Jomini on Military Institutions.
[Excerpted from Antoine-Henri Jomini, The Art of War. G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill, trs. (Philadelphia: Lippicott, 1892), pp. 43-51]
One of the most important points of the military policy of a state is the nature of its military institutions A good army commanded by a general of ordinary capacity may accomplish great feats; a bad army with a good general may do equally well; but an army will certainly do a great deal more if its own superiority and that of the general be combined.
Twelve essential conditions concur in making a perfect army:-
1. To have a good recruiting-system;
2. A good organization;
3. A well-organized system of national reserves;
4. Good instruction of officers and men in drill and internal duties as well as those of a campaign;
5. A strict but not humiliating discipline, and a spirit of subordination and punctuality, based on conviction lather than on the formalities of the service;
6. A well-digested system of rewards, suitable to excite emulation;
7. The special arms of engineering and artillery to be well instructed;
8. An armament superior, if possible, to that of the enemy, both as to defensive and offensive arms;
9. A general staff capable of applying these elements, and having an organization calculated to advance the theoretical and practical education of its officers;
10. A good system for the commissariat, hospitals, and of general administration;
11. A good system of assignment to command, arid of directing the principal operations of war;
12. Exciting and keeping alive the military spirit of the people.
To these conditions might be added a good system of clothing and equipment; for, if this be of less direct importance on the field of battle, it nevertheless has a bearing upon the preservation of the troops; and it is always a great object to economize the lives and health of veterans.
None of the above twelve conditions can be neglected without grave inconvenience. A fine army, well drilled and disciplined, but without national reserves, and unskillfully led, suffered Prussia to fall in fifteen days under the attacks of Napoleon. On the other hand, it has often been seen of how much advantage it is for a state to have a good army. It was the care and skill of Philip and Alexander in forming and instructing their phalanxes and rendering them easy to move, and capable of the most rapid maneuvers, which enabled the Macedonians to subjugate India and Persia with a handful of choice troops. It was the excessive love of his father for soldiers which procured for Frederick the Great an army capable of executing his great enterprises.
A government which neglects its army under any pretext whatever is thus culpable in the eyes of posterity, since it prepares humiliation for its standards and its country, instead of by a different course preparing for it success. We are far from saying that a government should sacrifice every thing to the army, for this would be absurd; but it ought to make the army the object of its constant care; and if the prince has not a military education it will be very difficult for him to fulfill his duty in this respect. In this case-which is, unfortunately, of too frequent occurrence-the defect must be supplied by wise institutions, at the head of which are to be placed a good System of the general staff, a good system of recruiting, and a good system of national reserves.
There are, indeed, forms of government which do not always allow the executive the power of adopting the best systems. If the armies of the Roman and French republics, and those of Louis XIV. and Frederick of Prussia, prove that a good military system and a skillful direction of operations may be found in governments the most opposite in principle, it cannot be doubted that, in the present state of the world, the form of government exercises a great influence in the development of the military strength of a nation and the value of its troops.
When the control of the public funds is in the hands of those affected by local interest or party spirit, they may be so over-scrupulous and penurious as to take all power to carry on the war from the executive, whom very many people seem to regard as a public enemy rather than as a chief devoted to all the national interests
The abuse of badly-understood public liberties may also contribute to this deplorable result. Then it will be impossible for the most far-sighted administration to prepare in advance for a great vicar, whether it be demanded by the most important interests of the country at some future time, or whether it be immediate and necessary to resist sudden aggressions.
In the futile hope of rendering themselves popular, may not the members of an elective legislature, the majority of whom cannot be Richelieus, Pitts, or Louvois, in a misconceived spirit of economy, allow the institutions necessary for a large, well-appointed, and disciplined army to fall into decay? Deceived by the seductive fallacies of an exaggerated philanthropy, may they not end in convincing themselves and their constituents that the pleasures of peace are always preferable to the more statesmanlike preparations for war?
I am far from advising that states should always have the hand upon the sword and always be established on a war footing: such-a condition of things would be a scourge for the human race, and would not be possible, except under conditions not existing in all countries. I simply mean that civilized governments ought always to be ready to carry on a war in a short time,-that they should never be found unprepared. And the wisdom of their institutions may do as much in this work of preparation as foresight in their administration and the perfection of their system of military policy.
If, in ordinary times, under the rule of constitutional forms, governments subjected to all the changes of an elective legislature are less suitable than others for the creation or preparation of a formidable military power, nevertheless, in great crises these deliberative bodies have sometimes attained very different results, and have concurred in developing to the full extent the national strength. Still, the small number of such instances in history makes rather a list of exceptional cases, in which a tumultuous and violent assembly, placed under the necessity of conquering or perishing, has profited by the extraordinary enthusiasm of the nation to save the country and itself at the same time by resorting to the most terrible measures and by calling to its aid an unlimited dictatorial power, which overthrew both liberty and law under the pretext of defending them. Here it is the dictatorship, or the absolute and monstrous usurpation of power, rather than the form of the deliberative assembly, which is the true cause of the display of energy. What happened in the Convention after the fall of Robespierre and the terrible Committee of Public Safety proves this, as well as the Chambers of 1815. Now, if the dictatorial power, placed in the hands of a few, has always been a plank of safety in great crises, it seems natural to draw the conclusion that countries controlled by elective assemblies must be politically and militarily weaker than pure monarchies, although in other respects they present decided advantages.
It is particularly necessary to watch over the preservation of armies in the interval of a long peace, for then they are most likely to degenerate. It is important to foster the military spirit in the armies, and to exercise them in great maneuvers, which, though but faintly resembling those of actual war, still are of decided advantage in preparing them for war. It is not less important to prevent them from becoming effeminate, which may be done by employing them in labors useful for the defense of the country.
The isolation in garrisons of troops by regiments is one of the worst possible systems, and the Russian and Prussian system of divisions and permanent corps d'armee seems to be much preferable. In general terms, the Russian army now may be presented as a model in many respects; and if in many points its customs would be useless and impracticable elsewhere, it must be admitted that many good institutions might well be copied from it.
As to rewards and promotion, it is essential to respect long service, and at the same time to open a way for merit. Three-fourths of the promotions in each grade should be made according to the roster, and the remaining fourth reserved for those distinguished for merit and zeal. On the contrary, in time of war the regular order of promotion should be suspended, or at least reduced to a third of the promotions, leaving the other two-thirds for brilliant conduct and marked services.
The superiority of armament may increase the chances of success in war: it does not, of itself, gain battles, but it is a great element of success. Every one can recall how nearly fatal to the French at Eylau and Marengo was their great inferiority in artillery. We may also refer to the great gain of the heavy French cavalry in the resumption of the cuirass, which they had for so long thrown aside. Every one knows the great advantage of the lance. Doubtless, as skirmishers lancers would not be more effectual than hussars, but when charging in line it is a very different affair. How many brave cavalry soldiers have been the victims of the prejudice they bore against the lance because it was a little more trouble to carry it than a saber !
The armament of armies is still susceptible of great improvements; the state which shall take the lead in making them will secure great advantages. There is little left to be desired in artillery; but the offensive and defensive arms of infantry and cavalry deserve the attention of a provident government.
The new inventions of the last twenty years seem to threaten a great revolution in army organization, armament, and tactics. Strategy alone will remain unaltered, with its principles the same as under the Scipios and Caesars, Frederick and Napoleon, since they are independent of the nature of the arms and the organization of the troops.
The means of destruction are approaching perfection with frightful rapidity.1 The Congreve rockets, the effect and direction of which it is said the Austrians can now regulate, -the shrapnel howitzers, which throw a stream of canister as far as the range of a bullet,-the Perkins steam-guns, which vomit forth as many balls as a battalion,-will multiply the chances of destruction, as though the hecatombs of Eylau, Borodino, Leipsic, and Waterloo were not sufficient to decimate the European races.
If governments do not combine in a congress to proscribe these inventions of destruction, there will be no course left but to make the half of an army consist of cavalry with cuirasses, in order to capture with great rapidity these machines; anal the infantry, even, will be obliged to resume its armor of the Middle Ages, without which a battalion will be destroyed before engaging the enemy. We may then see again the famous men-at-arms all covered with armor, and horses also will require the same protection.
While there is doubt about the realization of these fears, it is, however, certain that artillery and pyrotechny have made advances which should lead U8 to think of modifying the deep formation so much abused by Napoleon. We will recur to this in the chapter on Tactics.
We will here recapitulate, in a few words, the essential bases of the military policy which ought to be adopted by a wise government.
1. The prince should receive an education both political and military. He will more probably find men of administrative ability in his councils than good statesmen or soldiers; and hence he should be both of the latter himself.
2. If the prince in person does not lead his armies, it will be his first duty and his nearest interest to have his place well supplied. He must confide the glory of his reign and the safety of his states to the general most capable of directing his armies.
3. The permanent army should not only always be upon a respectable footing, but it should be capable of being doubled, if necessary, by reserves, which should always be prepared. Its instruction and discipline should be of a high character, as well as its organization; its armament should at least be as good as that of its neighbors, and superior if possible.
4. The materiel of war should also be upon the best footing, and abundant. The reserves should be stored in the depots and arsenals. National jealousy should not be allowed to prevent the adoption of all improvements in this materiel made in other countries.
5. It is necessary that the study of the military sciences should be encouraged and rewarded, as well as courage and zeal. The scientific military corps should be esteemed and honored: this is the only way of securing for the army men of merit and genius.
6. The general staff in times of peace should be employed in labors preparatory for all possible contingencies of war. Its archives should be furnished with numerous historical details of the past, and with all statistical, geographical, topographical, and strategic treatises and papers for the present and future. Hence it is essential that the chief of this corps, with a number of its officers, should be permanently stationed at the capital in time of peace, and the war-office should be simply that of the general staff except that there should be a secret department for those documents to be concealed from the subalterns of the corps.
7. Nothing should be neglected to acquire a knowledge of the geography and the military statistics of other states, so as to know their material and moral capacity for attack and defense, as well as the strategic advantages of the two parties. Distinguished officers should be employed in these scientific labors, and should be rewarded when they acquit themselves with marked ability.
8. When a war is decided upon, it becomes necessary to prepare, not an entire plan of operations,-which is always impossible,-but a system of operations in reference to a prescribed aim; to provide a base, as well as all the material means necessary to guarantee the success of the enterprise.
9. The system of operations ought to be determined by the object of the war, the kind of forces of the enemy, the nature and resources of the country, the characters of the nations and of their chiefs, whether of the army or of the state. In fine, it should be based upon the moral and material means of attack or defense which the enemy may be able to bring into action; and it ought to take into consideration the probable alliances that may obtain in favor of or against either of the parties during the war.
10. The financial condition of a nation is to be weighed among the chances of a war. Still, it would be dangerous to constantly attribute to this condition the importance attached to it by Frederick the Great in the history of his times. He was probably right at his epoch, when armies were chiefly recruited by voluntary enlistment, when the last crown brought the last soldier; but when national levies arc well organized, money will no longer exercise the same influence.-at least for one or two campaigns. If England has proved that money will procure soldiers and auxiliaries, France has proved that love of country and honor are equally productive, and thaw when necessary, war may be made to support war. France, indeed, in the fertility of her Soil and the enthusiasm of her leaders, possessed sources of temporary power which cannot be adopted as a general base of a system; but the results of its efforts were none the less striking. Every year the numerous reports of the cabinet of London, and particularly of M. d'Yvernois, announced that France was about to break down for want of money, while Napoleon had 200,000,000 francs2 in the vaults of the Tuileries, all the while meeting the expenses of the government, including the pay of his armies.
A power might be overrunning with gold and still defend itself very badly. History, indeed, proves that the richest nation is neither the strongest nor the happiest. Iron weighs at least as much as gold in the scales of military strength Still, we must admit that a happy combination of wise military institutions, of patriotism, of well-regulated finances, of internal wealth and public credit, imparts to a nation the greatest strength and makes it best capable of sustaining a long war.
A volume would be necessary to discuss all the circumstances under which a nation may develop more or less strength, either by its gold or iron, and to determine the cases when war may be expected to support war. This result can only be obtained by carrying the army into the territory of the enemy; and all countries are not equally capable of furnishing resources to an assailant.
We need not extend further the investigation of these subjects which are not directly connected with the art of war. It is sufficient for our purpose to indicate their relations to a projected war; and it will be for the statesman to develop the modifications which circumstances and localities may make ill these relations.
1. [It will be recollected that the author wrote this many years ago, since which time tile inventive genius of the age has been attentively directed to the improvement of fire-arms. Artillery, which he regarded as almost perfect, has certainly undergone important improvements, and the improved efficiency of small arms is no less marked, while we hear nothing now of Perkins's steam-guns; and as yet no civilized army has been organized upon the plan the author suggests for depriving these destructive machines of their efficiency.-Translators.]
2. There was a deficit in the finances of France at the fall of Napoleon. It w the result of his disasters, and of the stupendous efforts he was obliged to make. There was no deficit in 1811.