Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Appendix I.
Captain Gilbert.

In order not to delay the. march of Jaurès ‘s argument, we thought it best to relegate to this Appendix a summary of this writer’s views. They will be found more fully in the beginning of Jaurès’s Chapter IV.

Gilbert protests against the assertions of the German military school that Clausewitz has seized the principles of Napoleon’s strategy and made them the basis of their whole scheme of thought and action, and that their victory in 1870-71 was due to the fact that they had become the disciples of Napoleon and had improved on his teaching. He utterly repudiates such a claim, although he expresses the most profound admiration for Clausewitz himself and lays the utmost stress on the value of his teaching, especially in its appeal to the intellect, in its exhortation to the soldier to become a thinker and a philosopher.

But he calls upon the military thinkers of France to throw off the obsession the German school of thought created by Clausewitz and to realize that, after all, the Garman thinker learnt all his lessons from Napoleon; and that it is to Napoleon’s teaching and example that they must look if they are to find the secret of a military system, administrative and strategic, which corresponds to the genius and capacity of the French people.

Napoleon was the inimitable Master whose lessons never grow old. He freed the army from the fetters of the old régime, the obsession of clinging to ground for its own sake, of being tied to “fortified posts.” He taught rapid concentration for a vigorous offensive, with the object of securing superiority of forces at the decisive point; and as the necessary corollary, a highly efficient administrative machinery to provide the material which will enable the army to move easily and rapidly, with absolute security as regards its equipment, munitions and commissariat.

France was the first, says Gilbert, to discover these principles and to put them into practice through the genius of Napoleon, and it was only because she had forgotten his teaching that she failed in 1870. The one thing the French can learn from the Germans is that, even without such genius, military leaders can make up for its absence by the close study of its methods and by the complete co-ordination of their efforts for the common weal.

Another point upon which Gilbert laid great stress and which has made a correspondingly deep impression on the military thought of France is that, (according to him), the Napoleonic system embodied and crystallized military science, once and for all, precisely in the form which is the outcome of the Revolution. It is the expression of a new world of thought, and is as incompatible with the old régime, social and political, as it is inseparable from modern conditions, which it will always dominate, however they may vary superficially. “The genius of Napoleon introduced the order and method of a strong and thoughtful mind into the volcanic and effervescent life which the Revolution had created by instinct in a form less clean-cut, less precise and consequently less vigorous. The military science created by Napoleon is therefore the very expression of the new social order, and will last as long as it lasts.”

Thus, in the minds of those who accepted Gilbert’s interpretation of the Napoleonic system, the army was a product of modern times: the old divine-right monarchy and the whole social system summed up in it had lost the secret of victory and of life: antiquated forms of thought and belief were cast aside: the conditions of the modern world were fully accepted, and the army took its proper place as a part of the modern world: moreover the army was no longer exposed to the fluctuations of opinion which keep modern society in a state of unrest: the army was based on the bedrock of the Revolution.

By the Napoleonic system men of all shades of opinion were enabled to co-operate in the new method of war based upon the principles of a purposeful offensive, and the danger of this unanimity being impaired by the recollection of party struggles was done away with. The army could not be looked upon with suspicion by democracy or by the nation at large, since it was the offspring of a system coeval with democracy, from which the greatness of the nation had arisen. And, on the other hand, the army was a powerful factor in national life because it represented the highest form of the national spirit to which the Revolution gave birth.

The duty of France is, then to summon up her energies and to organize her resources: to see in the grandeur of her recent achievements a proof that her intellectual power still exists: to make ready, diligently and confidently, for conflicts foreseen and secretly planned: to be prepared to bring to bear the masterly methods which will lead to victory in the future as they have done in the past.