In the absolute form, where everything is the effect of its natural and necessary cause, one thing follows another in rapid succession; there is, if we may use the expression, no neutral space; there ison account of the manifold reactionary effects which war contains in itself,1 on account of the connection in which, strictly speaking, the whole series of combats,2 follow one after another, on account of the culminating point which every victory has, beyond which losses and defeats commence3on account of all these natural relations of war there is, I say, only one result, to wit, the final result. Until it takes place nothing is decided, nothing won, nothing lost. Here we may say indeed: the end crowns the work. In this view, therefore, war is an indivisible whole, the parts of which (the subordinate results) have no value except in their relation to this whole. The conquest of Moscow, and of half Russia in 1812, was of no value to Buonaparte unless it obtained for him the peace which he desired. But it was only a part of his Plan of campaign; to complete that Plan, one part was still wanted, the destruction of the Russian army; if we suppose this, added to the other success, then the peace was as certain as it is possible for things of this kind to be. This second part Buonaparte missed at the right time, and he could never afterwards attain it, and so the whole of the first part was not only useless, but fatal to him.
To this view of the relative connection of results in war, which may be regarded as extreme, stands opposed another extreme, according to which war is composed of single independent results, in which, as in any number of games played, the preceding has no influence on the next following; everything here, therefore, depends only on the sum total of the results, and we can lay up each single one like a counter at play.
Just as the first kind of view derives its truth from the nature of things, so we find that of the second in history. There are cases without number in which a small moderate advantage might have been gained without any very onerous condition being attached to it. The more the element of war is modified the more common these cases become; but as little as the first of the views now imagined was ever completely realised in any war, just as little is there any war in which the last suits in all respects, and the first can be dispensed with.
If we keep to the first of these supposed views, we must perceive the necessity of every war being looked upon as a whole from the very commencement, and that at the very first step forwards, the commander should have in his eye the object to which every line must converge.
If we admit the second view, then subordinate advantages may be pursued on their own account, and the rest left to subsequent events.
As neither of these forms of conception is entirely without result, therefore theory cannot dispense with either. But it makes this difference in the use of them, that it requires the first to be laid as a fundamental idea at the root of everything, and that the latter shall only be used as a modification which is justified by circumstances.
If Frederick the Great in the years 1742, 1744, 1757, and 1758, thrust out from Silesia and Saxony a fresh offensive point into the Austrian Empire, which he knew very well could not lead to a new and durable conquest like that of Silesia and Saxony, it was done not with a view to the overthrow of the Austrian Empire, but from a lesser motive, namely, to gain time and strength; and it was optional with him to pursue that subordinate object without being afraid that he should thereby risk his whole existence.4 But if Prussia in 1806, and Austria in 1805, 1809, proposed to themselves a still more moderate object, that of driving the French over the Rhine, they would not have acted in a reasonable manner if they had not first scanned in their minds the whole series of events which either, in the case of success, or of the reverse, would probably follow the first step, and lead up to peace. This was quite indispensable, as well to enable them to determine with themselves how far victory might be followed up without danger, and how and where they would be in a condition to arrest the course of victory on the enemy's side.
An attentive consideration of history shows wherein the difference of the two cases consists. At the time of the Silesian War in the eighteenth century, war was still a mere Cabinet affair, in which the people only took part as a blind instrument; at the beginning of the nineteenth century the people on each side weighed in the scale. The commanders opposed to Frederick the Great were men who acted on commission, and just on that account men in whom caution was a predominant characteristic; the opponent of the Austrians and Prussians may be described in a few words as the very god of war himself.
Must not these different circumstances give rise to quite different considerations? Should they not in the year 1805, 1806, and 1809 have pointed to the extremity of disaster as a very close possibility, nay, even a very great probability, and should they not at the same time have led to widely different plans and measures from any merely aimed at the conquest of a couple of fortresses or a paltry province?
They did not do so in a degree commensurate with their importance, although both Austria and Prussia, judging by their armaments, felt that storms were brewing in the political atmosphere. They could not do so because those relations at that time were not yet so plainly developed as they have been since from history. It is just those very campaigns of 1805, 1806, 1809, and following ones, which have made it easier for us to form a conception of modern absolute war in its destroying energy.
Theory demands, therefore, that at the commencement of every war its character and main outline shall be defined according to what the political conditions and relations lead us to anticipate as probable. The more, that according to this probability its character approaches the form of absolute war, the more its outline embraces the mass of the belligerent states and draws them into the vortex, so much the more complete will be the relation of events to one another and the whole, but so much the more necessary it will also be not to take the first step without thinking what may be the last.
The situation and relations of the states are not like each other; this may become a second cause.
The strength of will, the character and capabilities of the governments are as little like; this is a third cause.
These three elements cause an uncertainty in the calculation of the amount of resistance to be expected, consequently an uncertainty as to the amount of means to be applied and the object to be chosen.
As in war the want of sufficient exertion may result not only in failure but in positive harm, therefore, the two sides respectively seek to outstrip each other, which produces a reciprocal action.
This might lead to the utmost extremity of exertion, if it was possible to define such a point. But then regard for the amount of the political demands would be lost, the means would lose all relation to the end, and in most cases this aim at an extreme effort would be wrecked by the opposing weight of forces within itself.
In this manner, he who undertakes war is brought back again into a middle course, in which he acts to a certain extent upon the principle of only applying so much force and aiming at such an object in war as are just sufficient for the attainment of its political object. To make this principle practicable he must renounce every absolute necessity of a result, and throw out of the calculation remote contingencies.
Here, therefore, the action of the mind leaves the province of science, strictly speaking, of logic and mathematics, and becomes, in the widest sense of the term, an art, that is, skill in discriminating, by the tact of judgment among an infinite multitude of objects and relations, that which is the most important and decisive. This tact of judgment consists unquestionably more or less in some intuitive comparison of things and relations by which the remote and unimportant are more quickly set aside, and the more immediate and important are sooner discovered than they could be by strictly logical deduction.
In order to ascertain the real scale of the means which we must put forth for war, we must think over the political object both on our own side and on the enemy's side; we must consider the power and position of the enemy's state as well as of our own, the character of his government and of his people, and the capacities of both, and all that again on our own side, and the political connections of other states, and the effect which the war will produce on those States. That the determination of these diverse circumstances and their diverse connections with each other is an immense problem, that it is the true flash of genius which discovers here in a moment what is right, and that it would be quite out of the question to become master of the complexity merely by a methodical study, this it is easy to conceive.
In this sense Buonaparte was quite right when he said that it would be a problem in algebra before which a Newton might stand aghast.
If the diversity and magnitude of the circumstances and the uncertainty as to the right measure augment in a high degree the difficulty of obtaining a right result, we must not overlook the fact that although the incomparable importance of the matter does not increase the complexity and difficulty of the problem, still it very much increases the merit of its solution. In men of an ordinary stamp freedom and activity of mind are depressed not increased by the sense of danger and responsibility: but where these things give wings to strengthen the judgment, there undoubtedly must be unusual greatness of soul.
First of all, therefore, we must admit that the judgment on an approaching war, on the end to which it should be directed, and on the means which are required, can only be formed after a full consideration of the whole of the circumstances in connection with it: with which therefore must also be combined the most individual traits of the moment; next, that this decision, like all in military life, cannot be purely objective but must be determined by the mental and moral qualities of princes, statesmen, and generals, whether they are united in the person of one man or not.
The subject becomes general and more fit to be treated of in the abstract if we look at the general relations in which States have been placed by circumstances at different times. We must allow ourselves here a passing glance at history.
Half-civilised Tartars, the Republics of ancient times, the feudal lords and commercial cities of the Middle Ages, kings of the eighteenth century, and, lastly, princes and people of the nineteenth century, all carry on war in their own way, carry it on differently, with different means, and for a different object.
The Tartars seek new abodes. They march out as a nation with their wives and children, they are, therefore, greater than any other army in point of numbers, and their object is to make the enemy submit or expel him altogether. By these means they would soon overthrow everything before them if a high degree of civilisation could be made compatible with such a condition.
The old Republics with the exception of Rome were of small extent; still smaller their armies, for they excluded the great mass of the populace: they were too numerous and lay too close together not to find an obstacle to great enterprises in the natural equilibrium in which small separate parts always place themselves according to the general law of nature: therefore their wars were confined to devastating the open country and taking some towns in order to ensure to themselves in these a certain degree of influence for the future.
Rome alone forms an exception, but not until the later period of its history. For a long time, by means of small bands, it carried on the usual warfare with its neighbours for booty and alliances. It became great more through the alliances which it formed, and through which neighbouring peoples by degrees became amalgamated with it into one whole, than through actual conquests. It was only after having spread itself in this manner all over Southern Italy, that it began to advance as a really conquering power. Carthage fell, Spain and Gaul were conquered, Greece subdued, and its dominion extended to Egypt and Asia. At this period its military power was immense, without its efforts being in the same proportion. These forces were kept up by its riches; it no longer resembled the ancient republics, nor itself as it had been; it stands alone.
Just as peculiar in their way are the wars of Alexander. With a small army, but distinguished for its intrinsic perfection, he overthrew the decayed fabric of the Asiatic States; without rest, and regardless of risks, he traverses the breadth of Asia, and penetrates into India. No republics could do this. Only a king, in a certain measure his own condottiere, could get through so much so quickly.
The great and small monarchies of the middle ages carried on their wars with feudal armies. Everything was then restricted to a short period of time; whatever could not be done in that time was held to be impracticable. The feudal force itself was raised through an organisation of vassaldom; the bond which held it together was partly legal obligation, partly a voluntary contract; the whole formed a real confederation. The armament and tactics were based on the right of might, on single combat, and therefore little suited to large bodies. In fact, at no period has the union of States been so weak, and the individual citizen so independent. All this influenced the character of the wars at that period in the most distinct manner. They were comparatively rapidly carried out, there was little time spent idly in camps, but the object was generally only punishing, not subduing, the enemy. They carried off his cattle, burnt his towns, and then returned home again.
The great commercial towns and small republics brought forward the condottieri. That was an expensive, and therefore, as far as visible strength, a very limited military force; as for its intensive strength, it was of still less value in that respect; so far from their showing anything like extreme energy or impetuosity in the field, their combats were generally only sham fights. In a word, hatred and enmity no longer roused a state to personal activity, but had become articles of trade; war lost great part of its danger, altered completely its nature, and nothing we can say of the character it then assumed, would be applicable to it in its reality.
The feudal system condensed itself by degrees into a decided territorial supremacy; the ties binding the State together became closer; obligations which concerned the person were made subject of composition; by degrees gold became the substitute in most cases, and the feudal armies were turned into mercenaries. The condottieri formed the connecting link in the change, and were therefore, for a time, the instrument of the more powerful States; but this had not lasted long, when the soldier, hired for a limited term, was turned into a standing mercenary, and the military force of States now became an army, having its base in the public treasury.
It is only natural that the slow advance to this stage caused a diversified interweaving of all three kinds of military force. Under Henry IV. we find the feudal contingents, condottieri, and standing army all employed together. The condottieri carried on their existence up to the period of the Thirty Years' War, indeed there are slight traces of them even in the eighteenth century.
The other relations of the States of Europe at these different periods were quite as peculiar as their military forces. Upon the whole, this part of the world had split up into a mass of petty States, partly republics in a state of internal dissension, partly small monarchies in which the power of the government was very limited and insecure. A State in either of these cases could not be considered as a real unity; it was rather an agglomeration of loosely connected forces. Neither, therefore, could such a State be considered an intelligent being, acting in accordance with simple logical rules.
It is from this point of view we must look at the foreign politics and wars of the Middle Ages. Let us only think of the continual expeditions of the Emperors of Germany into Italy for five centuries, without any substantial conquest of that country resulting from them, or even having been so much as in view. It is easy to look upon this as a fault repeated over and over againas a false view which had its root in the nature of the times, but it is more in accordance with reason to regard it as the consequence of a hundred important causes which we can partially realise in idea, but the vital energy of which it is impossible for us to understand so vividly as those who were brought into actual conflict with them. As long as the great States which have risen out of this chaos required time to consolidate and organise themselves, their whole power and energy is chiefly directed to that point; their foreign wars are few, and those that took place bear the stamp of a State-unity not yet well cemented.
The wars between France and England are the first that appear, and yet at that time France is not to be considered as really a monarchy, but as an agglomeration of dukedoms and countships; England, although bearing more the semblance of a unity, still fought with the feudal organisation, and was hampered by serious domestic troubles.
Under Louis XI., France made its greatest step towards internal unity; under Charles VIII. it appears in Italy as a power bent on conquest; and under Louis XIV. it had brought its political state and its standing army to the highest perfection.
Spain attains to unity under Ferdinand the Catholic; through accidental marriage connections, under Charles V., suddenly arose the great Spanish monarchy, composed of Spain, Burgundy, Germany, and Italy united. What this colossus wanted in unity and internal political cohesion, it made up for by gold, and its standing army came for the first time into collision with the standing army of France. After Charles's abdication, the great Spanish colossus split into two parts, Spain and Austria. The latter, strengthened by the acquisition of Bohemia and Hungary, now appears on the scene as a great power, towing the German Confederation like a small vessel behind her.
The end of the seventeenth century, the time of Louis XIV., is to be regarded as the point in history at which the standing military power, such as it existed in the eighteenth century, reached its zenith. That military force was based on enlistment and money. States had organised themselves into complete unities; and the governments, by commuting the personal obligations of their subjects into a money payment, had concentrated their whole power in their treasuries. Through the rapid strides in social improvements, and a more enlightened system of government, this power had become very great in comparison to what it had been. France appeared in the field with a standing army of a couple of hundred thousand men, and the other powers in proportion.
The other relations of States had likewise altered. Europe was divided into a dozen kingdoms and two republics; it was now conceivable that two of these powers might fight with each other without ten times as many others being mixed up in the quarrel, as would certainly have been the case formerly. The possible combinations in political relations were still manifold, but they could be discerned and determined from time to time according to probability.
Internal relations had almost everywhere settle down into a pure monarchical form; the rights and influence of privileged bodies or estates had gradually died away, and the cabinet had become a complete unity, acting for the State in all its external relations. The time had therefore come that a suitable instrument and a despotic will could give war a form in accordance with the theoretical conception.
And at this epoch appeared three new AlexandersGustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, whose aim was by small but highly-disciplined armies, to raise little States to the rank of great monarchies, and to throw down everything that opposed them. If they had had only to deal with Asiatic States, they would have more closely resembled Alexander in the parts they acted. In any case, we may look upon them as the precursors of Buonaparte as respects that which may be risked in war.
But what war gained on the one side in force and consistency was lost again on the other side.
Armies were supported out of the treasury, which the sovereign regarded partly as his private purse, or at least as a resource belonging to the government, and not to the people. Relations with other states, except with respect to a few commercial subjects, mostly concerned only the interests of the treasury or of the government, not those of the people; at least ideas tended everywhere in that way. The cabinets, therefore, looked upon themselves as the owners and administrators of large estates, which they were continually seeking to increase without the tenants on these estates being particularly interested in this improvement. The people, therefore, who in the Tartar invasions were everything in war, who, in the old republics, and in the Middle Ages, (if we restrict the idea to those possessing the rights of citizens,) were of great consequence, were in the eighteenth century, absolutely nothing directly, having only still an indirect influence on the war through their virtues and faults.
In this manner, in proportion as the government separated itself from the people, and regarded itself as the state, war became more exclusively a business of the government, which it carried on by means of the money in its coffers and the idle vagabonds it could pick up in its own and neighbouring countries. The consequence of this was, that the means which the government could command had tolerably well defined limits, which could be mutually estimated, both as to their extent and duration; this robbed war of its most dangerous feature: namely the effort towards the extreme, and the hidden series of possibilities connected therewith.
The financial means, the contents of the treasury, the state of credit of the enemy, were approximately known as well as the size of his army. Any large increase of these at the outbreak of a war was impossible. Inasmuch as the limits of the enemy's power could thus be judged of, a State felt tolerably secure from complete subjugation, and as the State was conscious at the same time of the limits of its own means, it saw itself restricted to a moderate aim. Protected from an extreme, there was no necessity to venture on an extreme. Necessity no longer giving an impulse in that direction, that impulse could only now be given by courage and ambition. But these found a powerful counterpoise in the political relations. Even kings in command were obliged to use the instrument of war with caution. If the army was dispersed, no new one could be got, and except the army there was nothing. This imposed as a necessity great prudence in all undertakings. It was only when a decided advantage seemed to present itself that they made use of the costly instrument; to bring about such an opportunity was a general's art; but until it was brought about they floated to a certain degree in an absolute vacuum, there was no ground of action, and all forces, that is all designs, seemed to rest. The original motive of the aggressor faded away in prudence and circumspection.
Thus war, in reality, became a regular game, in which Time and Chance shuffled the cards; but in its signification it was only diplomacy somewhat intensified, a more vigorous way of negotiating, in which battles and sieges were substituted for diplomatic notes. To obtain some moderate advantage in order to make use of it in negotiations for peace, was the aim even of the most ambitious.
This restricted, shrivelled-up form of war proceeded, as we have said, from the narrow basis on which it was supported. But that excellent generals and kings, like Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, at the head of armies just as excellent, could not gain more prominence in the general mass of phenomenathat even these men were obliged to be contented to remain at the ordinary level of moderate results, is to be attributed to the balance of power in Europe. Now that States had become greater, and their centres further apart from each other, what had formerly been done through direct perfectly natural interests, proximity, contact, family connections, personal friendship, to prevent any one single State among the number from becoming suddenly great was effected by a higher cultivation of the art of diplomacy. Political interests, attractions and repulsions developed into a very refined system, so that a cannon shot could not be fired in Europe without all the cabinets having some interest in the occurrence.
A new Alexander must therefore try the use of a good pen as well as his good sword; and yet he never went very far with his conquests.
But although Louis XIV. had in view to overthrow the balance of power in Europe, and at the end of the seventeenth century had already got to such a point as to trouble himself little about the general feeling of animosity, he carried on war just as it had heretofore been conducted; for while his army was certainly that of the greatest and richest monarch in Europe, in its nature it was just like others.
Plundering and devastating the enemy's country, which play such an important part with Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily be retaliated, and which did more injury to the enemy's subjects than the enemy's government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the nation back many stages in all that relates to peaceful arts and civilisation. War, therefore, confined itself more and more both as regards means and end, to the army itself. The army with its fortresses, and some prepared positions, constituted a State in a State, within which the element of war slowly consumed itself. All Europe rejoiced at its taking this direction, and held it to be the necessary consequence of the spirit of progress. Although there lay in this an error, inasmuch as the progress of the human mind can never lead to what is absurd, can never make five out of twice two, as we have already said, and must again repeat, still upon the whole this change had a beneficial effect for the people; only it is not to be denied that it had a tendency to make war still more an affair of the State, and to separate it still more from the interests of the people. The plan of a war on the part of the state assuming the offensive in those times consisted generally in the conquest of one or other of the enemy's provinces; the plan of the defender was to prevent this; the particular plan of campaign was to take one or other of the enemy's fortresses, or to prevent one of our own from being taken; it was only when a battle became unavoidable for this purpose that it was sought for and fought. Whoever fought a battle without this unavoidable necessity, from mere innate desire of gaining a victory, was reckoned a general with too much daring. Generally the campaign passed over with one siege, or if it was a very active one, with two sieges, and winter quarters, which were regarded as a necessity, and during which, the faulty arrangements of the one could never be taken advantage of by the other, and in which the mutual relations of the two parties almost entirely ceased, formed a distinct limit to the activity which was considered to belong to one campaign.
If the forces opposed were too much on an equality, or if the aggressor was decidedly the weaker of the two, then neither battle nor siege took place, and the whole of the operations of the campaign pivoted on the maintenance of certain positions and magazines, and the regular exhaustion of particular districts of country.
As long as war was universally conducted in this manner, and the natural limits of its force were so close and obvious, so far from anything absurd being perceived in it, all was considered to be in the most regular order; and criticism, which in the eighteenth century began to turn its attention to the field of art in war, addressed itself to details without troubling itself much about the beginning and the end. Thus there was eminence and perfection of every kind, and even Field Marshal Daun, to whom it was chiefly owing that Frederick the Great completely attained his object, and that Maria Theresa completely failed in hers, notwithstanding that could still pass for a great General. Only now and again a more penetrating judgment made its appearance, that is, sound common sense acknowledged that with superior numbers something positive should be attained or war is badly conducted, whatever art may be displayed.
Thus matters stood when the French Revolution broke out; Austria and Prussia tried their diplomatic art of war; this very soon proved insufficient. Whilst, according to the usual way of seeing things, all hopes were placed on a very limited military force in 1793, such a force as no one had any conception of, made its appearance. War had suddenly become again an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State. Without entering here into the details of circumstances with which this great phenomenon was attended, we shall confine ourselves to the results which interest us at present. By this participation of the people in the war instead of a cabinet and an army, a whole nation with its natural weight came into the scale. Henceforward, the means availablethe efforts which might be called forthhad no longer any definite limits; the energy with which the war itself might be conducted had no longer any counterpoise, and consequently the danger for the adversary had risen to the extreme.
If the whole war of the revolution passed over without all this making itself felt in its full force and becoming quite evident; if the generals of the revolution did not persistently press on to the final extreme, and did not overthrow the monarchies in Europe; if the German armies now and again had the opportunity of resisting with success, and checking for a time the torrent of victory, the cause lay in reality in that technical incompleteness with which the French had to contend, which showed itself first amongst the common soldiers, then in the generals, lastly, at the time of the Directory, in the Government itself.
After all this was perfected by the hand of Buonaparte, this military power, based on the strength of the whole nation, marched over Europe, smashing everything in pieces so surely and certainly, that where it only encountered the old fashioned armies the result was not doubtful for a moment. A re-action, however, awoke in due time. In Spain, the war became of itself an affair of the people. In Austria, in the year 1809, the Government commenced extraordinary efforts, by means of Reserves and Landwehr, which were nearer to the true object, and far surpassed in degree what this State had hitherto conceived possible, In Russia, in 1812, the example of Spain and Austria was taken as a pattern, the enormous dimensions of that empire on the one hand allowed the preparations, although too long deferred, still to produce effect; and, on the other hand, intensified the effect produced. The result was brilliant. In Germany, Prussia rose up the first, made the war a national cause, and without either money or credit, and with a population reduced one half, took the field with an army twice as strong as that of 1806. The rest of Germany followed the example of Prussia sooner or later, and Austria, although less energetic than in 1809, still also came forward with more than its usual strength. Thus it was that Germany and Russia in the years 1813 and 1814, including all who took an active part in, or were absorbed in these two campaigns, appeared against France with about a million of men.
Under these circumstances, the energy thrown into the conduct of the war was quite different; and, although not quite on a level with that of the French, although at some points timidity was still to be observed, the course of the campaigns, upon the whole, may be said to have been in the new, not in the old, style. In eight months the theatre of war was removed from the Oder to the Seine. Proud Paris had to bow its head for the first time; and the redoubtable Buonaparte lay fettered on the ground.
Therefore, since the time of Buonaparte, war, through being first on one side, then again on the other, an affair of the whole nation, has assumed quite a new nature, or rather it has approached much nearer to its real nature, to its absolute perfection. The means then called forth had no visible limit, the limit losing itself in the energy and enthusiasm of the Government and its subjects. By the extent of the means, and the wide field of possible results, as well as by the powerful excitement of feeling which prevailed, energy in the conduct of war was immensely increased; the object of its action was the downfall of the foe; and not until the enemy lay powerless on the ground was it supposed to be possible to stop or to come to any understanding with respect to the mutual objects of the contest.
Thus, therefore, the element of war, freed from all conventional restrictions, broke loose, with all its natural force. The cause was the participation of the people in this great affair of State, and this participation arose partly from the effects of the French Revolution on the internal affairs of countries, partly from the threatening attitude of the French towards all nations.
Now, whether this will be the case always in future, whether all wars hereafter in Europe will be carried on with the whole power of the States, and, consequently, will only take place on account of great interests closely affecting the people, or whether a separation of the interests of the Government from those of the people will gradually again arise, would be a difficult point to settle; and, least of all, shall we take upon us to settle it. But every one will agree with us, that bounds, which to a certain extent existed only in an unconsciousness of what is possible, when once thrown down, are not easily built up again; and that, at least, whenever great interests are in dispute, mutual hostility will discharge itself in the same manner as it has done in our times.
We here bring our historical survey to a close, for it was not our design to give at a gallop some of the principles on which war has been carried on in each age, but only to show how each period has had its own peculiar forms of war, its own restrictive conditions, and its own prejudices. Each period would, therefore, also keep its own theory of war, even if every where, in early times, as well as in later, the task had been undertaken of working out a theory on philosophical principles. The events in each age must, therefore, be judged of in connection with the peculiarities of the time, and only he who, less through an anxious study of minute details than through an accurate glance at the whole, can transfer himself into each particular age, is fit to understand and appreciate its generals.
But this conduct of war, conditioned by the peculiar relations of States, and of the military force employed, must still always contain in itself something more general, or rather something quite general, with which, above everything, theory is concerned.
The latest period of past time, in which war reached its absolute strength, contains most of what is of general application and necessary. But it is just as improbable that wars henceforth will all have this grand character as that the wide barriers which have been opened to them will ever be completely closed again. Therefore, by a theory which only dwells upon this absolute war, all cases in which external influences alter the nature of war would be excluded or condemned as false. This cannot be the object of theory, which ought to be the science of war, not under ideal but under real circumstances. Theory, therefore, whilst casting a searching, discriminating and classifying glance at objects, should always have in view the manifold diversity of causes from which war may proceed, and should, therefore, so trace out its great features as to leave room for what is required by the exigencies of time and the moment.
Accordingly, we must add that the object which every one who undertakes war proposes to himself, and the means which he calls forth, are determined entirely according to the particular details of his position; and on that very account they will also bear in themselves the character of the time and of the general relations; lastly, that they are always subject to the general conclusions to be deduced from the nature of war.
1Book I., Chapter I.
2Book I., Chapter I.
3Book VII., Chapters IV. and V. (Culminating Point of Victory).
Frederick the Great gained the Battle of Kollen, and taken prisoners the
chief Austrian army with their two field marshals in Prague, it would have
been such a tremendous blow that he might then have entertained the idea
of marching to Vienna to make the Austrian Court tremble, and gain a peace
directly. This, in these times, unparalleled result, which would have been
quite like what we have seen in our day, only still more wonderful and
brilliant from the contest being between a little David and a great Goliath,
might very probably have taken place after the gain of this one battle;
but that does not contradict the assertion above maintained, for it only
refers to what the king originally looked forward to from his offensive.
The surrounding and taking prisoners the enemy's army was an event which
was beyond all calculation, and which the king never thought of, at least
not until the Austrians laid themselves open to it by the unskilful position
in which they placed themselves at Prague.