War and the Future


All military people--people, that is, professionally and primarily military--are inclined to be conservative.For thousands of years the military tradition has been a tradition of discipline.The conception of the common soldier has been a mechanically obedient, almost dehumanised man, of the of officer a highly trained autocrat.In two years all this has been absolutely reversed.Individual quality, inventive organisation and industrialism will win this war.And no class is so innocent of these things as the military caste.Long accustomed as they are to the importance of moral effect they put a brave face upon the business; they save their faces astonishingly, but they are no longer guiding and directing this war, they are being pushed from behind by forces they never foresaw and cannot control.The aeroplanes and great guns have bolted with them, the tanks begotten of naval and civilian wits, shove them to victory in spite of themselves.

Wherever I went behind the British lines the officers were going about in spurs.These spurs at last got on my nerves.They became symbolical.They became as grave an insult to the tragedy of the war as if they were false noses.The British officers go for long automobile rides in spurs.They walk about the trenches in spurs.Occasionally I would see a horse; I do not wish to be unfair in this matter, there were riding horses sometimes within two or three miles of the ultimate front, but they were rarely used.

I do not say that the horse is entirely obsolescent in this war.

In was nothing is obsolete.In the trenches men fight with sticks.In the Pasubio battle the other day one of the Alpini silenced a machine gun by throwing stones.In the West African campaign we have employed troops armed with bows and arrows, and they have done very valuable work.But these are exceptional cases.The military use of the horse henceforth will be such an exceptional case.It is ridiculous for these spurs still to clink about the modern battlefield.What the gross cost of the spurs and horses and trappings of the British army amount to, and how many men are grooming and tending horses who might just as well be ploughing and milking at home, I cannot guess; it must be a total so enormous as seriously to affect the balance of the war.

And these spurs and their retention are only the outward and visible symbol of the obstinate resistance of the Anglican intelligence to the clear logic of the present situation.It is not only the external equipment of our leaders that falls behind the times; our political and administrative services are in the hands of the same desolatingly inadaptable class.The British are still wearing spurs in Ireland; they are wearing them in India; and the age of the spur has passed.At the outset of this war there was an absolute cessation of criticism of the military and administrative castes; it is becoming a question whether we may not pay too heavily in blundering and waste, in military and economic lassitude, in international irritation and the accumulation of future dangers in Ireland, Egypt, India, and elsewhere, for an apparent absence of internal friction.These people have no gratitude for tacit help, no spirit of intelligent service, and no sense of fair play to the outsider.The latter deficiency indeed they call /esprit de corps/ and prize it as if it were a noble quality.

It becomes more and more imperative that the foreign observer should distinguish between this narrower, older official Britain and the greater newer Britain that struggles to free itself from the entanglement of a system outgrown.There are many Englishmen who would like to say to the French and Irish and the Italians and India, who indeed feel every week now a more urgent need of saying, "Have patience with us." The Riddle of the British is very largely solved if you will think of a great modern liberal nation seeking to slough an exceedingly tough and tight skin....

H. G. Wells