Epochs are remembered not alone for the inventions, the literature, or the art that they produce, but more for the excellence of the minds of those individuals whose achievements render their age immortal. Likewise, before the potential possibilities of the mind of man all experience, all physical and mental barriers of the universe shrink away. Shining above the maze of human accomplishments, and casting its radiance upon the endeavors of the past, the mind of man stands forth as a never fading star in the firmament of the ages.
The history of the world is a history of the search for wisdom. It is a search in which the man of mediocre mentality is loath to join. In the words of Emerson, “The hardest task in the world is to think,” and history, upon countless occasions, has placed the stamp of truth upon this assertion.
The military man is taught that thought must be instinctive, that the mind must be in that constant state of preparedness which produces prompt decision and instant action. But military perfection is not arrested here. In the lexicon of the fighting man is a list of virtues: honor, courage, faith, obedience, loyalty. To these virtues are appended enthusiasm, initiative, strength of character, martial spirit, and patriotism. The total constitutes morale. For all of these qualities to be ideally exemplified in one individual is virtually impossible, but to possess a part of each is the desire of every sincere man.
During the past decade, the world has passed through one of those mental and economic transitions that stamp themselves indelibly upon the story of civilization. Many things that were believed to be permanent have proved transitory. Conversely, ideas and doctrines that were viewed with abhorrence have been accepted as normal, if not universally agreeable, components of our modern life.
Out of the carnage of the last war have arisen old ideals to tempt the soul of man: world peace, universal disarmament, the brotherhood of man. We render lip service to these noble sentiments while in our hearts we wonder. It is not that we doubt the benefits to mankind of the successful accomplishment in such undertakings. Only a fool will jeer at perfection. It is not that we doubt their ultimate attainment—for a time. Every great transitory period is a pillar in the temple of civilization: the Golden Age of Pericles, the valorous sweep of the Roman Empire, the soul-stirring advent of Christianity, the halcyon epoch of the Renaissance, the religious upheavals of the Reformation, and the modern machine age. Each phase leaves its mark upon posterity.
The modern cry is for speed, and with speed, alone, we strive to scale the heights of Olympus, trusting our very impetus to carry us to the gates of a mystic utopia. The twentieth century machine rushes on. Man has set the wheels in motion, and stands aside to gaze fondly upon his speeding Frankenstein. But presently there comes a period of introspection. We are assailed by vague doubts, and, by an inward questioning, seek to mark the distance of our intellectual progress.
During our headlong dash toward the immediate attainment of age-old ideals, we have called into use terms into whose deeper meanings we have not sought to explore. With disconcerting assurance we quote philosophers, sages, and military leaders of the past. Every officer is acquainted with the precepts of Napoleon, Nelson, Mahan, Jomini, von Clausewitz, and other masters of the military art. Their maxims flow easily to the lips and become catch phrases in our professional vocabulary. “In matters of war, above all, precept is easy, accomplishment is difficult.”1 Now, more than ever before, is it essential that we grasp the basic truths that underlie these phrases. Now, more than ever, is it vital that we of the navy employ with understanding the principles of the art of war.
Internationalism lies yet in the realm of statesmen. For us there is only nationalism, and by nationalism is meant patriotism, in the finest sense of the word. Military men live in an atmosphere of patriotism. It is their normal existence and is accepted as such without question. “Trappists of the flag,” Claude Farrere has called them. So to us of the navy, patriotism is as much an element of our existence as duty, obedience, or loyalty. We strive to make military virtues so integral a part of our lives that they become habits.
But the quality of patriotism must be treated in a more public manner. The military service is the outward and visible form, the physical exemplification of the national spirit of the state. “Showing the flag” is more than a routine function. It is a form of national symbolism. I do not hold that the military man should flaunt his patriotism any more than he parades his loyalty, or his personal valor; but, in his affairs with private citizens, he should typify the martial spirit.
Every American who has read The Man Without A Country will remember the poignant appeal of poor Philip Nolan when the years of enforced absence from his native land had filled him with a longing for home:
Think of your home, boy, write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought the farther you have traveled from it; and rush back to it when you are free. And for your country, boy, and for that flag, never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all the men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the country herself, your country, and that you belong to her as you belong to your own mother.
Edward Everett Hale has given us this graphic picture of patriotism seared in the heart of an exile.
We must permit ourselves to be counseled neither by the chauvinistic preachings of the professional patriot nor by the disturbing sophistries of the pacifist. Military patriotism, rooted in faith and loyalty, should spring from within.
Loyalty is the handmaiden of patriotism. Without loyalty all military virtue is pretense. The bewildering economic fiber of the present seems, at times, to lay an unfair claim upon the loyal spirit. But this sentiment must be set aside. What is it that causes discontent? Is it lack of appreciation? Is it the knowledge that the swing of the pendulum will place strange responsibilities upon our shoulders? Whatever the apparent justification, we of the navy must remain steadfast and deaf to the caviling of a restless age.
I know of no more splendid example of loyalty than is shown in Lincoln’s letter to General Hooker, written when “Fighting Joe” had superseded Burnside after the disastrous rout at Fredericksburg. Lincoln wrote:
I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reason, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which of course I like. I also believe that you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambitions and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.
I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I gave you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up as dictators. What I now ask of you is a military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army of criticizing its commanders and withholding confidence from them will now turn upon you. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it; and now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victory.
Beset on all sides by a devastating animadversion, his own cabinet pointing the finger of reproach, Lincoln maintained his loyal spirit and kept faith with his convictions.
When the spirit of loyalty is perplexed by vague subcurrents of unrest; when unworthy sentiments shake one’s faith in the old, accepted tenets of the navy—read history. Study the lessons of the past and shape them to the present. We must be loyal to loyalty, directing our every effort and action toward strengthening and increasing the moral fiber of the service.
It will be recalled that Admiral Jervis deplored the effect of loose talk in the wardroom upon discipline. If officers and petty officers are not loyal in word as well as in deed, it can hardly be expected that their example will be reversed by their subordinates.
During Rozhestvenski’s tragic voyage from Libau to Tsushima the openly voiced despair of the officers permeated the entire fleet, sapped an already weakened moral force, and blasted any fragments of the military virtues that remained.
Be loyal in spirit and the physical manifestations will adjust themselves. Mutual interchange of thought is stimulating to the mind and certainly should not be avoided. But in argumentative discussions, follow the lead of the officers of Sparta whose habit it was for the eldest, as each man entered, to point to the door and say; “Through this no words go out.”
Closely allied with the passive virtue of loyalty is the active virtue of enthusiasm. It is an ephemeral quality, demanding constant fuel for its flames. Its fires are fed with great emotional forces and die down with periods of mental immobility. To keep enthusiasm at a high pitch is a vital requisite of leadership. There is the advantage, though, that, once implanted, it spreads in direct proportion to the sturdiness of the parent plant.
Marshal Lyautey, France’s great colonizer, attributes his success to what he calls the “stain of oil” policy. A nucleus, containing the qualities necessary to further French interests, is formed at various centers, and the influence of each, like a stain of oil, spreads out and covers the land. So it is with enthusiasm. It is contagious. Create an enthusiastic spirit and you have paved the way for ambition and initiative. Enthusiasm, without which few great deeds have ever been accomplished, invigorates a man and doubles his capacity for action.
Richelieu tells us of his amazement at seeing his troops scale an enemy’s wall in the face of a devastating fire. The next day, with the wall undefended, he required the same troops to repeat their feat; but, finding no resistance, they were unable to call forth the same enthusiasm.
They required almost insuperable obstacles for the exhibition of their greatest gallantry. It is not faith, but will, that is the mover of mountains.2
While enthusiasm is ordinarily classed as an exuberant emotion, as an effervescent outpouring of the will, it is not invariably so. When weariness has enveloped the body with a deadly lethargy; when the very effort of movement is a strain, then enthusiasm is molded into the will and manifests itself in the form of determination forcing victory of mind over body.
It is to achieve this goal that we direct our efforts in the building up of enthusiasm in a military unit. The measure of success is unknown until action arrives. Then, if we' see our subordinates pushing forward, sweeping aside obstacles, admitting no defeat even though reverses be suffered, we will know that our efforts at training have brought the hoped for results. On the other hand if the initial enthusiasm of combat gives away to despair, if fear deprives men of their individual will and the mass is swayed by a specious reasoning, it will be too late to rationalize. In a panic, reason has little influence upon the collective mind, as the study of any disastrous rout will show. Bull Run showed the effects of the exuberant type of surface enthusiasm which scatters like the mists of the morning before the heat of determined opposition.
Then there was Hannibal, after Cannae, who thought that he had humbled Rome forever, but neglected to consider the will of the Roman people. Those doughty citizens would acknowledge no defeat. Beset on all sides, they held to one guiding principle, attack. This sentiment led them to revile Fabius for his inaction and, by their very strength of will, forced him, against his better judgment, to give battle. Defeated again, and with Hannibal at their gates and apportioning the city among his soldiers, they retaliated by selling his camp site at auction and obtained a good price. Their determination may have been hasty in its processes, but the people of Rome were bound by the type of national sentiment that, “like family feeling, is a permanent force, the influence of which deflects national sympathy and policy as a magnet does a compass.”3
The action of the Roman people in forcing Fabius to “assume the offensive” proved as disastrous as that of the people of the north, who clamored for Lincoln to “do something.” Both incidents illustrate the readiness with which the sentiment of an untaught public may be raised to the pitch of enthusiasm and cause disastrous repercussions. When one considers the gullibility of man it is not surprising that half-baked military doctrines are accepted as truths, and that public confidence is raised to fever heat by dogmas that the professional fighter has long rejected.
Mankind grasps greedily at every newly proffered panacea for current ills. In naval history this is particularly true. Each advancement in material is hailed as the ultimate in fighting efficiency: the corvus, the ram, the dreadnought, the torpedo, the submarine, and the airplane. As each appears it is avidly accepted and its destructive force is portrayed in glowing words. While it is true that a new type influences the conduct of naval warfare, yet every cause has brought a cure, and it may be accepted as a proved truth that no single weapon will so revolutionize the conduct of war that it, alone, will be employed and other types rejected.
Public sentiment may take yet another path, and subscribe to a policy of indifference, born of confidence in the nation’s strength and the assurance that because of this strength, or because of geographic or political isolation, the country is in no danger.
Such was the feeling in Carthage during a phase of the First Punic War, when a series of defeats had been dealt the Roman navy, and storms had completed the work of destruction. Carthage felt safe on the sea for the first time since one of her wrecked vessels had supplied Rome with the secrets of naval construction. A violent internal struggle with mercenary bands had wearied the people of war and its concomitants. Their martial spirit sank to a low ebb and their arms were permitted to rust. What was the result?
With the advent of the Second Punic War, Carthage, as a sea power, was removed from the Mediterranean, for, as Polybius relates:
So strongly were they assured that the Romans never would appear again upon the sea, that they had for some time past neglected all their naval forces. From these causes, then, it happened, that they were in every part defeated, even in the first encounter.
To quote from St. Luke:
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace his goods are in peace.
But when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.4
After conducting a most thorough investigation to determine the dominating instincts of infants, John B. Watson reached the conclusion that, at birth, the only producers of fear are loud noises and the sensation of being dropped. As a child grows older, other causes appear, their number and nature influenced largely by environment. Fear of the dark, fear of being left alone, fear of dogs, fear of strangers; all or any of these stimuli may attach themselves to the child and impress themselves upon his character. Each danger that he is warned against is an additional reason to be afraid, until, in the grown man, you find that fear has become an important part of his mental baggage.
To flaunt any fear requires a degree of courage, a show of contempt for some external good. To face death demands courage of a high degree, while heroism implies superlative mental courage and physical daring. Every man who sacrifices his life in defense of a principle performs an act of heroism, which Emerson calls “the military attitude of the soul.”
Heroism knows no racial boundary. A heroic act cleaves national and geographic barriers and races like a meteor across the vision of men. The brightest stars in the history of a nation are the deeds of its heroes. They are the deeds of which the poets sing, the corner stones in the temple of national character and racial pride. The remembrance of them quickens the pulse of posterity and purges the mind of all that is insignificant.
On a bridge across the Tiber, Horatius,
though covered with wounds, still maintained his post and stopped the progress of the enemies, who were struck with his firmness and intrepid courage even more than with the strength of his resistance.
And when the bridge fell,
he threw himself into the river with his armor…Such is the spirit and such the emulation of achieving glorious actions, which the Roman institutions are fitted to infuse into the minds of youth.5
Truly the Roman institutions were so fitted. When an illustrious person died, his body was carried in a procession to the forum and seated upon an ivory chair, for the young men to see, while his exploits were recounted. “By this method the fame of every great and noble action becomes immortal, and the young men are animated to sustain all dangers.”6
History abounds with deeds of individual valor. Young Casabianca at Aboukir; the burning of the Philadelphia, which Nelson called “the most daring deed of the age”; the Emden’s boatswain’s mate who, with his arm carried away and his crew demolished, continued to serve his gun until he became unconscious.
But are not all men heroes who unwaveringly risk, death in a noble cause? “‘Arise, ye dead!’ cried the last soldier in a trench, surrounded on every side, to his wounded companions who had been laid low by the enemy’s machine guns. Greece would have plaited crowns for that man and sung his memory.”7
Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the value of heroism when he wrote “Unless men are willing to fight, and die, for great ideals, including love of country, ideals will vanish and the world will become one huge sty of materialism.”8 And, again, “Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die.”
With the exception of Sparta, where virtue was its own reward, and where the soldier was forbidden to retain even the ordinary spoils of battle, valorous acts have ever brought material recognition. Polybius recites, in detail, the Roman scale of rewards for bravery, which ranges from a javelin to him who wounded an enemy, to a golden crown awarded the first man to mount the walls of a city taken by storm. As the brave were rewarded, so were the cowardly punished. The Roman soldier who fled in battle was put to death. The penalty for sleeping on watch was a beating by all hands, a punishment comparable to being whipped through the fleet and, in the words of Polybius, “the victim was usually destroyed within the camp.”9
Napoleon, when distributing rewards for courage, was wont to practice a gentle hoax upon his veterans, which incited them to greater deeds of valor and, at the same time, bound them more closely with the ties of loyalty. Before reviewing a regiment he would dispatch an aid to learn the name, appearance, personal history, and position in the ranks of a soldier who had been wounded while attacking in a recent campaign. Equipped with this information he would pause before the man, call him by name, and remark, “You were at Marengo. How is the wound in your leg? What has become of your old father? You have not yet gotten the cross? Here, take mine.” And he would pass along, leaving his “victim” enchanted, and ready to swear that the emperor knew the name of every soldier in the army.
The influence of rewards should not be underestimated. In a recent work by an English officer the author states:
Books about war psychology ought to contain a chapter on medal reflexes and decoration complexes. Much might be written about medals and their stimulating effect on those who really risked their lives for them. But the safest thing to be said is that nobody knew how much the decoration was worth except the man who received it.10
Medals, decorations, rewards for bravery, all tend to elevate the valorous man in the eyes of his fellows. These symbols incite others to the accomplishment of similar feats and serve, by the power of example, to overcome the fears of the timorous.
In encouraging valor, as in exemplifying all military qualities, the commander exerts a tremendous influence. The spirit of the leader binds together the moral forces of his men. His will must be unwavering; he must inspire an infallible trust, and impress his followers by the character of his mind.
Kings, indeed, we have, who wear the marks and assume the titles of royalty; but as for the qualities of their minds they have nothing by which they are to be distinguished from their subjects.11
Hannibal, more than any general of ancient times, knew how to bend the will of his soldiers and, by the strength of his own personality, lead them to perform great deeds.
Hannibal was the greatest general of antiquity by reason of his admirable comprehension of the morale of combat, of the morale of the soldier, whether his own or the enemy’s. He had the absolute confidence of his people.12
He must have had, to have been able to lead an army of 100,000 out of Spain, through Gaul, and over the Alps, arrive in Italy with the 20,000 survivors and, with little co-operation from Carthage, wage continuous war throughout the Italian peninsula for a period of sixteen years.
Lee, with an inferior force, fighting for four years in increasing poverty, retained the confidence and love of his men to the end. “No commander was ever more careful, and never had care for the comfort of an army given rise to greater devotion.”13
Frequently, in battle, there comes a time when the outcome of the struggle depends upon the determination of the leaders.
In the battle of the Marne, General von Kluck’s right wing retreated at the very moment when General Maunoury, his opponent, had decided to fall back, and in the battle of the Yser, when the enemy determined to retire after the loss of 150,000 men, he would have scored a victory had he exerted himself only a little longer.14
Adversity is the crucible in which the spirit of the commander is fired. Out of it his mind emerges with fortified vigor, or else is degraded by doubt, and the commander ceases to be a leader.
For four days and three nights, Hannibal’s weary army waded breast deep through the marshes leading to Tyrrhenia. Hannibal, ill, and with an infected eye, rode upon the one remaining elephant. If adversity ever discouraged this remarkable man he must have been troubled during this hideous march, as he watched his pack animals sink in the swamp, and his men falter and drown from the effect of exhaustion and lack of sleep.
Washington, at Valley Forge, burdened with the weightiest cares, admitted no discouragement, and Lee, pushed back on Richmond, complained only of the lack of shoes for his men.
With such leaders do men make history.
In war it is invariably true that the success of the armed forces is a thermometer by which the temperature of public feeling may be measured. In the opening phase of the Second Punic War, a courier from the army entered Rome and advanced to make his report. The citizens gathered at the forum to hear the tidings of victory. When the courier announced, “We have suffered a great defeat” there arose such a clamor that, for minutes, the senators could hear no further details of the battle. The Roman spirit of the time was, however, such a unique mixture of moral and mechanical force, that the shock of defeat served only to fortify the national courage.
Centuries have not changed human nature. Passions, instincts, among them the most powerful one of self-preservation, may be manifested in various ways according to the time, the place, the character and temperament of the race. The best masters are those who know man best, the man of today and the man of history. This knowledge naturally comes from a study of formations and achievements in ancient war.15
The moral strength of a nation is determined by the breadth of intellect of its people. Before any ethnic group may hope to acquire the rights of an independent state it must possess the virtues that have been enumerated. If there is homogeneity of mind in the desire for national emergence, the qualities of patriotism, will, and enthusiasm are certain to exist, for without them the birth struggles of a nation could never begin.
Once aroused, the national spirit will remain until the life of the nation has run its course. With its decadence is foreshadowed the ultimate downfall of the state.
At the present time the moral resolution of the whole nation has far greater influence on the moral strength of the troops than it had in days of old. The morale of the nation, however, is a fluctuating element. The noblest and truest ideas lose their hold on the masses the moment they cease to be associated with victorious progress and begin to be accompanied by a certain measure of personal sacrifice.16
The moral strength of a navy or an army is predicated upon the effective power of its military virtues. It may be influenced, in time of war, by the spirit of the nation, which will rise or ebb, depending upon the moral resolution of the state and upon the successes of the armed forces.
In time of peace, it is the duty of the military man to exemplify the moral virtues and mirror them in his every act, to the end that the power of his example will sustain the national spirit.
An extract from Admiral Togo’s final order upon the dispersion of his combined fleet at the close of the Russian war illustrates his interpretation of the peacetime duties of a fleet.
Naval strength does not merely depend on possessing ships and guns, but mainly depends on an invisible but real power, the effective power of the men who use the ships and guns. Therefore in the navy, we ought to aim at being strong, apart from the strength of the material which we handle.
The life of a naval man is a never ceasing war, and whether the country is engaged in a war, or not, makes no difference in his responsibilities. In war he may display his strength and in peace he should accumulate it. Should the navy men allow themselves to get rusty in time of peace, the warships, however majestic their appearance may be, will be like a house built on the sand, easily destroyed by the blast of any gale. Heaven gives the laurels of victory in war to those only who keep themselves in training in time of peace, and win the battle before it is fought. Heaven likewise takes away the crown of victory from those who soon grow satisfied with a few victories, and allow their activities to relax in time of peace. The ancient sage says: “Tighten your helmet string after a victory.”
Now, more than ever before, must we of the navy be a “band of brothers,” giving to the moral principles the same vigorous application that we employ in attaining success in drills and maneuvers.
Napoleon remarked that “The happiest inspiration is often only a recollection.” Study and thought, are antecedent to recollection. He who would learn to use his intellectual tools must work. The harvest is worth the labor of planting. The officer who thinks, and who harnesses his thoughts, is the one whose actions will be applauded and whose decisions will demand no apology.
Just as study produces knowledge, so knowledge begets understanding, and understanding is the parent of wisdom. Without wisdom we may not hope to define those principles, which are so essential at this time, when the swing of the pendulum forecasts the return of a deeper appreciation of the value of moral forces.
1. DuPicq, Battle Studies.
2. Le Bon, The Psychology of the Great War.
3. Mahan, The Practical Aspect of War.
4. St. Luke XL, 21.
5. Polybius, General History.
7. Le Bon, The Psychology of the Great War.
8. Roosevelt, The Great Adventure.
9. Polybius, General History.
10. Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.
11. Plutarch, Lives, (Lycurgus).
12. Du Picq, Battle Studies.
13. General Long, letter.
14. Le Bon, The Psychology of the Great War.
15. Du Picq, Battle Studies.
16. von Bernhardi, The War of the Future.