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UNITED SERVICE MAGAZINE.
MILITARY EDUCATION THE PANACEA FOR ALL OUR SHORTCOMINGS AND DEFICIENCIES.
It has become the fashion of late in England (thanks to the Times newspaper) to discuss in rather exaggerated terms what is called the absence of military education in our army, and, from the manner in which the subject is treated, it seems rather intended the reproach should not be confined to mere professional deficiency.
One would be rather inclined to suppose, from the tone adopted by many writers, that absolute ignorance was the characteristic of the British officer. It is a habit somewhat new to us, but which seems to be undoubtedly increasing, that of seeking to degrade everything we possess by disparaging comparisons with the same thing in foreign countries. This is particularly the case in military matters; and it is rather remarkable, considering our reputation as a practical people, how readily we take a great deal that is said against us for granted, especially if it happens to be in dispraise of our military institutions, upon a very cursory examination of its truth or correctness; or rather, in a good many instances, without any examination at all. "We have expended a good deal of money already to extremely little advantage in the indulgence of this new feeling, and we are likely, it would appear, to be involved in a still further outlay, before a sounder discrimination, relative to our military wants and deficiencies, come to the rescue. When once a theory or a crotchet upon any subject, but more especially on one in which our army is concerned, is broached by the Times (and it has been rather prolific in them since the war), the bare fact of its having been so promulgated not only gives it a currency, but it seems also to stamp it as a thing to be attempted, or even adopted outright, with very little question or discussion as to the necessity for it, or as to the accuracy of the data upon whioh it has been brought forward. For the last four or five years (in fact ever since the war with Russia was first mooted) the army and everything connected with it has become something like a Godsend to theorists of every description; and, in the encouragement given to their suggestions, however crude they may be, and in the prominence of the civil element which controls the more practical experience of the Horse Guards, the evil seems likely to continue. U. S. Mao., No. 342, Mat, 1852. B
It does not seem to strike us, however, that while we are laying so much stress upon military education, everyone is supposed to understand everything upon military matters; and although officers in subordinate offices are to be carefully instructed and steeped in science, the Secretary for War, who, by virtue of his position, rules our military destinies in every branch, may still be an ex-captain of inlantry without any military knowledge whatever: certainly none that he has acquired by any great practical experience, or that he has proved his possession of by any public examination or by the success of his administration.
There is a strong vein of inconsistency and perversity throughout this discussion on our military wants and inferiority, and anyone shutting his eyes to the actual facts of the case, as it is unhappily the practice of a great many to do, and forming his opinions at the expense of his judgment, as is still more the custom, by what is said in the press, would be led to believe that such a thing as military instruction or education was an entire novelty amongst us; and that everything under that important head was a matter hitherto entirely neglected. Strange as it may be, the real truth is, that the very reverse of all this is the case, and, considering the formation of our army, the comparatively isolated position we are in, and the few opportunities which attach to us in consequence (and which it is devoutly hoped may still continue to exist), when compared with other countries, of seeing something like a practical preparation for warfare, there is perhaps no army the officers of which are better educated or instructed than our own; nor is there any other army, taken as a whole, more thoroughly fitted for the purposes for which it is intended, or which has more completely proved itself so upon every occasion. We shall never commit a greater blunder than when we permit ourselves to be led by a senseless clamour into copying too closely whatever we see abroad. Our own institutions, if we will only look to their more efficient working, are quite adequate to all our wants; and the principles upon which they have been hitherto formed are more in consonance than those we are likely to import and to substitute for them, with our habits and the form of our government. If military education is at a low ebb amongst us, and it is only asserted that it is so, not proved, we have the means of increasing it and placing it on a proper footing, without any of the radical changes or new-fangled schemes with which we are threatened.
The line of argument usually taken in urging our deficiencies is scarcely a fair one. The custom is to compare what we have of military institutions, when we choose to recognise that we have any at all, with similar institutions springing from totally different circumstances in other countries. We seem to have lost the faculty of understanding our own position, and the advantages it affords us in an economical military system; but we have acquired that of making every disaster, great or small, without reasoning on its origin, the foundation of some frantic effort to reach an imaginary perfection. We refuse to judge of the aggregate of results, which might make us more contented. The elaborate military organization which may be considered necessary for many of the great continental powers is not required by us. Ours should be a plain and simple structure, and the more we keep it so the better it will do our work. We have been led to think that the melancholy occurrences in the Crimea, during the late war, have resulted from ignorance of their duty of our staff-officers, and the want of practical knowledge of their profession in those of the army generally. Will any one examine for himself, and not take it upon trust, the truth or worth of this assertion? Up to the miserable conduct of the attack upon the Redan, when Sebastopol fell, no military disaster of any kind, either by means of the enemy or its own offensive operations, attached to the British army during the whole war. The deplorable misery and death and suffering which attended it throughout the winter, arose entirely from the inclemency of the weather, and the boisterous elements of wind and wave, but not at all from causes over which the officers of the army, whether staff or otherwise, had the slightest control. What amount of education, it may be asked, amongst the staff would have saved the "Prince," with all the warm clothing, from going down in the tempest of the 14th of November? and if that unhappy event had not occurred, where would have been half the outcry we have heard since of mismanagement and stupidity, and where would have been all the grounds for reform in our military institutions, about which there is so much agitation at the present moment? If the officers of the army, and the staff in particular, are the dolts they are said to be in the knowledge of their profession; and if the misfortunes and disasters of the Crimea are the foundation from which the accusation springs, how is it that the officers of the navy escape the odium and the consequences of our naval failures? The latter were far greater and more injurious to us than most of those on shore. More than half the sufferings of the army arose from naval mismanagement: how is it that the rage for scientific instruction is not extended to them? It was not the officers of the army who ordered the confusion of Balaklava harbour for so many months. It was not they who kept the transports (the " Prince" amongst the rest) outside, riding at a dangerous anchorage in wintry weather, until a storm came and destroyed them. It was not they who stowed the ships from England in such a way that nothing could be got out at any place where it was wanted. The officers of the army did not do these things, nor a great many others which brought suffering and misery upon them and upon their men; and yet they are blamed and charged with ignorance because of these acts and the consequences which flowed from them, and they are to be sent to school to learn to do better; and this is the only practical lesson that the war has taught us, and it is thus we are going to misdirect our experience of it. It is easy, in the turn that matters have taken since, to speak of money expenditure as nothing compared with the safety of the army in the Crimea, and the successful working out of the objects of the war; but this was not the principle on which we had been acting for many a year previously, nor is it very clear if it had been adopted to the necessary extent by Lord Raglan, and if things had even gone well by means of it, that so magnanimous a view would have been taken as is now spoken of.
There is more to be learnt in the lesson afforded by this part of the subject than, perhaps, in any other. It is not the theoretical instruction of scientific schools that will teach us how to conduct a war to a successful conclusion; and we may trace our failures in the late war less to such deficiency than to the practice of not taking a broad and liberal view at all times of the conduct of those entrusted with military operations—of freeing them from all but a fair and reasonable responsibility, and abstaining from tying them down by the fear of regulations which are like so many pitfalls in the way of a prompt decision, when nothing but a prompt decision will avail. If the heads of the army in the Crimea had been made thus confident, there would have been no higgling about the dearness of this or that contract; and the necessary wants of the army would have been, as they should be, rather than be stinted, supplied at any cost. The plain necessity of any case should be the best and only voucher, and should be distinctly and authoritatively declared to be so, of the acts, pecuniary or otherwise, of a general at the head of an army in the field. It has been our habit hitherto, to send them with their hands tied and a rope round their necks. If they respect the regulations, and the policy they have been accustomed to, and fail by means of it, they are assailed by a tempest of opprobrium. If they break through these trammels and succeed, they are in a position of responsibility which the dulness or caprice of some official, unless public opinion should be strongly excited to the rescue, may cause to end in ruin. "What we are pleased to call our disasters in the late war, with regard to our army, have blinded us to sense or reason, or we would see that it is our departments, those more in the hands of civilians than of military men, and more belonging to the Admiralty than the Horse Guards, which require to be put in order. It was they who despatched everything to the seat of war in such admirable confusion that nothing could be found at the time or place where it was most wanted. And to remedy their errors we are going to rub the officers of the staff and the army generally with a little more war paint than they have been accustomed to, in the shape of scientific instruction, firmly convinced that by doing so we shall have everything to hand, and all the right men in all the right places, in our future wars.
As a practical people,we imagine, by scientific theoretical instruction, to be able on some future occasion to set at defiance the vicissitudes of a campaign, a parallel to which had never been known in the history of the world. It is to be hoped some practical man at the head of affairs will oppose the folly we seem likely to fall into. Some one who will not be afraid to speak of the officers of the army as they really are—as not wanting in education or a knowledge of their profession, and of our military institutions at Sandhurst and Woolwich, with such progressive alteration as they may from time to time require, as quite equal to all our wants, if we only strive to develop and make a proper use of them. May it not be the case after all, if we inquire more carefully into it, that this asserted deficiency of military education in our army exists more in imagination than in the actual facts of the case? That we may have plenty of scientifically-educated officers, but that somehow or other it is not our habit to make much use of them. If we would only reflect a little more, and pay a good deal less attention to leading articles, however flowingly written, it is probable we might arrive at a truer estimate of our resources in this respect than we have yet done. "When we have obtained this, however, it will be of very little use if our political exigencies do not permit us to employ those who have devoted themselves to professional attainments. "Dowb"has been