The Seriousness of Modern War

Captain C Frederick Hamilton April 1 1911

The Seriousness of Modern War

Captain C Frederick Hamilton April 1 1911

The Seriousness of Modern War

Captain C Frederick Hamilton

IN this country we seldom have any real discussion of war. War is unpopular, and the general tendency, when the subject comes up is to devote ourselves exclusively to one aspect of it. and to spend our whole time in assertions that War is a dreadful thing, that it is a relic of past conditions of society, that it should be abolished, and so on. Very often persons who do not discuss the subject in this manner are assumed to approve of war, to like it, to wish for it, and are denounced as militarists, as survivals of feudal savagery. This does, not seem to me altogether intelligent. Disliking war, denouncing war, hoping for the abolition of war, will not necessarily avert war. It takes two to keep the peace even more than it takes two to make a quarrel, and if a nation which dislikes war runs foul of a nation which is ready to resort to it on occasion, it is difficult to see how fighting can be avoided, except by the unpleasant process known as lying down. To confine our discussion of war to a denunciation of it is akin to confining our discussion of tuberculosis to speeches deploring its effects. We must study tuberculosis to find a remedy; and we must study war as well as dislike it.

It is my purpose in what follows to discuss war as it is understood in Europe and in Japan. Its modern aspects are not understood on the continent of America, where attention tends to fasten upon the physical sufferings of the actual combatants. But war as understood in Europe and in Japan presents certain other aspects than this.

. One remarkable circumstance forces itself upon our attention. Within the last half century or so war—grand war, the warfare of modern states—has greatly changed its nature. It has become far

less frequent, and also far less brutal; but it has become infinitely more serious.

One cause of this is the great increase in the complexity of our life. There doubtless are among my readers those who can remember the time when each rural district of Canada was nearly selfsupporting and self-sufficient; the farmers grew their own food, spun their own wool, wove their own cloth ; the flour was ground, the wagons and buggies were made in the neighborhood. The dependence of each community upon the outside world was slight. That condition existed in Canada in the early Nineteenth Century; it existed all over the world in the centuries before the Nineteenth.

Compare with that the situation of the modern Englishman. If he is well-to-do, his income probably comes to him as the result of investments; in simpler language, because men are working with his money on Canadian railways, in South African diamond mines, in Australian gold mines, in the wheatfields of Argentina, on river steamboats on the Volga, in the oil fields of the Caspian Sea—English money is earning money for its owner all over the world. If he is poor, the business in which he earns his living probably depends on markets in other parts of the world. He eats bread baked from flour which is made from a mixture of wheat grown, say, in Canada and in India. He wears tweeds made from wool grown in Australia. He wears other clothing made from cotton grown in the United States and yet other clothing from linen made in Ireland. His sugar is made in Germany or Jamaica; his boots perhaps began life in South Africa; and so on over an amazing list. In short, this man's life is knit up with -the whole outside world. Whereas, the farmer of fifty or

sixty years ago was very little concerned with the world outside of his own farm and his own neighborhood.

Under the older state of affairs, one part of a country could suffer very severely and the rest not be greatly injured. In fact, in earlier centuries to injure a man yon had to kill some member of his family, burn his house or barn, destroy or steal bis livestock, or trample down his crops. You had to get at him. A country was like some of those inferior forms of life which are not greatly incommoded by the loss of a limb.

At present a general smash in Canada would mean that a great many people in England would lose heavily, because we could not pay the interest on the hundreds of millions which Englishmen have lent us. If India were to lapse into barbarism Englishmen’s pockets would suffer greatly, partly because the $2,500,000,000 they have invested there would be lost, partly because a valuable market would disappear. In short, individuals, communities and nations now live a very complex Ufe. That means that it has become very easy to hurt communities and nations. For instance—in 1907, the harvest of Western Canada was rattier poor, and Eastern Canada, a thousand miles away, suffered keenly. You do not need now to get at a man to hurt him; if you interfere with a business on the other ade of the globe you inflict privation and hardship upon him. A nation now is Uke a highly organized creàture, which may die of a gangrene in some Umb remote from the seat of Ufe.

In a word, the march of progress has made it easier to hurt a nation. But mere is another circumstance to consider. It also is possible for a nation to put forth greater efforts than were formely posible; and great efforts, of course, are exhausting.

Of all the inventions of the Nineteenth Century surely that of organization is not the least wonderful. The most impressive thing about a great railway system to some of us at least, is not the locomotive, or the big bridge, but the head office, which so plans that every man’s work dovetails into the work of every other At the same time, the head office could not exist but for the men distributed over thousands of miles, and the material in-

ventions, such as that of the steam-engine and the telegraph. Our whole Ufe for the past hundred years has been a matter of progress in material inventions and in the organization which is made possible and profitable by material inventions. To the single trader has succeeded the partnership, to the firm has succeeded the company, to the company has succeeded the corporation, and the trust is swallowing up the corporation; and it is the improvement in transportation, it is the march of material invention, which have made it worth while to develop along the line of that art of working men in unison which we call organization.

Let us see now how in former days a lack of certain material inventions which we now enjoy and a lack of organization worked together to produce a certain kind of inconclusive war, which did not inflict really severe blows on an adversary and which did not demand exhausting efforts on the part of the country waging it. In the time of Frederick the Great firearms were so imperfect that it was necessary to train a man for two or three years to enable him to get full value out of his musket. Again, if a government wished to move its soldiers from one frontier to another, they had to walk; and to walk On bad roads. If the government wished to fight in a given region, it knew that its army would soon eat up all the food to be found in it, and that trade was small in volume and slow in movement; thus it had slowly to accumulate magazines of supplies and stores; and these articuli had to be moved by heavy wagons ovfir bad roads if no navigable river or stretch of sea were available. Obviously, operations were bound to be tedious, to require much time, to exact a certain degree of leisure. Observe now how these physical conditions acted on policy. First, when it was such a long business to turn a man into a soldier it seemed wasteful tô part with him when he was trained; so that men were enlisted for the full term of their working life. Thus the only way to expand an army was to enlist and train raw recruits; so that it was slow Work to increase an army, and expensive work as well, as the men had to be kept for a long time before they were useful. Then financial conditions asserted their control; it has been ascertained that the

standing army which a country can support in peace time is limited to about one per cent, of the total population. Thus conditions drove countries to the use of small armies of professional soldiers, who were maintained by a civil population which was not trained to arms. Accordingly wars resolved themselves into long, tedious struggles between small professional armies while the bulk of the population of the country attended to their ordinary business, and paid taxes to hire and support these mercenary soldiers. When the war raged in a particular district of the country the people were treated very barbarously, but the people of the adjoining districts were not greatly affected. The civilian inhabitants generally would have to pay very heavy taxes, some aspects of their business would suffer, and some of their young men would be enlisted and sent to the war. But with these deductions their ordinary life would go on much as in peace time. For them war would mean some trouble, some expense, but no overpowering change in their routine.

It is this sort of limited liability war which people who live on this continent picture to themselves. They think of the hardships of the men who happen to be soldiers and who suffer wounds, sickness or privation. They think of the cruelties inflicted on the civil inhabitants who happen to live in the theatre of hostilities. But modern war has advanced far beyond this stage.

At the present time firearms are so perfect that it is possible for a man to learn the use of them in a few months, so that he can be a soldier without withdrawing himself from the pursuits of industry. Then, advances in transportation have made it posible to move masses of men with rapidity and to feed them with certainty. The tediousness has disappeared from those operations of war which lead up to the actual fighting, which formerly occupied so much time. These material facts have made possible that triumph of organization implied in universal service. In a country employing this method of preparation practically all the ablebodied men of the nation undergo in their youth a comparatively brief period of training; they then are dismissed to follow their vocations as civilian inhabi-

tants. Thus when war breaks out the peace-army is instantly and vastly augmented, not by the slow addition of raw recruits who must be laboriously trained, but by the instantaneous calling out of masses of former soldiers who are termed reservists. I need not expatiate on the multitude of devices whereby the organization of the vast hosts thus created is made perfect; what is more important to notice is that to-day the European and Japanese civilian is a soldier as well. He no longer works to pay a professional soldier to do his fighting for him; he drops his business and marches away to the war ; or rather, he takes a train to the war.

This organization of the manhood and resources of a nation is carried to extraordinary lengths in countries like Germany, Switzerland, France and Japan. When a war is declared the whole national energy is summoned forth and applied to its prosecution. Something very near the whole working population stops work, puts on the uniform, takes up the rifle. In Switzerland the men who are not to take part in the actual shooting are organized into working companies, to perform the various operations, from building roads to baking bread or driving teams, which the army will require. In Germany there are 65,000,000 inhabitants. , There are about 13 million men old enough to vote. Of these great numbers must be too old, i.e., 40 or over, and many more must be too weak, for military service. Yet by the latest computation there are 5,200,000 men trained to arms and so organized as to be put into the field as fast as room can be made for them. German plans for a war with France are understood to contemplate the moving of a million men as the first line of the invasion—two or three men to every yard of the frontier. This vast number of men is to be on the frontier and ready to begin serious fighting in 20 days, from the receipt of the order to mobilize. Thus out of every hundred adult German men eight would be actually in the firing line and 32 more under arms, ready to serve as reserves. The remaining 60 would include all the old, all the elderly, all the weaklings.

All this means that the modern European ör Japanese State has at its com-

mand the means of putting forth an enormous effort. The South African War was a contest of the old type, waged by a comparatively small army of the old tvpe; it was fought under enormously expensive conditions as to transportation, distance, etc.; there was some waste and carelessness in management; it lasted for nearly three years; and it cost about a billion dollars. If Germany were to go to war, she would have to provide six hundred million dollars in the first six weeks. The Austrian Minister for National defence recentlv stated, that ‘If we assume a war lasting for six months and two millions of men called up, the cost would be about £180,000,000.” That is, very nearly what Great Britain spent in three years in a theatre of war 6,000 miles away, with a highly paid voluntary army. It is evident that the effort put forth bv modern nations is stupendous.

But if the effort required is tremendous, the injury which can be suffered Í3 enormous. The beaten countrv makes its effort, and loses; and in addition is hurt by the direct injuries inflicted. Let us make some comparisions. Louis XIV. kept France at war for nealy a third of a century. France some thirty years later was able to indulge in a series of wars, one of which lasted for seven years. The American Revolutionary War lasted for eight years. The French Republic and Empire kept Eurone in a turmoil for nearly 25 years. Yet France, to consider her alone, soon after Waterloo was a great and powerful country, and during the middle of the nineteenth centnrv she was the leading continental power in Eurone. Evidently, her long series of wars had failed to exhaust her. But mark the difference. In 1870 she collided with a power organized on this modern principle. She was defeated under the new principle of unlimited liabilitv. That was forty vears ago. That one defeat ha5* changed her from her old high-spirited, impetuous self to a nation of a cautious, one had almost said humble, temper. Suppose that President Taft were to send word to the Canadian Government that he obiected to the policv pursued by. sav. Mr. Fielding that Mr. Fielding must be ejected from the Ministry. That was what Germanv did to France a very few years ago. M. Deleasse was too effective a servant of his

country to suit Germany, and Germany demanded his dismissal. And dismissed he was. The defeat of 1870 permanently lowered the vitality, the national spint of France. A few months of war in 1870 hurt more than 25 years of war between 1790 and 1815.

What were the injuries which so depressed the spirit of this great and gallant nation? Putting aside the losses in human life, the money cost to France was over $2,600,000,000; and she lost two rich provinces as well, their resources and prosperity henceforward augmenting the trade of a rival nation.

This, then, is the meaning of the seriousness of modern war. A country, must consider two facts:—

1. To fight with success it must drop its entire ordinary business and turn its whole energy to fighting. Its ordinary life must stand still.

2. If beaten it can be made to suffer enormously.

Then, you exclaim, war is so expensive, so serious, that nations dare wage it no longer. Stop a moment. Suppose your nation wins? And suppose it is resolute enough, or pitiless enough, to reap the full advantage of victory?

It does not necessarily hurt a man to make an unusual and severe exertion, provided that it is not too violent, does not last too long, and is followed by suitable. relaxation. I may add, provided that he attains some object which yields him satisfaction. The same may be true of a nation. ^ The military expenses of Germany in the Franco-German war were $370,000,000 ; but she obtained anjindemnity of a billion dollars and two rich provinces ; it has been calculated that she actually made a profit of about $800,000,000 over and above her military expenses. Thus the accounts of the two countries stand :

Germany:—Monetary gain, $800,000,000; territorial gain," Alsace and Lorraine.

France:—Monetary loss, $2,600,000,000; territorial loss, Alsace and Lorraine.

I omit all reference to losses of human life, and I omit all reference to the national exultation on the one side and the anguish of spirit suffered on the other. I may add that Germany at first demanded an indemnity of $2,500*000*0.00 instead

of $1,000,000,000 ; and that had Bismarck fully realised the wealth of France and her power of recuperation, it is probable that he would have insisted on his original demand. His purpose was to crush' France, to obliterate her.

But there is more. Modern Germany dates her material prosperity from that war, and from the political changes which it caused. In that prosperity the average man, the German workingman, has had some share. Here is the average consumtion of staple foods per head in Germany at two significant dates: 1880, when the order of things destroyed by the victory of 1870 was about to pass away; and 1907, when the New Germany made possible by the war was in the full stride of its energy:—

1880 Meat............ 64*4 lbs.

Grain and potatoes 1282 ”

Total......... 13461/4 ”

1907 Meat............ 93 ”

Grain and potatoes 2286 *4 ”

Total.......... 23791,4 ”

Thus the average German to-day eats

half a ton more of good food in the year than he did in the seventies.

To sum up. War until forty or fifty years ago was a sort of limited liability affair. It has become a matter of unlimited liability. It has become democratic, an affair of the entire nation. The nation puts its whole weight into it, is utterly ruined if defeated, and hopes to prosper if victorious. The effort is greater, the stake is greater. That is why modern war is serious.