Page images
PDF
EPUB

physical strength and force of mind merely make him so much the more objectionable a member of society. He can not do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to every one else if he does not have thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice, and fair dealing

In short, in life, as in a foot-ball game, the principle to follow is :

Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard!

MILITARY PREPAREDNESS AND

UNPREPAREDNESS

PUBLISHED IN THE “CENTURY," NOVEMBER, 1899

A T the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, A M. Pierre Loti, member of the French Academy and cultivated exponent of the hopes and beliefs of the average citizen of Continental Europe in regard to the contest, was at Madrid. Dewey's victory caused him grief; but he consoled himself, after watching a parade of the Spanish troops, by remarking: “They are indeed still the solid and splendid Spanish troops, heroic in every epoch—it needs only to look at them to divine the woe that awaits the American shopkeepers when brought face to face with such soldiers.” The excellent M. Loti had already explained Manila by vague references to American bombs loaded with petroleum, and to a devilish mechanical ingenuity wholly unaccompanied by either humanity or courage, and he still allowed himself to dwell on the hope that there were reserved for America des surprises sanglantes.

M. Loti's views on military matters need not detain us, for his attitude toward the war was merely the attitude of Continental Europe generally, in striking contrast to that of England. But it is a curious fact that his view reflects not unfairly two different opinions, which two different classes of our people would have expressed before the event-opinions singularly falsified by the fact. Our pessimists feared that we had lost courage and fighting capacity; some of our optimists asserted that we needed neither, in view of our marvelous wealth and extraordinary inventiveness and mechanical skill. The national trait of "smartness,” used in the Yankee sense of the word, has very good and very bad sides. Among the latter is its tendency to create the belief that we (need not prepare for war, because somehow we shall be able to win by some novel patent device, some new trick or new invention developed on the spur of the moment by the ingenuity of our people. In this way it is hoped to provide a substitute for preparedness —that is, for years of patient and faithful attention to detail in advance. It is even sometimes said that these mechanical devices will be of so terrible a character as to nullify the courage which has always in the past been the prime factor in winning battles.

Now, as all sound military judges knew in advance must inevitably be the case, the experience of the Spanish War completely falsified every prediction of this kind. We did not win through any special ingenuity. Not a device of any kind was improvised during or immediately before the war which was of any practical service. The “bombs enveloped in petroleum” had no existence save in the brains of the Spaniards and their more credulous sympathizers Our navy won because of its preparedness and because of the splendid seamanship and gunnery which had been handed down as traditional in the service, and had been perfected by the most careful work. The army, at the only point where it was seriously opposed, did its work by sheer dogged courage and hard fighting, in spite of an unpreparedness which almost brought disaster upon it, and would without 'doubt actually have done so had not the defects and shortcomings of the Spanish administration been even greater than our own. | We won the war in a very short time, and without having to expend more than the merest fraction of our strength. The navy was shown to be in good shape; and Secretary Root, to whom the wisdom of President McKinley has intrusted the War Department, has already shown himself as good a man as ever held the portfolio-a man whose administration is certain to be of inestimable service to the ariny and to the country. In consequence, too many of our people show signs of thinking that, after all, everything was all right, and is all right now; that we need not bother ourselves to learn any lessons that are not agreeable to us, and that if in the future we get into a war with a more formidable power than Spain, we shall pull through somehow. Such a view is unjust to the nation, and particularly unjust to the splendid men of the army and of the navy, who would be sacrificed to it, should we ever engage in a serious war without having learned the lessons that the year 1898 ought to have taught.

If we wish to get an explanation of the efficiency of our navy in 1898, and of the astonishing ease with which its victories were won, we must go a long way back of that year, and study not only its history, but the history of the Spanish navy for many decades. Of course any such study must begin with a prompt admission of the splendid natural quality of our officers and men. On the bridge, in the gunturrets, in the engine-room, and behind the quickfirers, every one alike, from the highest to the lowest, was eager for the war, and was in heart, mind, and body, of the very type which makes the best kind of fighting man. Many of the officers of our ships have mentioned to me that during the war punishments almost ceased, because the men who got into scrapes in times of peace were so aroused and excited by the chance of battle that their behavior was perfect. We read now and then of foreign services where men hate their officers, have no community of interest with them, and no desire to fight for the flag. Most emphatically such is not the case in our

« PreviousContinue »