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Culture And War
by [?]

The feeling of amazement with which the world is looking on at the Prussian campaigns comes not so much from the tremendous display of physical force they afford–though there is in this something almost appalling–as from the consciousness which everybody begins to have that to put such an engine of destruction as the German army into operation there must be behind it a new kind of motive power. It is easy enough for any government to put its whole male population under arms, or even to lead them on an emergency to the field. But that an army composed in the main of men suddenly taken from civil pursuits should fight and march, as the Prussian army is doing, with more than the efficiency of any veteran troops the world has yet seen, and that the administrative machinery by which they are fed, armed, transported, doctored, shrived, and buried should go like clock-work on the enemy’s soil, and that the people should submit not only without a murmur, but with enthusiasm, to sacrifices such as have never before been exacted of any nation except in the very throes of despair, show that something far more serious has taken place in Prussia than the transformation of the country into a camp. In other words, we are not witnessing simply a levy en masse, nor yet the mere maintenance of an immense force by a military monarchy, but the application to military affairs of the whole intelligence of a nation of great mental and moral culture. The peculiarity of the Prussian system does not lie in the size of its armies or the perfection of its armament, but in the character of the men who compose it. All modern armies, except Cromwell’s “New Model Army” and that of the United States during the rebellion, have been composed almost entirely of ignorant peasants drilled into passive obedience to a small body of professional soldiers. The Prussian army is the first, however, to be a perfect reproduction of the society which sends it to the field. To form it, all Prussian men lay down their tools or pens or books, and shoulder muskets. Consequently, its excellences and defects are those of the community at large, and the community at large being cultivated in a remarkable degree, we get for the first time in history a real example of the devotion of mind and training, on a great scale, to the work of destruction.

Of course, the quality of the private soldier has in all wars a good deal to do with making or marring the fortunes of commanders; but it is safe to say that no strategists have over owed so much to the quality of their men as the Prussian strategists. Their perfect handling of the great masses which are now manoeuvring in France has been made in large degree possible by the intelligence of the privates. This has been strikingly shown on two or three occasions by the facility with which whole regiments or brigades have been sacrificed in carrying a single position. With ordinary troops, only a certain amount can be deliberately and openly exacted of any one corps. The highest heights of devotion are often beyond their reach. But if it serves the purposes of a Prussian commander to have all the cost of an assault fall on one regiment, he apparently finds not the slightest difficulty in getting it to march to certain destruction, and not blindly as peasants march, but as men of education, who understand the whole thing, but having made it for this occasion their business to die, do it like any other duty of life–not hilariously or enthusiastically or recklessly, but calmly and energetically, as they study or manufacture or plough. They get themselves killed not one particle more than is necessary, but also not one particle less.