restricted access V. Command, General Staff, and Administration
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116 V Command, General Staff, and Administration There is no lack of carefree generals who are never worried or harassed. They are never bothered about anything: “I advance . Follow me,” and off the columns march in incredible disorder. Were ten raiders to fall shouting upon the column, this disorder would dissolve into a rout, a disaster. But these gentlemen never contemplate such an eventuality . They are lucky. They are the great men of the day—until the instant some disaster overtakes them. It is no more difficult to work with cavalry than with infantry. Some military writers think a cavalry general should have the wisdom of the phoenix. The perfect one should; so should the perfect infantry general. Man on horse or foot is always the same. But the infantry general rarely has to account for his casualties, which may have been because of faulty or improper handling. The cavalry general does. (Why? We shall leave aside the reasons.) The infantry general has six chances for real fighting to every one for the cavalry general. There are two reasons why, at the commencement of a war, more initiative is found in infantry than cavalry generals. General Bugeaud may have made a better cavalry general than an infantry general. Why? Because he was decisive and resolute. The resolution of the infantryman needs to be firmer than that of the cavalryman. (Why? Numerous reasons, mostly prejudice.) In sum, the morale of the infantryman is always more fatigued than that of the cavalryman; and I think that a good infantry general is rarer than one of cavalry. Moreover, the resolution of an infantry general must last longer than only a moment; it must last for a long, long time. Command, General Staff, and Administration 117 Good artillery generals are common. Why? They are less concerned with morale than with materiel. They have less need to concern themselves with the morale of their troops, because combat discipline is better among them than in the other arms (which is demonstrated elsewhere). Brigadier generals should be in their prescribed places, etc., etc. Very good, but most of them are not and never are. They were required to be in their places at the battle of Moscow, but, as they had to be ordered there, it is clear they were not accustomed to it. They are men, and their rank, it seems to them, should reduce rather than increase their risk. And so, in the action of an engagement, where should they be? When one holds a high rank, general-in-chief, even division commander, a great deal of activity escapes him, and only a strict conscientiousness aided by perceptiveness will allow him to avoid this handicap. It extends to those about him, to his chiefs of service. These gentlemen live well, sleep well; surely, this is true of everyone! They have picked well-bred horses; the roads are excellent! They are never sick; the doctors must be exaggerating sickness. Something happened because of monstrous negligence, as we often see in war. With a good heart and a full belly, they exclaim, “But this is a shame! It cannot be! It is impossible!” And so on. Today there is a tendency whose cause must be sought, a tendency that is of ancient vintage, which is aided by the mania of command, inherent in the French character, of encroachment from top to bottom by the commander on his subordinates. The result is the diminishing of the subordinate officers ’ authority in the minds of their soldiers. This is a grave matter, because only by firm authority and prestige can subordinate officers maintain discipline . The tendency is to oppress subordinates, to impose upon them in all matters the views of the superior; not to admit honest mistakes; to reprove them as faults; to make everyone down to the lowest private feel there is only one infallible authority. A colonel, for instance, sets himself up as the sole authority possessed of judgment and intellect. Thus, he erases all initiative from his subordinates and reduces them to a state of inertia owing to their lack of self-confidence and fear of being reproved. How many generals before a regiment think only of showing how much they know? With cheeks puffed out, they depart, proud of having . . . attacked discipline. The firm hand that directs so much disappears in an instant. All subordinate officers up to this moment have been held with too strong a hand, which has detained them in a position that...