Command and Cohesion: The Citizen Soldier and Minor Tactics in the British Army, 1870-1918. By M. A. Ramsay. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. ISBN 0-275-96326-8. Tables. Figures. Notes. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 246. $54.95.
In Command and Cohesion, M. A. Ramsay attempts to synthesize military and intellectual history to provide a better understanding of British military thinking and practice in the years leading up to and during World War I. Liberally adapting the Kuhnian model of scientific development, Ramsay explores the paradigmatic shift which took place in the British military establishment, specifically the infantry, as it was forced to leave behind the era of "small wars" and find a new purpose on the continental battlefields of the Great War.
In the first half of the book, Ramsay presents a broad survey of British and, more generally, European military cultural and tactical change in the nineteenth century. Starting with Napoleon Bonaparte and G. W. F. Hegel and ending with Garnet Wolseley and John Ruskin, the author presents an interesting, although at times chaotic, analysis of the interactions of psychological, technological, and cultural factors which shaped military thought. Ramsay tells us that, ultimately, a study of this sort "must rest on the values of the British military community." Yet just what these values are remains unclear in these chapters. There is little or no discussion of the interplay of muscular Christianity and volunteerism, the cult of athleticism, Social Darwinism, and the growth of militarism—all profound trends of the late nineteenth century which shaped the values of the military community. And perhaps more surprisingly for a work of this kind, a discussion of the impact, or lack thereof (as Ramsay informs us), of Sandhurst and especially the Staff College on both the military community and on military thought is missing. Although Ramsay recognizes the importance of military theorists like J. F. Maurice and G. F. R. Henderson, he fails to draw on the impact that they and others had as Staff College professors on such future World War I notables as Ian Hamilton, Douglas Haig, Julian Byng, and Henry Wilson.
As the focus of the book narrows in its last two chapters, Command
and Cohesion becomes a more valuable source of analysis. Ramsay's
exploration of changing British infantry tactics and training is
thoughtful and engaging. Numerous tables and diagrams clearly illustrate
an often difficult subject for even a specialist. But the general reader
as well should have little difficulty
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understanding the tactical "paradigmatic crisis" which the British
infantry faced in 1914. Indeed, Command and Cohesion as a whole
may be better suited to the general reader interested in minor tactics in
the British Army than to the professional looking for insight into how
these tactics and the process of their change reflect British military
thinking and culture.
Stephen M. Miller
University of Maine