Sunday, December 10, 2017
The Mask of Command
The Mask of Command by John Keegan
NY: Penguin Books, 1987
ISBN 0 14 09.1406 8
(5) If the new military class was not to hold governments under permanent threat of blackmail, displacement or supplantation - Professor Samuel Finer’s famous categorization of the levels at which soldiers intervene in politics - it must, then, both be excluded from politics and denied political skills.
NB: Politics is people, office politics to electoral politics. Bureaucracy is another lever of power, too.
(30) There is, however, a variation on linear confrontation which, though difficult to implement, is open to well-drilled troops and can be deadly if delivered unexpectedly. It was to become the hallmark of Frederick the Great’s battlecraft in the eighteenth century when it was known as the “Oblique Order.” It had first been employed by the Thebans against the Spartans at Leuctra in 371, and across the intervening forty years it now recommended itself to Alexander. Its essence was that the advancing line should, at a moment when the enemy no longer had time to adjust the layout of his own force, shift the angle of its march to one flank or the other, thus threatening to overwhelm it.
(38) … the stirrup was unknown to the Greeks; it has not even started its evolutionary migration , as a simple toe loop, from far-away India, where it was invented about the first century AD.
(67) Alexander, we may guess from his later reactions, guessed from their [Thracians] attempt to strengthen their position that they had no stomach for a fight and could be devastated if brought under physical attack. Certainly it would be the case in all his subsequent engagements that he took any improvisation of field defences as an invitation to boldness and always attacked precisely at the pont the enemy had sought to make attack most difficult.
(69) He had therefore to devise that most difficult of operations, a fighting disengagement.
(71) It is perhaps not going too far to say that Alexander, without benefit of Adlerian theory, had hit upon the concept of the inferiority complex and made its exploitation the kernel of his war-making philosophy.
(80) The battle at Granicus: "They stood," says Arrian, “rather rooted to the spot by the unexpected catastrophe than from serious resolution.” That is a phenomenon reported time and again from battlefields: the rabbit-like paralysis of soldiers in the face of a predator’s unanticipated onslaught.
(89) Power corrupts, but its real corruption is among those who wait upon it, seeking place, jostling with rivals, nursing jealousies, forming expedient cabals, flaunting preferment, crowing at the humiliation of a demoted favorite. The life of the camp corrupts less than that of the court: battle tests the real worth of a man as politics never can.
(139) Given their quite unusual capacity to absorb and organize information, the suggestion presents itself that both [Napoleon and Wellington] may have been exposed to the mnemonic “theatre of memory” technique so influential in the Europe of revived classical learning.
(142-143) Alexander was a king, Wellington a gentleman, perhaps the most perfect embodiment of the gentlemanly ideal England has ever produced. It had no counterpart in the Greek world because the values on which it rested - reticence, sensitivity, unselfseeking, personal discipline and sobreity in dress conduct and speech, all married to total self-assurance - were at extreme variance with the extrovert style of the hero.
(143) Wellington deplored feeling; it was only by separating it from the act of government that equity and respect for law - the antithesis of the system prevailing under heroic kingship - had been established and could be maintained.
(157-158) Ducking heads or an exaggerated forward lean - the latter instinctive in soldiers advancing against fire - would have suggested potentially disabling nervousness. So, too, would a hasty pace; for some reason, a firm and unhurried tread is far more intimidating in an attacker than a trot or run.
(161) To Lady Shelley, a month after Waterloo, he tried to summarize the range of sensations that command inflicted upon him:
His eye glistening and his voice broken as he spoke of the losses sustained at Waterloo, he said, “I hope to God I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing always to be fighting. While I am in the thick of it I am too much occupied to feel anything; but it is wretched just after. It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with whom you have been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you. To be sure one tries to do the best for them, but how little that is! At such moments every feeling in your breast is deadened. I am now just beginning to regain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.”
NB: Wellington and Eisenhower as generals and politicians.
(170) Drill was no more than the institutionalization of such an arrangement. It ensured that each of the steps neceesary to fill a musket with powder and ball - Maurice of Nassau, pioneer drillmaster, stipulated forty-two - would be performed simultaneously so that the culminating, act, the pulling of the trigger, would occur only when each musketeer was standing upright and looking at the enemy.
NB: Drill as programming
(173) The Romans had, over several centuries, transformed a militia of cultivators into a professional force. And the Islamic world had devised the unique institution of the slave army whose soldiers, until they took power for themselves, were sustained through the income of the Caliph’s household. In almost every other warmaking society, however, land-holding and arms-bearing had always gone hand in hand.
(182) His propensity to judge the politics of warmaking is an index of the changes in the commander’s role that set Grant apart from Alexander on the one hand, and Wellington on the other….
Grant?: "The Confederates proclaimed themselves aliens, and thereby disbarred themselves of all right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States, [becoming] like people of any other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation.”
(185) The United States, as he saw it, was a country morally different from those of Europe. It should never incur the stain neither of aggression in foreign relations nor of infidelity to the Union in domestic politics. The Mexican War had been a bad war for the first reason. For the second, a war against the “Southern rebellion,” as he called the secession of the slave states, would be a good war, even though the cold eye told him that war was a thing bad in itself.
NB: Northern aggression, Southern rebellion
(186) “The Southern rebellion,” Grant wrote in his Memoirs, “was largely the outcome of the Mexican War.”
(194) Battle is the swiftest of all schools of military instruction and Grant’s philosophy of war - “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can and as soon as you can, and keep movin’ on” - had made veterans out of his amateurs in two years of campaigning.
(203) Grant observed in 1864: “He smokes almost constantly, and, as I have then and since observed, he has a habit of whittlilng with a small knife. He cuts a small stick into small chips, making nothing. It us evidently mere occupation of his fingers, his mind all the while upon other things.”
(206) The attitude [of almost never making speeches] was partly temperamental; but it may have been reinforced by his low opinion of most of the political generals, great speechifiers, whom the party system inflicted on him, as well as by the feeling that talking had got the country into much of the difficulty out of which he was called to fight it free. Ceremony and theatre may have repelled him for the same reason. Both, in unmonarchical America, meant politics.
(207) Where others dabbled in remembered classroom theory, aped their European counterparts, even sought to reincarnate Napoleon, he confined himself to practicalities: carrying the war into the enemy’s heartland, making its people bear the real burdens of the conflict they had brought on the republic and meanwhile sustaining the spirits of an army of electors in a struggle for constitutional orthodoxy.
(213) Campaign study had helped him develop the most valuable of all his aptitudes, that of seeing into the mentality of his opponents.
NB: Leading into the story about his first engagement when he saw the enemy was just as afraid of him as he was of it.
(225) The last of the Confederates, bar a few thousand who escaped otherwise, surrendered to Grant on his terms. They were unconditional, as he would insist throughout the war, thereby making the first of his distinctive contributions to its waging.
(233) Generalship is bad for people. As anyone intimate with military society knows only too well, the most reasonable of men suffuse with pomposity when stars touch their soulders. Because “general’ is a word which literature uses to inlcude in the same stable Alexander the Great and the dimmest Pentagon paper-pusher, perfectly well-balanced colonels begin to demand the deference due to the Diadochi when promotion carries them to the next step in rank. And military society, that last surviving model of the courts of heroic war leaders, regularly does them the forour of indulging their fantasies
(246) Rifled weapons fired projectiles - explosive if from cannon - out to unprededented ranges and with an accuracy never before acheived. An immediate effect was to drive cavalry, the bulkiest of tactial targets, clean off the battlefield. Apart from the engagement between the Union and Confederates at Brandy Station in June 1863, there were to be no cavalry battles in the American Civil War at all. But rifled firepower also markedly altered the character of infantry fighting.
(252) But we do know that, in his [Hitler’s] years of power, it was a constant refrain of his reproaches to his generals that he knew more about war than they did. And such was often the exact truth.
(253) For Hiter was, in a sense, an anti-clerical in the church of war, a devotee of its practices but a root-and branch critic of its high priests. He had witnessed at firsthand the bloody outcome of their rituals - the taking of omens, the dedication of victims, the performance of sacrifice - and he had seen that the god of victory was not propitiated. He was in consequence to give high priests short shrift after 1939.
… Whether Hitler should be regarded as a fascist in the ideological sense is extremely doubtful. The construction of a corporate state was to him clearly a paltry thing beside the re-creation of a triumphal Germany. But to the aesthetics and dynamism of fascism he gave the fullest assent. Marinetti’s manifesto of the Futurist creed, central to the fascist Weltanschauung, might have been written by Hitler himself.
(259) But Blitzkrief compounded that advantage. Essentially a doctrine of attack on a narrow front by concentrated armour, trained to drive forward through the gap it forced without concern for its flanks, Blitzkrieg was a formula for victory which owned no single father.
NB: Guderian, Lantz, Liddell Hart
(305) Hitler had had an acute grasp of the importance of propaganda from an early age, had appauded the superiority of Allied over German propaganda in the First World War in Mein Kampf and had there singled out its didactic essentials: the selection of a few simple messages for endless repetition. “The receptivity of the masses is very limited,” he wrote, “their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous; in consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan."
(310) The human connection between the holocaust of the First World War and the holocaust of the concentration camps must seem undeniable to anyone who can confront the visual evidence; without the anterior conditioning of the trenches to accustom men to the physical fact of industrialized killing, how would the necessary numbers have been found to supervise the processes of extermination?
NB: Grant says the Mexican-American War led directly to the Civil War, the trenches of WWI led to the death camps of WWII
(311) It is of overriding importance to recognize that military achievement is not an end in itself.
(312) But it was in that cyclic rededication of the warrior ruler to legitimization by battle that the sterility of the heroic society lay. No development for it - political, cultural, intellectual or economic - was possible as long as its elite’s preoccupations were consumed by the repetitive and ultimately narcissistic activity of combat.
(315) Government is complex; its practice requires an endless and subtle manipulation of the skills of inducement, persuasion, coercion, compormise, threat and bluff. Command, by contrast, is ultimately quite straightforward; its exercise turns on the recognition that those who are asked to die must not be left to feel that they die alone.
(315-316) Orders derive much of their force from the aura of mystery, more or less strong, with which the successful commander, more or less deliberately, surrounds himself; the purpose of such mystification is to heighten the uncertainty which ought to attach to the consequences of disobeying him.
(320) What German classical scholars call the Feldherrnrede - the general’s speech before battle - was a well-known literary form in antiquity. In the modern world Raimundo Montecuccoli, the imperial general of the Thirty Years’ War, is almost the only writer to have addressed the subject.
(321) "The first quality of an officer,” wrote the future Marshal Lyautey in 1894, “is gaiety,” independently echoing the point that Montecuccoli makes.
(322) The Legion d’Honneur, instituted in 1802, was the first decoration for bravery to be created in any army for which all soldiers, irrespective of rank, were eligible.
(327) Armies have either been too small for a commander seized with a vision of outcome to achieve it; or too large for any commander, however elaborate his information-gathering means, to grasp where the opportunity for outcome lay. Strategic indecision - by far the most common end of all campaigns - results in the first case; painful and bloody attrition, the all too frequent product of modern warmaking, in the second.
(329) The first and greatest imperative of command is to be present in person.
(343-344) Let us briefly remind ourselves of the imperatives that have combined to define leadership in the past: they have comprised an element of kinship, by which the leader surrounded himself with intimates identifiable by his followers as common spirits with themselves, thus guaranteeing that their mutual humanity, in all its strength and weakness, wil be constantly represented to each other; kinship has been bolstered by sanction, the reward - or punishment - of followers according to a jointly accepted value system; sanction has been reinforced by example, the demonstration of the personal acceptance of risk by the authority who requires others to bear it at his behest; example has been amplified by prescription, the explanation of the need for risk-taking by the leader, in direct speech, to his followers; and prescription has finally been made concrete - reifed would be the technical term - by action, the translation of leadership into effect, of which victory was the desired result.
(347) The nature of the decision-making appears, in retrospect, the most impressive and significant feature of the crisis [Cuban missile crisis]. The Ex Comm decided at the outset not to organize itself in a heirarchical way; it forswore “leadership” from the start. “We all spoke as equals,” Rovert Kennedy recalled. “There was no rank… we did not even have a Chairman… the conversations were completely unstructured and uninhibited. Everyone had equal opportuithy to express himself or to be heard directly.”
(350) Mankind needs not new hardware but a change of heart. It needs an end to the ethic of heroism in its leadership for good and all.
(351) Indeed, what is asked first of a leader in the nuclear world is that he should not act, in any traditionally heroic sense, at all.
(358) N Dixon On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, London, 1976; Topsfield, MA, 1984