G. Moch February 1900

Military Reform


Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. IV No. 2 February, 1900, pp. 56-59;
Translated: by Jacques Bonhomme;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

It will be asked, what is the value of these citizen soldiers? To answer this question would take too long. In my book I have given particulars of work done which will compare favourably with that done by other armies. I will only refer to one case where the men marched for twelve days and manoeuvred five. This was done by two mountain batteries in January and February last: they went up to 1,446 metres (more than 4,338 feet), the snow being 1.50 metre deep (about 5 feet), and the cold 20 degrees below freezing point. In this dreadful weather the batteries marched 340 kilometres under perfect discipline: the horses were all in good condition. No battery in France or Germany could do better, and few could do so well. And none of these men were permanent soldiers, not one, from the major to the gunners: all, day before, were citizens, and on their first day they marched 42 kilometres.

There is no reason to suppose that the Swiss more than anybody else is born an artilleryman. Any other citizen could do the same. These two batteries belonged to the Canton de Vaud., in French Switzerland, and, as an ex-artillery officer, I may say that I could form excellent gunners in eight or ten weeks if I had to deal with healthy men, and if I were allowed to teach them properly.

The same is true about infantry. Here, again, it has often been shown what two months’ training can do, and I must refer the reader to my book for details. In the case of engineers it is only necessary to say that sappers are really only skilled workmen, and, if these are carefully selected, there will be no difficulty in training them quickly. As to cavalry, which is always brought forward as a case in which it is said permanent soldiers are necessary, we need only say that a citizen army is a different thing to a permanent army and that in the altered condition of things new methods must be employed.

We must first notice that there will be fewer cavalry soldiers in the future, and that people always talk as if the new armaments, the railways, the telegraphs, the balloons, & c., had not altogether changed the importance of the sword and of the lance. But here the problem is how to form cavalry soldiers in three months. Let us see how the Swiss solve the problem.

When the young cavalry soldier goes home after his time he takes his horse with him, after paying the State half the price. For £10 he has an. excellent trained horse, four or five years old; he can use him in his business, but he must keep the animal in good condition. This is assured by inspection, and also every time the man is called he must bring his horse. After his first training a cavalry soldier must attend drills ten days a year for ten years. Each year he gets back a tenth of the price he paid for the horse, and at the end he has the horse for nothing. So that, after paying down half the price once which he gets back, he has, in addition, the horse. He is allowed to borrow the money, so that poor men can enter the cavalry. Thus a farmer may buy a horse for his coachman or for one of his labourers.

It would take too long to go into the question as to how cases in which the horses become unfit for service are dealt with. I have only wished to show how the Swiss have succeeded in forming their cavalry, although they are not a nation of born horsemen, like the Cossacks or the Boers. This method has given two great advantages to the Swiss cavalry. If it is true the soldier cannot do fancy drill like our soldiers, yet he knows his horse well, even if the animal has a temper, and he can always master him. Then the cavalry can be mobilised at once: the man arrives on horseback ready armed and ready equipped, and is ready to start at once. If anyone without prejudice will look at this question, he will admit that the Swiss can form good soldiers in a very short time. To do this it is only necessary to specialise the men, not to make them lose their time by parades, by barrack drill, or by acting as a police, or in many ways which have nothing military in them.

They must also be prepared from childhood to receive later on military instruction. Gymnastics must be taught just as reading is now. The children must not be made into acrobats, but their limbs must be made more flexible and their physical health improved: they should also be taught to march, and know how to handle a gun and to shoot. They must also be taught their rights and duties as citizens. It is said that citizen armies are opposed to the military spirit. If the military spirit is opposed to the civic spirit it ought not to exist. There are not two rights, a military and a civic right, but only one – civic right, which implies certain duties in time of peace and. certain others in time of war. Instead of saying that our soldiers should have the military spirit one must say that our citizens must have the civic spirit under its double form, civic and military. Now this civic spirit must be taught in the family and in the school. If the nation cannot teach it, then it is not fit to govern itself: it is not a democracy, and each citizen must know his duties to the State, and he will not learn them in the barracks. He should be taught them at home, and that is why it is right that women should have sound views on politics and morals.

It was not in barracks that the Americans of the War of Independence, the soldiers of the French Revolution, the Landwehr of 1813, the Yankees, the Garibaldians, the Mobiles in 1870, the Cubans, the Philippines, or the Boers learnt how to fight, and if these men had been trained they would have fought better still.

The question of the need of the military spirit is not, then, an argument against a citizen army.


One of the questions which often troubles those who are in favour of a citizen army is how to provide a sufficient number of officers. Militarism is a business which must be learnt just as any other business, and though, many officers of the reserve and of the territorial army are able, yet it would be imprudent to trust them entirely with the destinies of the fatherland.

We must first notice that all officers would not be citizen-officers. There must be a corps of permanent officers or instructors who will have to keep abreast of all the progress in military science. And the Swiss instructors are as able as the officers of any army. The scheme that I have drafted provides for 4,875 of these officers (for France), not including those of the colonial army. As to the officers of the citizen army, they would be better then our officers of the reserve or the territorial army. They would form a homogeneous body whose ability would be quite equal to those of the ordinary officer, for there is a great difference between one officer and another. According to the proposed scheme they would receive many practical and theoretical lessons exclusively confined to their functions in time of war, that is to say they would lose no time, not even a day. Each time they marched it would be as in war, acting, as they would then, with the very men they would have under them in war. Those who were posted to a fortress or to act as covering troops would always act on the very spot they had to defend with the help of the inhabitants. Under these conditions it would be easy for them to learn their business.

And, taken together, these terms of service mount up. In Switzerland, for example, an infantry soldier, from his 20th to his 32nd year, does 119 days, a sergeant 222 days, a lieutenant 440 days. An artillery captain serves till his 38th year in the élite (active army) and does 530 days altogether, that is to say, 11 months of effective and assiduous work. It is not Swiss officers who could be said to pass their time “actively in doing nothing,” as a friendly critic says of our officers in the Temps. If we remember that everyone works, and that everyone (officers included) must belong to a rifle club, it will be seen that such an army can have very efficient officers. But it will be said it will be very difficult to find officers under this system, for in France we should need about 144,000 officers and 150,000 non-commissioned officers, and we could only find them in the aristocracy and the idle classes, and that would not give us a democratic army. It is easy to answer this objection.

First or all, we may say that it would not cost the officers anything, for both officers and men during their period of service would be lodged, clothed, equipped, mounted and fed by the State. The poorest citizen could thus fill the position for which his ability signalled him out. On the other hand, we may well suppose that the position of officer in the army would be sought after. It would be easy to find any number of lieutenants, and for these reasons: First of all the corps of instructors would be formed by competition, the competitors being lieutenants in the citizen army. The promotion would be rapid, and there would be no lack of candidates, as there would be a pension; many young men would be eager to become lieutenants of the citizen army so as to become an officer in the instructor corps. And many Government positions would only be filled by lieutenants of the citizen army. All prefects, judges, engineers, & c, might be taken from this class. Inferior posts might be filled up from non-commissioned officers. And as there is no lack of candidates for Government situations in France, there would be no difficulty in getting officers and non-commissioned officers. And certainly ordinary citizens would be ready to show that they as well as the officials were capable of being officers. As to promotion, though this would require men to study and pass examinations, there would be no difficulty in getting men to undergo the additional labour.

It is a great point in this system that regiments, battalions, and companies are local, and that a man would know that he would have to lead the men of his village, his canton, or his department, and this would lead to a great desire to distinguish oneself. As in Switzerland, the officers would be the intellectual part of the nation, and this would give them more real authority and real power than the present draconian codes, the basis of military discipline, for discipline is really the willingness in accepting a necessary co-operation of effort.

This is only a general view of the question, but it is sufficient, I hope, to show that these questions may be as satisfactorily regulated in a citizen army as in a professional army.

The more one studies the Swiss army the more one agrees with General Brunet – a French officer of deservedly high reputation – who, after assisting at the Swiss manoeuvres of 1896, said: “Alone in Europe Switzerland has solved the problem we have all attempted in vain – to arm all its citizens, and to make of each citizen a soldier, though not one single citizen is taken from his country.” Are not these words, uttered by so competent an officer, a damaging admission of our failure? Alone in Europe! And why then, and owing to what incapacity or to what guilty afterthought, have we not tried to adapt these admirable military institutions to the needs of our national defence?

(Translated by Jacques Bonhomme.)

(To be continued)