Rudolf Kraft September 1905

The East-Asiatic War and the Militia (Citizen Army)

Source: Rudolf Kraft in The Social Democrat, Vol. IX No. 9, September 15, 1905, pp. 545-549;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

One may turn and twist it as one likes, the fact remains – the East-Asiatic war has again proved the superiority of a well-thought out and energetic offensive. It has thoroughly disproved the theory which in the beginning of the Boer war seemed about to be confirmed, namely, that, in the face of the effect of present-day weapons, attacks are as a rule impossible to carry through. Yes, it has proved even more than the hottest advocates of the offensive dared to express. Until the Russian-Japanese war no one thought it would be possible to capture field-fortifications which were only slightly inferior to permanent fortifications and were defended by all the most modern technical devices, in 8 to 14 days, without having a great preponderating force at command.

And yet the losses of the Japanese army were comparatively not large. From the humane point of view, certainly, it is fearful that out of 350,000 men 40,000 should be killed or wounded – but the military man, who, like the financier, only weighs whether he can, through his loss, gain more, cannot consider this number as by any means abnormal. So much the less as the great battles in the East-Asiatic war went on for several days. The German army in the year 1870-71 never had such positions to take as the Japanese had at Liaoyang and Mukden, and the arms were much inferior – the French artillery still used muzzle-loaders, the German infantry (except a few Bavarian battalions armed with Werder-guns) with miserable breech-loaders – and yet the losses often amounted to over 10 and 12 per cent. An extreme example of this is shown by the December battles of the First Bavarian Army Corps, which had between December 1 and 11 1870, eight days of fighting, in which it lost half of its officers and a third of its men! And there were no entrenchments defended by quick-firing guns and magazine rifles, and protected by barbed wire, caltrops, and mines to be stormed! There can, therefore, be no doubt that even now a well-planned and consistently-carried out offensive, is still the best method of fighting. It should be remarked, in parenthesis, that of course a blind rush does not deserve the name of a planned offensive – with the former one always, unless some chance comes to one’s assistance, lays oneself open to a terrible butchery.

Now, it is well-known that the adherents of a citizen army are more or less confessed opponents of the attack. The reason probably is that they think of the Swiss Militia, which, as things are, cannot even think of a strategical offensive, because the Swiss Republic is surrounded on all sides by large military States. If the Swiss army were to overstep her boundaries, before 14 days had passed she would have suffered a Sedan. Such a fate would only be spared her if she could take up the offensive united to a strong ally, and this would be opposed to the neutral character of Switzerland. She is also so favoured by nature that even by the strategical defensive alone she could give an enemy a warm time of it. But even the militia of Switzerland cannot do without the offensive in tactics. She could not even hold a manoeuvre without it, for a sham fight is only possible if at least one side take up the tactical offensive.

In view of the East-Asiatic war and the dislike of the militia adherents for attack, we must raise the question whether a citizen army such as we imagine in the future could not be employed strategically and tactically in the offensive. The opponents of the citizen army argue that an active service of only a few months is not enough to train capable soldiers. Under existing conditions, in the German Empire to-day this is certainly true. For, firstly, a great deal of useless ballast has to be pumped into the German soldier, because we cannot get away from the Frederickian tradition, which certainly was quite right 160 years ago. Secondly, the barracks have to act as a house of correction to produce dependable jingoes, or “hurrah-patriots.” And, thirdly, in the German Empire, to-day, especially in the country, what is supposed to be “State education” might be more correctly called “State neglect” of youth. Its principal object seems to be, not that the children of the rural population should have good instruction, both intellectually and physically, but that the landowners should get cheap labour for the hay-making and harvest, for potato-digging and turnip-pulling. And so the peasant boy generally comes to the army, physically like a sack of flour, and intellectually like a Hottentot!

But Social-Democracy demands, hand-in-hand with the change to the citizen army, also a thorough instruction of the young, both intellectually and physically. If in the elementary and continuation schools a thorough training were given, if the boys learnt gymnastics, and the youths of sixteen learned to shoot, if, therefore, only that remained to be taught during the time of service which is necessary for actual war, it would then be quite sufficient to serve for three months, and afterwards for two or three short periods of practice in order to produce an infantry which would be at least as fit as the present one, even for the offensive.[1]

The great value of good physical training for military purposes can be seen in the cadet institutions. When I came from the Bavarian Cadet-Corps and joined the regiment it was a very hot August. The first day we had drilling from 6 a.m. to 12 midday in the broiling sun. Although I had up till this time never worn a helmet or carried a rifle for more than two hours at a time, except for two or three field-service practices each year, and though the weight of the rolled-up cloak and knap-sack was new to me, the exercising did not tire me in the least. The following week I took part in brigade-drill and manoeuvres without ever feeling really tired, and the same applied to all my companions. It is true, certainly, at that time a truly Spartan training was customary in the Bavarian Cadet-Corps – summer and winter we were up at 5 o’clock and worked eleven hours – but the greatest part of the time was occupied with the scientific instruction. On an average only two hours a day were used for physical exercises.

But the conditions for the ordinary recruits ought to be much more favourable than is the case with the cadets. Most of the future soldiers practise from their thirteenth or fourteenth year a so-called physical vocation, which forces them to corporal exercise, not only for a few but for nine or ten, or, at least, eight hours a day. Their bodies are, therefore, steeled to a much greater extent. If they were to learn gymnastics they could use their strength, not only in the direction their calling or vocation demands, but in any other way they chose, and so learn drilling and skirmishing quite easily, whereas, at present the boy recruit’s strength, which is usually great, is very little use to him when he enters the army, because he has, up till now, only used it in one direction.

The costs of a gymnastic training for youths would surely not be very considerable. In most places there are open-air gymnasiums. Halls in which to practice in winter would be easy to get. And in villages which have no gymnasiums they could be made. Two stretchers, two bars, two jumping-frames with jumping-boards, and a climbing ladder would not cost a fortune. Eventually the State, which often has so much money for raising the salary of Ministers, for decorations, for the restoring of old castles and such like, might bear all or part of the expense out of its own means. Opportunity for gymnastics, therefore, would be very easy to obtain. And it would also be easy to introduce compulsory gymnastics for all healthy boys and youths. Teachers of gymnastics would also not be difficult to find. It is not at all necessary that such a teacher should himself be a first-rate gymnast; the principal thing is that he should understand the nature of gymnastics and the object to be attained. If he does, he will be a good teacher even if he is himself only an indifferent gymnast. It would be best to take these teachers from among the Board School masters.

As to the training of the young men in shooting, this might be begun in their sixteenth year. For two years they should shoot with a rifle which externally (as to sights, breech, action, etc.) should resemble the army weapon, but which should be lighter in weight and have more the character of a miniature rifle. We will call it the preparatory rifle. It would be unnecessary to shoot at a distance of more than 20 or 30 metres,[2] so that the construction of a shooting-range, and for bad weather the arranging of a suitable hall, need, even in a small village, present no difficulty. From the eighteenth year precision-shooting with the real army rifle should begin. For this purpose the many already existing ranges belonging to private rifle clubs could be used, and might eventually be improved by the State. They need not be longer than 200 metres, for a man who can hit for certain at 200 metres obtains good results also at a distance of 500, 1,000, or even 1,600 metres. If the young men were to shoot on an average every two months on such a range and were to practice in the intervals with the preparatory rifle, then they need only receive instruction as recruits in squad-shooting, tactical shooting, and service-shooting. The army would then receive a considerably better material than now, when most soldiers have never fired a shot until they enter the army, and especially the peasant boys who often bring “only thumbs” with them.

The necessary time for gymnastics and shooting would be very easy to spare. In the board schools there could be two gymnastic lessons every week, then employers of labour should be forced to give any of their workmen and employees who were under 20 years of age a free afternoon in each week. On these afternoons one hour could be devoted to gymnastics and two to shooting with the preparatory rifle. The practices with the army rifle would probably in many cases necessitate a short journey to the shooting-range, and therefore in such cases a whole day should be allowed.

For the army, therefore, there would only remain the training in field-service, in tactical shooting, in drilling and fighting, a work which could be very easily accomplished in three months, if useless things did not have to be taught as well. Such an army would consist only of men who from their earliest youth had practised their muscles with gymnastics and so made them perfectly pliable, and who from their sixteenth year had learnt to use a gun. Added to this an improved education would have raised the average intelligence. With such an army it would be quite possible cheerfully to take up the offensive.

The necessary discipline would also not be wanting, for experience shows abundantly that those troops, more especially those who serve for a short time, are the most obedient, whereas a long term of service makes them sulky and unwilling. The most tractable men are the recruits – which is shown by the patience with which many of them bear the cruellest ill-treatment. And the German who fights for his Fatherland will show just as much self-sacrifice as the Japanese. We see in their fight for a better economic and worthier political position in the Empire, what public spirit, what readiness to sacrifice themselves, and what strength of character the German workmen especially possess. Certainly, a reasonable Government should make it its business to see that it does not push reaction to such a point that the people look (as at present in Russia) for its salvation in a lost war!

Rudolf Kraft, in “Die Neue Zeit.”

1. For the technical troops, – i.e., engineers, artillery, etc. – also an equally short time would suffice if their ranks were filled by such workmen and artisans whose professions as civilians made them acquainted with the necessary work of technical troops. For the cavalry, it is true, a longer term of service would be necessary, but six or seven months would surely be enough.

2. One metre about 391/2 inches.