Why Our Failures?

John Bayne Maclean March 1 1918

Why Our Failures?

John Bayne Maclean March 1 1918

Why Our Failures?

John Bayne Maclean

This is the eighth of Colonel Maclean's war articles. They have given the most accurate information appearing anywhere in Canada on conditions as they actually are and have spoken fearlessly with reference to the failures of the past, the reasons therefore and the probable results therefrom. These articles have been much criticized, but the information given and the conclusions drawn have been invariably CORRECT.-THE EDITORS.

THERE can now be no doubt. Something is radically wrong in the British army. Since the outbreak of the war nearly all our great tactical moves have been failures or only partially successful and the waste of lives and material has been appalling. If they happened in civil life there would be arrests for manslaughter and parliamentary enquiries.

Study the map on the following page. How did Germany do it?

With our great superiority we have now abandoned the offensive in the west.

It is now frankly admitted in Parliament that we need at least 450,000 more men to defend ourselves in France until the Americans come in sufficient force a year hence, and that does not take into consideration possibilities in the Balkans and Palestine. A storm of objection from wounded pride went up across Canada when a year ago it was suggested that our only hone was the United States. Without the United States, German would soon be the national language of Canada. With the United States we are superior in men and resources. By avoiding mistakes of the past we ought to win; but we must have new men and new methods. Whether we win depends upon how our men and supplies are directed.

Lack of men is the excuse of our higher command. Incompetence, weakness in direction, is the charge made against them by the politicians who point out that Russia has no lack of men.

Some who speak for the army have aroused suspicion and resentment because of their tendency to hide or pass over the mistakes or blame them upon the regimental officers and men.

It is a fact that cannot be disputed. Officers and men of the individual corps have seldom, if ever, even against terrific odds, failed to carry the objectives or hold the positions indicated by the higher command. Therefore, the men are blameless.

It is also a fact that our organization in France is a series of the most wonderfully efficient machines. The way in which the medical, transport, aviation and the many other departments carry out their individual duties is a marvel. It is more perfect, it works more smoothly than any great industrial organization on this side.

To have each of his departments working as perfectly as the war departments are working in France would be regarded as a heavenly condition by any great industrial organizer. It is the popular idea that the men who build up great concerns get their pleasure in making money for their personal use. This is a very great mistake. I know or knew a great many of these men here and in Europe, some of them intimately. They all got their only pleasure out of the organizations they were developing. Not one of them benefited as much financially from their success as did their employes and the country as a whole. They are generally in debt all their lives. Two of the greatest individual business builders I knew in Canada were Mr. Eaton, the retail merchant, and Mr. Massey, the agricultural implement manufacturer. Their incomes were larger than those of any other men in Canada. Two or three thousand dollars a year was all they averaged for their own food, clothing or pleasures, but the contributions to the public of the organizations they built up now amount to millions of dollars. Timothy Eaton who left the most valuable estate in Canada said shortly before his death that he had accomplished his object in life and there was nothing more to live for.

I am writing of the really great men— not the second raters and bluffers who have acquired high rank and riches by the financial support of others; by luck and get-rich quick methods and not by brains and slow, hard work, or the

financial highwaymen who depend upon combinations or crooked ways.

Get this thought! you non-thinking, small visioned, jealous pin heads who are making it increasinglv difficult for our worth-while men to give their tremendous ability to the building up of Canada with your threats to confiscate investments. The money the real business builders make invariably goes back into the business. And the agitators who make most noise on this topic are also the men who have been too cowardly to enlist or too lazy to put forth the tremendous self-sacrificing efforts necessary for the success that excites the envy of the indolent.

"NJ OTWITHSTANDING the great effi-

^ ciency of these two essential factors of our army—men and machinery— we fail when we put them into motion to carry out the great object for which they are organized. The individual units work perfectly, but they do not synchronize with the others. For example, the artillery and infantry capture their objectives, but the cavalry ordered to be right behind them to pursue and keep moving the dislodged enemy does not arrive until next day.

Viewing the war situation as a practical big business problem—and that is all it is—there is undoubtedly something wrong with the general management or the supreme command. The peoDle of the Empire have refused nothing. They agree to any sacrifice. They have been magnificent.

The Northcliffe group blame Haig and Robertson for our failures, but I think if the problem were submitted to some big business executive, Geddes, for example, he would very quickly exonorate, partially at any rate, these two military leaders. The Imperial Government— which ought to mean His Majesty and the man he selected and entrusted with the general management of the Empire, Lloyd George—is primarily to blame for placing an inexperienced executive in the war ministry. Lord Derby is a man for whom we must all have the greatest respect, but a man who has not had years of training in the direction of great organization and particularly in finding and handling great executive officers is so much handicapped as to be a real danger. It is bad enough to put the building and direction of the organization for the defence of the Empire under an amateur in peace times; but it is criminal when we are fighting for our very existence. The greatest organizers make mistakes but how many must a man make with no experience in findifig the best men ? And there are so man” great men with proved organizing and directing capacity in the Empire there should be no difficulty in

getting a good man. A good man would soon decide whether Robertson and Haig were blamable. Possibly Robertson himself should be War Minister.

He has risen from the ranks which is a great recommendation. And it is a fact given me by a friend of his only the other day, that he is continually handicapped by political interference.

At the same time there are some explanations worth considering. One fact is you cannot improvise a great organization with able executives i n two or three years and a general manager must fail if his directors and shareholders are continually interfering, putting their friend^ into good jobs, or letting his secret plans leak out to his competitors. Something like this has happened scores of times in Canada and the United States. British concerns have been started here with useless men in charge, put in charge by family and financial pull, with the inevitable result—failure. The Grand Trunk Railway is a good example of this. It has never shaken itself clear of this baneful influence.

A friend of mine, now probably the greatest industrial executive in the United States, told me he was once figuring with some financial associates on buying an old established factory, run down, losing money, full of obsolete machinery. The owners wanted $2,000,000, while an entire new plant with the most modern machinery could be built for $1,000,000. His financial backers were surprised when he decided upon the old concern. About the old plant was an organization which its founder had spent fifty years building up, so that the various executives and all their departments knew and were working smoothly with each other. All they needed to do far bigger things was improved direction. Poor as it was he knew it would cost a great deal more than a million in waste and many years in time to get another such organization together.

AVTE provided, at Camberley, England, ' ' for the technical training of men for the big military jobs, a staff college with a two year course. To this were sent annually a small number, far too few, selected by competitive examination, from the most capable and efficient in the entire army. To get in meant months and months of hard preparatory work assisted by expert coaches. Many officers were too lazy to compete. Therefore the men who took the course were undoubtedly the pick of the army. They had ability and, what is more, a capacity for hard work. We had a similar course in Canada under the supervision

of Imperial officers. Over 125 of our non-professional soldiers took it and they deserve our grateful thanks. It meant working hard by day at their civilian calling and studying by night, eschewing all pleasures for one or two years. The best evidence of its value is that nearly all these officers have done exceptionally well in the higher Canadian commands in Europe. Some of them, like Mitchell, have forced themselves, by sheer ability and strenuous effort, to places on the general staff of the entire Allied forces.

But this limited number of our specially trained experts were not given practical opportunities, such as the Germans constantly had, for handling big bodies of men or for planning and preparing for the big problems of war. Worse still, many of these experts were not used at all. They were sent to atrophy in barrack squares and anterooms; or since the war, to a common soldier’s work in front line trenches, while staff jobs were given to men with political or family influence.

HERE are three cases from among friends of mine who passed the staff college. Capt. D. had worked his way up in the navy, where he was regarded as so capable that in 1899 he was selected as one of the young midshipmen to take the big ship guns to help the army in South Africa. His good work was specially mentioned in the official despatches. He took his his profession seriously and, feeling he could do better work for the Empire, transferred to the army. He travelled, studied the languages and probable battle fields of Europe. He passed the staff college practically at the head of his class. He had a tremendous capacity for work and every one who knew him was impressed with his remarkable ability. ín the business world such a man would he quickly grabbed up for one of the big jobs in a great corporation. Yet, to my amazement and horror, his name appeared as one of the first killed in the Yorkshire Light Infantry in the action near Mons in 1914. I happened to be in

Yorkshire at the time and as the local papers could not place him I sent a sketch of him to one of them, the Leeds Mercury, I think, which they were good enough to publish in part. In this I drew attention to the employment of a staff expert in the firing line. To have allowed an expert like Capt. D. to get into the firing line when war broke out, instead of assigning him to important staff duties, was about as senile as if the brilliant Charles M. Schwab, when he got the big munitions orders in 1914 had sent young Grace, the technical school post-graduate, back to the yards to superintend the ore gang instead of jumping him right into one of the highest staff jobs in the Bethlehem Steel Co. With Grace and a staff of youn" experts like him Schwab was able to makp records, some of them in Canada, which Kitchener said were impossible. Without the experts, the British have made fail-

In the next case, a very capable staff course major served for many months in the front line trenches until he was wounded and made prisoner.

The third officer entered the army through the Militia—which is a recommendation in itself. He proved so efficient during the South African war that he was specially selected by a general —who has, in this war, risen to one of the very highest commands—for the two year staff course. His work there justified the great general’s estimate of him, but soon after family influence put an unqualified favorite over him on a staff appointment and he retired from the army in disgust. He is so foolishly secretive, like so many officers on all army weaknesses, that, though an old friend, I got this information only through another staff officer.

If, in my limited experience, among "passed staff college” men I can refer to three such cases, how many more similar ones must there be? .

' i 'HERE are many instances in this war of amateurs or incompetents being put into the big jobs over the experts to enable them to gain personal kudos. They range all the way from a Cabinet Minister’s secretary to the outrage committed on the Canadians, when Col. the Rt. Hon. .1. B. Seely, a discredited war minister, a dilettante lawyer and amateur soldier, was given command of our own cavalry brigade, made up of our regulars, Royal Canadian Dragoons and North-West Mounted Police. He was put over the heads of our most capable professional soldiers, Royal Military College graduates and

p. x. c. men. As usual, it is not the man’s personality they complained of. He is described as quite as charming as he is foolishly brave before the enemy, but he is hopelessly incompetent as a great cavalry executive. If you want to know more, get some Canadian cavalryman to tell you. It is the one sore spot with every one of the many I have talked to or heard from. You will hear more of the bitterness over mismanagement, lost opportunities and lost prestige than will get into print until the war is over.

Complaint is made that really capable men of the new army are not given equal opportunity for important staff jobs for which often their capacity or civilian training fits them. Rut, as the army is the life work of the professional soldier, if he can fill the job, he should be given the preference in important work in order that he may get the experience. If, however, the professional soldier has been too lazy to work for the staff course he is likely to be too indolent to fill any important staff job. And there ought to be many higher appointments from the “successes” in the new army.

In studying the lives of the generals who finally came to the top on both sides in the United States Civil War, I was much struck with three facts. With few exceptions they came from poor parents, and from farms or village homes; they were chiefly West Foint graduates; and .they were officers who. as juniors, were not content with following the dull, lazy routine duties of their place in the army or the society life at the local posts. The majority of them took over the quartermaster’s work—a disagreeable job, which is looked down on and never assumed by one of our commissioned officers, but is put upon a man who has risen from the ranks. Others, like Lee, got temporary leave to fill other public positions, building harbors, docks, river improvements. Some found the army too slow, and went into business. Grant, a West Pointer, left the army and was a commercial traveller. The next ablest executive commander had left the army and successfully operated a street railway and a bank. Grant’s chief of staff had no military training, but was a lawyer in a small Western town when the war began.

All of which suggests that the successful men are those who have a capacity to do things and get things done. Therefore, we should bend ourselves to finding these men in our armies and navies who have proved this.

This is what Lincoln did. He discarded one “show” general after another who had failed to do anything against the great Southern leader, Lee—who was placed by Wolseley with Caesar and Napoleon as one of the three ablest commanders in the history of the world. Finally he found a man away off in the West who did his work so well that he never lost a battle. He had rejoined the army as a drill instructor and had risen to a Brigade command. Lincoln sent for him.

He did not belong to the Washington military or society clique. Lincoln soon heard many disagreeable things when it came out that he was to put Grant in supreme command. Mainly,

Grant was said to be a drunkard, and the story has often been printed that Lincoln asked the complainants to ascertain at once the brand

of whiskey Grant drank that he might feed it to the other generals. It is also a fact that Lincoln gave his generals a free hand. He did not allow the politicians to interfere.

Most humane and kind-hearted of men, he did not allow any silly sentiments of the five o’clock tea room or the gentlemanly usages of the cricket field or the golf course to interfere with winning the war, nor did he supply French chefs and English valets to enable enemy spies to live in comfort on palatial ships. He sent, for example, General Wilson with the largest cavalry command in history to wheel round the South, burning, pillaging, until he left the whole population starving and homeless.

THAT usually accurate and courageous writer, Lovat Fraser, attributed the failures to lack of brains in the army. My observations and experiences lead to the conclusion that the British political, war and business leaders, as a class, are mentally superior and more alert than those of any other nation. They are bv far the most charming, but they are also the most indolent. Their love of sport and open air life gives them clearer heads than the ambitious overworkers in Germany and America, but their \yealth, their upbringing, their prejudices, encourage them to avoid effort. Balfour is one of the brainiest men in the whole Empire, and at the same time one of the most indolent. This inherent objection to activity he developed into a principle. Speaking in 1902 on the settled policy of the British Foreign Office he laid down the principle: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” This was the favorite motto of a king known in history as Ethelred. the Unready. It accounts for much that has happened to the Empire

since and led to Lloyd George’s plaintive explosion, “We’re always too late.” Bulgaria and Russia were lost to us by intrigue—-and Italy was swept back. Yet our Foreign Minister, on whom we and all the Allies depended, has said he knows nothing of intrigue or business. He is brilliant and astute, but very, very lazy. Only a mental bomb will excite him to activity, such as struck him when he visited Washington last year and where he did, under its inspiration, what was perhaps the most important work of his life.

Thinking and investigating is the hardest form of work, and few men who are not spurred by necessity have the temperament or ambition to work.

I once made a two weeks’ trip of the South with the president of the Seaboard Air Line. At Tampa they were carryin out some extensive improvements. The Seaboard for years was unable to get near the choice water front section. Every effort of railway officials, financiers and big lawyers failed to get them there. The pioneer Atlantic Coast Line had appropriated everything in sight. One day some one told the Seaboard President that he ought to send for Peter Knight, a resourceful young attorney. and put the problem up to him. He did. Peter went off to the solitude of his grane fruit plantation and, after a couple of days’ hard thinking, returned with a twinkle in his eye and with the report that he could give the Seaboard all the water front they wanted. When the president took us along the front the Seaboard were then laying their rails between the Atlantic Line and the water’s edge. Southern Florida is mostlv sand, and Mr. Knight merely hired a powerful dredge and soon pumped enough sand to make a new foundation for the Seaboard tracks and docks on the water side of the Atlantic Coast Line. I have met Mr. Knight in Europe several times since and have come to know him very well and have learned of similar and still bigger feats this smiling modest little country' town lawyer had performed. I once asked him how he managed to outwit the brilliant New York attorneys who get $100,000 fees for doing little jobs like this. He

“We think we think, but we don’t think."

That was his secret, and it is the reason why most men are successful. Too many of us follow leaders and precedents. ' Thinking is the hardest kind of work, and precedents are said to be made for those too lazy to think for themselves. One of the first of the great American executives I have known once told me that when he had an important question to deal with he went off alone fishing in the Sound, anchoring his boat for the day, perhaps a mile from shore where he could neither see nor hear any one. He allowed no one to alter the decisions then arrived at. Even the office boy, he said, or a smallminded prejudiced clerk or secretary often wrongly influenced strong men.

If our preconceived opinions are disturbed we just “fly-off.” We don’t think. We don’t like the truth, even in homeopathic sugar-coated tiny doses.

Lord Lansdowne is one of the greatest men in the Empire, and the most intelli-

gently indefatigable worker, with the longest and best history of safe, sound, sane public service of any of our present political leaders. The late Sir John Macdonald considered him one of the ablest men he had ever met.

An expression of opinion from such a man should command profound respect. But when we read his recent letter we damned him without giving a thought to the fact that a man with Lord Lansdowne’s record would write in such a serious strain only when he had verv, very good reasons. As the facts percolate through and we find Lloyd George and Wilsoji forced to agree with him only then do we realize that we had been misled by our prejudice and misinformation as we so often are.

The last mail brings me a letter from the British House of Commons. Sir Auckland Geddes, Minister of National Service, had just spoken. Rather he had upset all precedents—as they ought to be upset—by reading what he had to say. He is a brother of the Naval Lord, and once was a professor at McGill, Montreal. It was described as one of the most important, masterly, frank and truthful statements of the war situation that has yet been given. His courageous exposure of the condition into which we had drifted in our labor, production, and war problems, stunned his audience, and more than half of them disliked the truth so much that thev left the House before he had finished.

I do not know whether the army chiefs or the politicians are finally to blame. Our ablest soldiers are human. If able, they are usually poor, and depend upon political and family influence for preferment. If you look over the staff Roberts carried in South Africa and also French in France, you will be struck with the number of men who would not be there but for “pull.” Kitchener would have none of them and was not a London favorite. When the war broke out he was ordered to hurry back to Ei^mt. They wanted to get him out of the way. Only the popular demand, voiced by the Northcliffe press, forced Asquith to bring him home and eliminate Haldane. But they say Kitchener in his last days had succumbed to London influences, as has Smuts of South Africa rhore recently.

* I 'HE bii» job of this nation to-day is *■ to find the right man for War Minister and give him a free hand, and back up Lloyd-George to the fullest possible extent; give him a free hand to gather about him the great organizers, managers and experts of the Empire, and with the help of the United States we can, with our magnificent armies and navies, most assuredly win this war. If Lloyd George fails, then it is the duty of His Majesty to find the man. That is the King’s jol>—to find a capable general manager for the British Empire.

'C'ROM time to time a new reader writes *■ objecting to the frank way in which we have given the facts as they really are. After this article was typed one came from Rev. M. E. Bannerman, B.A., Alameda, Sask., who has been a subscriber for two months. There are some who do not want to hear the unpleasant things. But let me again remind these persons that probably 99 per cent, of our readers are Canadian financiers, the business men, investors of all classes, and well-to-do farmers

from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is part of the service we give them—the service for which they pay us. These articles are written specially for them. Because they are vitally interested in the real conditions present and to come they want to know the truth more than the sensation-loving general public.

I have been writing these articles since the war began. They appeared almost every week in The Financial Post. The readers of that paper in particular needed the news that they might not make business plans, be committed to investments or make developments based on early peace or the early decisive victory which our incompetent politicians led us to believe. The first article in October, 1914, caused the greatest criticism among even the big financiers and industrial leaders, who follow that paper closely. An overwhelming victory over the Germans, with the Russians in Berlin by Christmas, was the confident and joyous news the British politicians and press gave out. But The Post said our onlv hope was in the British navy being able to hold out long enough to enable us to get ready for a five or six year, not a three months’, war; and Canada was urged to prepare then the militare force we are now approaching. More criticism came when we urged the replacing of Asauith, Churchill, Grev. Balfour, with Lloyd George and a group of the ablest workers—not the orators— of the Empire. And again, when we advised our readers against buying Russian bonds or shipping goods not prepaid, I mistrusted that country from the outset, and wrote two years ago that she might make a separate peace.

It must also be recognized that our readers have given their sons as freelv as others, perhaps more so, but it is they, more than any other class in the country, who now will bear the big finan-



There are large supplies in Canada of potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions in excess of the amounts normally consumed. It is a small but necessary war service for the people of the Dominion to increase their consumption of these in order to save bread, meat and other foods needed for export.

It t* the Canadian aim during the current year to produce not less than 400,000,000 bushels of wheat. Human beings and animals are now competing directly for the grain crop. Even if we use more barley, oats, and rye, the supplies of these grains available for feeding live stock are correspondingly reduced. Only increased production of grain can alleviate the situation.

Urbanites can aid the production of grain by growing potatoes and other vegetables, because—-

Every pound of vegetables produced in urban districts releases farm hands for the production of grain and the larger crops. Vegetable crops lend themselves admirably to production on small areas.

The labor employed in the production of garden crops could not otherwise be secured for food production.

If more vegetables are grown by town and city dwellers, farmers and market gardeners can devote more of their land to grain, beans, root and com production.

cial burdens of the war; and the interest, debts, and pensions in the future in the form of tremendously increased taxation. We are, therefore, performing a further service and duty to them and to the country when we present their views, and advocate their best interests regardless of whose personal feelings are ruffled or whose selfish designs are thwarted.

NOR is this all. One of our papers is Canadian Machinery, a weekly which gives all the news of general interest to the big manufacturers, their executives, superintendents, and fore-men. It also specializes on technical information as to the latest and most efficient methods of manufacture in the metal fields. There were no munition plants in Canada when Britain needed them badly. Many of these manufacturers, as is their custom when needing advice to apply to the editors of the various technical papers, asked Canadian Machinery to tell them how to make shells. The editors began at once a series of illustrated articles on how to adapt general machine plants to munitions making, and manufacturers were urged to go into the business at once. Many, misled by the ignorant opportunists, official and press, to expect a short war, refused for months to accept our advice.

Canada thus made the start and made enormous developments. One plant in Canada made more shells than any other in the world.

Not only in Canada did this technical newspaper do effective work, but the Australian Government, the Indian Government, the Russian Government reproduced in book form these series of articles for distribution among their manufacturers. Copies of these official publications are on file in our office. Thousands of copies of Canadian Machinery were subscribed for by British, United States, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian manufacturers. Even such big munitions manufacturers as Vickers and Bethlehem Steel were among them.

These papers also did the work the Canadian Department of Trade should have done. When our manufacturers had a chance of tendering on French shells our Minister of Trade, after delaying them for days, finally admitted he could give them no assistance whatever; but when the manager of Canadian Machinery was asked if he would cable to our European office for them he supplied the blue prints and detailed specifications within five minutes after the inquiry was made. We had anticipated the demands and all the information was in our office.

The great majority of our readers are, of course, familiar with this specialized journalism, but I have given briefly the above information for the benefit of such new readers who have not been in touch with newspaper developments of the past quarter of a century. Publications circulating among the classes, such as this magazine does, must above all be fearless and accurate, whether their information pleases their readers or not. If they are not they will eventually lose their subscribers. On the other hand, so fickle are the unthinking masses that on many important questions the daily and weekly general press have to be most circumspect in how they handle questions on which their readers’ opinion is prejudiced. Such papers will lose thousands of subscribers over one article which may be absolutely accurate, but which fails to humor their preconceived and erroneous notions.