to that of Caesar at Dyrrhachium, to that of Antiochus before assaulting Seleucia, to the storm of Ciudad Rodrigo in 1707, and to some remarks of Sir William Napier's suggested by the storming of Badajoz or St. Sebastian. The chapter on Stratagems is followed by others on Convoys, Commands, Mutinies, Spies, and Military Duties in aid of the Civil Power. The greater part of the book is open to the observation already made upon the chapter on Stratagems. It is made up almost entirely of quotations collected from every possible quarter; but there is a great want of anything like a power of reducing this mass of materials to any sort of regular order, or of extracting from them anything like a set of general conclusions intelligible to the world at large. Here and there, however, there are to be found interesting anecdotes, and a certain number of questions of more or less general interest are incidentally handled.

The chapter on Enlistments will be read with some interest. In a grim way of his own, Colonel Graham takes what may perhaps be described as the sentimental view of the subject. He argues stoutly against the notion that the English army is recruited mainly from the blackguard part of the population—from young men who are driven into the army by the pressure of want, or because their characters are so bad as to deprive them of the chance of employment elsewhere. He points out with truth that, so long as the workhouse is open, mere want will not drive a man into the army, and that, enlisting as recruits do at a very early age, they must generally have friends who, for a time at least, would give them a lift in life. His view appears to be that the recruits like a stirring life, a smart dress, and the chance of having adventures and seeing foreign countries. He hardly, however, appears to give prominence enough to the desire of getting out of scrapes. The army is unquestionably a regular Cave of Adullam for young men whose native villages are not exactly cool enough to hold them. Poaching fills the ranks, as it empties preserves, and there are also many heroes in Her Majesty's service who prefer the receipt of thirteen pence a day to a liability in their own parish to pay half-a-crown a week. Still Colonel Graham deserves credit for speaking up for common soldiers. Real service brings out a number of noble qualities in them, and such men as the Napiers were never tired of celebrating their merits.

The chapter on Military Eloquence is somewhat wooden. It is full of clippings from various speeches, including several of Napoleon's famous performances in the Ossianic style, “Almost all Napoleon's addresses of this description,” says Colonel Graham, “are modelled on the same form, commencing with the word Soldiers!”  He adds, with truth, “Upon an English army the effect of similar addresses would be very trifling.” The chapter contains one rather humorous story. A French writer on Military Eloquence observed in the first edition of his work, that as to English efforts in that kind there were none. In a later edition he said he had found one as follows:–
‘En 1702 les Anglais attaquaient Cadiz. Voici le discours que le général des assaillans adressa a ses soldats: —
“Anglais, qui mangez tous les jours de bon boeuf et de la bonne soupe, souvenez-vous bien que ce serait le comble de l'infamie que de vous laisser battre par cette canaille d'Espagnols, qui ne vivent que d'oranges et de citrons.”
Nous ne ferons point de réflexion sur l'éloquence qui mésure l'honneur et la gloire par la différence du beefsteack au citron.’
The humour of the speech itself, and the utter incapacity of the French critic to appreciate it, are both characteristic. The English officer obviously felt that he would not do his enemies the honour of supposing that, in order to get them beaten, anything more was necessary than to exhort his men not to be licked by a parcel of beggars who lived on oranges and lemons (no doubt the old rhyme about the bells of St. Clement's was running in his head). The Frenchman takes it quite solemnly, and supposes that, on so grand an occasion, a man must put on his best clothes in the way of eloquence. Colonel Graham may add the following authentic sample of eloquence to his collection. An officer, more strict than popular, was about to take his men into action, and forming them in a hollow square, he spoke as follows:—“Men: I'm told that some of you've said that you mean to shoot me when you get a chance. If any damned rascal wants to do it, now's his time, for I'm going first.”

The long chapter about Stratagems contains a good many curious anecdotes, many of which are too technical to interest general readers. It also contains, some speculations on the points of casuistry connected with war. How far is it lawful to deceive an enemy? Why may you not fight with poisoned weapons? &c. A vast number of precedents are quoted upon these matters, one of which certainly suggests a fine distinction. Grotius says that you may “fill wells with dead dogs and horses, but by no means poison, that being contrary to the laws of nations.” A well full of dead dogs would be about as unwholesome as if it were full of arsenic, but in the one case no doubt it might be said that there was no particular concealment. It is very difficult to make anything positive out of such speculations. All that can be said about the laws of war, as they are called, is that, for one reason or another, a variety of customs have in fact come to prevail and to be considered laudable which to some extent mitigate the horrors and abominations of warfare. As they do prevail, it is the part of humane people to preserve and favour them. This nearly exhausts the question. It is hardly possible to construct anything like a general theory on the subject. We have carried and are carrying the science of destruction to such a pitch that it seems priggish to object to carrying it a little farther. When we think of the consequences of firing Armstrong shells into a crowd of men, or into the inside of a ship, where they will tear and burn and stifle all at once, it seems a little inconsistent to doubt about the lawfulness of firing things which would pour out clouds of arsenical gas, if they could be so contrived as to be safe for those who used them. Probably, indeed, if such instruments were contrived, they would soon come into use. . Whatever the theory of the matter may be, there can be no doubt that, where by good fortune a humane sentiment is found surviving the fierce passions which are called forth by war, it ought to be favoured and cherished.

The moral questions, other than those of humanity, raised by a state of war are no doubt very curious. The question about lying is, perhaps, satisfactorily solved by the old doctrine, that the relation between the belligerents is one which raises no presumption whatever that truth will be told, but rather the reverse. The two armies come into the field avowedly to outwit and deceive each other. It is only when negotiation begins that any confidence at all is reposed in an adversary. The question how far it is right to stir up your enemies' friends or subjects to do what in them is wrong is more difficult. May you bribe a general or the governor of a town? It is one of those points which always decide themselves, and which there is no great use in splitting hairs about. No doubt any commander would do it if he thought he could, and he would say, with great plausibility, “By bribing this governor I not only get a great advantage for my own side, but I save the lives of hundreds or thousands of men, which would be destroyed if I took the place in the regular way.” Such an argument always would prevail. . Whether it ought to prevail is one of the moot points of morals which never can be decided.

There is not much in Colonel Graham's book that will interest or instruct civilians, though here and there it contains an interesting assage. What may be its value to those for whose special benefit it was written we do not pretend to conjecture.

Saturday Review, May 28, 1864.

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