VOLTAIRE'S BASTARDS -- THE DICTATORSHIP OF REASON IN THE WEST
8. Learning How to Organize Death
Nothing particularly new has been said about war since 500 B.C., when Sun Tzu wrote his little book of military instruction. This wasn't read by Westerners until it was translated into French in the second half of the eighteenth century. Immediately his approach began to have an influence on the new, rationalist French thinking about war.
Sun Tzu's genius was such that it still reduces even Bonaparte to nothing more than a general -- a man, that is, who can solve problems only by lighting. For Sun Tzu "Those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle. They capture his cities without assaulting them and overthrow his state without protracted operations. Your aim must be to take the opponent's country intact. This is the art of offensive strategy."  Clearly he was not talking about offensive strategy as later interpreted by our World War I commanders or, for that matter, by the men who conceived the 1991 Iraq campaign, which began with sixty days of intensive, general bombing and ended with the oil infrastructure aflame and racial disorder.
When Sun Tzu's words are fully digested, it becomes less surprising that numbers alone confer no advantage if an army is properly led." We have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited." The modern general, indeed the modern Hero, has been unable to swallow that part of the lesson. The greater their genius, the greater their victories, the more they go on lighting. One of Sun Tzu's early disciples wrote: "War is like fire; those who will not put aside weapons are consumed by them." His practical strategy is as fresh today as when he first laid it out in the courts of China. "What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy. The next best is to disrupt his alliances. The next to attack his army. The worst policy is to attack cities." This brings to mind Mao's early strategy. More important still, it reminds us of the German and Allied strategic bombing of cities, which had no effect. It was used again disastrously in Vietnam and is still the centerpiece of nuclear strategy. Sometimes Sun Tzu's phrases reappear almost word for word in the theories of Liddell Hart and Mao, so that when his ideas are heard for the first time they are immediately familiar, "An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weaknesses." "March by an indirect route and divert the enemy by enticing him with a bait." "Speed is the essence of war." 
His constant underlying message is that generalship has nothing to do with fixed rules and fixed lines. Rather it is based upon a few truths which, when applied by a competent leader, break down into a myriad of actions." The primary colours are only five in number but their melodies are so numerous that one cannot hear them all." 
Given the ponderous bloodbaths of our century and the last half century of leaden nuclear and conventional strategies, one is tempted to dismiss Sun Tzu as an idealist. But the attentive observer discovers the echo -- conscious or unconscious -- of Sun Tzu in the actions and words of every great modern commander. Napoleon constantly harked back to those secrets of the art "which served me instead of the 100,000 men of which I was short. It is the man, not men, that counts." That quality enabled him to tie much larger armies in knots. "I was too weak to defend, so I attacked."  Liddell Hart, perhaps the greatest strategist of this century, found himself restating Sun Tzu's principles: "For the profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battles is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men."  He continually ridiculed the "official Clausewitz." To state "that war is a continuation of policy by other means has become a catch-phrase and is, therefore dangerous. We can say with equal truth, war is the bankruptcy of policy."  And Charles de Gaulle, in his first great military essay, Le Fil de l'epee, wrote: "In war, apart from a few basic principles, there is no universal system, only circumstance and personalities." 
At the heart of Sun Tzu's theory were mental flexibility, physical mobility, speed and the minimalization of violence and destruction. The commander's complete yet unpredictable vision was an essential element. Success was defined as the resolution of the problem. A simplification permits the division of all subsequent generals into two categories. There are the descendants of Sun Tzu, who could be described as the competent. All the rest can be lumped into the other category -- the mediocre, the incompetent, the bureaucratic, the stolid, the victims of circumstance and those who cause unnecessary deaths in their own or the other camp.
The first three Western generals to discover modern, mobile warfare demonstrated their superiority so absolutely that they set the pattern for all the creative commanders who followed. The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene understood little of organization. They were pure soldiers, who rendered the established rules of Western warfare irrelevant by ignoring formal linear tactics. Instead they raced about Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century in an ungentlemanlike manner, dragging their armies with them and surprising the forces of Louis XIV, who imagined them far away. Frederick the Great later made the same use of speed. But he also inherited one of the first bureaucratic states, on whose foundation he created a professional army devoid of amateurs and mercenaries. Despite his peculiar pseudophilosophical relationship with Voltaire, he was as absolute a monarch as could be and he used his bureaucracy to reinforce that power. He was the first model for the technocratic-based dictator of the twentieth century, while Marlborough and Prince Eugene were the models for the wild card, which in this century turned up soldiers like the American George Patton and the German Heinz Guderian, who led the tank charge through France in May 1940.
In the wake of these three men came the flood of reason. The desire of those who seized it for military purposes was admirable. They were disgusted by having to fight in unprofessional armies under the orders of unqualified aristocrats, who as often as not might be incontinent dukes or ignorant children. These apostles of reason had themselves been forced to struggle as young officers out on the battlefield, where they were literally crippled by the cumbersome official strategies and tactics of their time, while Frederick humiliated and decimated them. Rather than blunder on or sink into depression, they sensed that there was a better way. And that way was dependent upon the exploitation of man's reason.
The Marquis de Bourcet began the process by creating a staff college -- the first in the world -- in Grenoble, and by writing his Principles of Mountain Warfare in 1764. That administrative school was far more than the first staff college. It was the first modern administrative school bf any sort. That is to say, the military began training technocrats almost a century before government administrators started down the same road and 150 years before the first business school appeared. As for Bourcet's Principles of Mountain Warfare, it was to have a great influence on Bonaparte, inspiring his most brilliant campaign -- the Italian.
In rapid succession after Bourcet came three French generals -- Saint-Germain, Gribeauval and Guibert. The Comte de Saint-Germain was a radical defence minister. He was in and out of power several times as he struggled against court intrigues and the opposition of the military establishment. Although an aristocrat himself, his aim was to change the French army from one based upon class to one led by a professional officer corps. Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval was the first general to help Saint-Germain make this change possible. His creation of a modern artillery laid the foundation for Napoleon's artillery, the single element Bonaparte is often credited with creating himself. In reality he merely exploited with brilliance an inherited machine. And behind Gribeauval came the Comte de Guibert, who linked the idea of professionalism solidly to reason and to strategy. He published his General Essay on Tactics in 1773, and it immediately had an enormous impact. The purpose of his book was to show how mobile warfare could be fought. Twice he was called to serve beside Saint-Germain at the ministry. During these terms he laid the entire framework for the modern army which the revolutionaries and Bonaparte would exploit. During both he was under constant attack.
His first appointment lasted two years, by which time the fury of the military establishment was so great that he was sent off for ten years to do regimental duty. He used that decade of exile to think and to write. His ambition was to link his idea of good soldiering with that of moral service and he demonstrated that link in his "Eulogy to Chancellor Michel de l'Hospital." Hospital had been a beacon of honesty and service in the sixteenth century, when, as head of government, he had attempted to prevent the religious wars that were to dog France for two centuries. Guibert's eulogy to Hospital was, of course, a way of attacking the court of Louis XVI, The attack wasn't particularly subtle and its success was so immediate and so great that Guibert was made a member of the Academie Francaise.
This was the only period in the academy's history when it served change rather than established power. The ceremony which welcomed Guibert in was the most spectacular in living memory and somehow became a manifestation for the power which enlightened circles were beginning to feel in 1786. Overnight Guibert had become the star of Paris intellectual life and thanks to this impetus was called back into the ministry a year later. Again the courtiers blocked much of what he attempted to do.
His linking of both military professionalism and strategy with reason and morality created a great dilemma -- one which is still with us. But, then, why should changes come onto the scene pure and unfettered? In fact there is a remarkable if curious unity to the events which first brought mobile warfare into modern Western history and then gave birth to two types of strategy. One was aimed at generals trying to manipulate large armies. The other was the negation of formal warfare and is now known as guerrilla warfare. Both of these strategies arose largely out of the struggle to defend and to destroy Pascal Paoli's republic in Corsica.
Corsican by birth, Bonaparte had been brought up in the shadow of men who had used guerrilla tactics to fight European armies. His Own father had been one of Paoli's chief officers and had fought for the first Corsican republic right up to its destruction at Ponte Nuovo. Paoli's army had used the macchia, the island's rough, impenetrable hills, as their principal weapon, the way others would later use the jungle, This strategy was so surprising to the French army that they corrupted macchia into maquis as a generic term describing guerrilla warfare. However, the only French officer to draw any practical conclusions from the constant mauling of their large, classical force by the small and usually invisible Corsican army was the Comte de Guibert. His role as a young officer in the expedition had been to command a band of Corsican irregulars who fought for the French against Paoli's republic. In the battle of Ponte Nuovo Guibert commanded the troops that captured the bridge, thus deciding the fate of the island. In writing his General Essay on Tactics he was greatly influenced by this war, which, although won by the Europeans, was won only because the Corsicans had grown more confident with each battle they won and finally had given in to the false pride of trying to fight like Europeans. At Ponte Nuovo they had come down out of the maquis and exposed themselves to formal battle in the restrained conditions of static warfare.
Born a few months after Ponte Nuovo, Bonaparte was sent as a teenager to the mainland to become a French officer and was thus exposed to Guibert's new methods. He rediscovered in them the flexibilities and indirectness of his heritage; but the simple Corsican use of mobility had now been absorbed and reformed by a European professional. The endless movement which was to give Bonaparte his control of Europe was in fact Corsican guerrilla tactics, transformed and expanded by Guibert into a strategy fit for large armies and then applied by Bonaparte, a man who had since childhood breathed the tactics of absolute mobility. It was a natural marriage.
This unity of source went beyond Bonaparte and the French. During the second Paoli government, which declined into an unhappy dependence upon the English, there was one bright spot. London sent a young colonel called John Moore to train the Corsicans in formal warfare. Like Paoli, he fell foul of the intrigues and ambitions of Elliot, George III's technocratic representative. He was expelled from Corsica by Elliot in the same month as Paoli. But in the short period of his command, his ideas were overwhelmed and reformed by what he discovered on the spot. Having come to teach, Moore took away with him new ideas. It was he who began the reform of British fighting methods. He created the Light Brigade, whose flexibility laid the groundwork for the Peninsular Campaign. After Moore's death in 1809 at Corunna, his methods were taken up by the man who replaced him -- Arthur Wellesley, who was to become the Duke of Wellington. What Wellington added to Moore's tactics and strategy were his own experiences of mobile warfare in colonial India. Thus the gradual evolution of the European war towards a reckoning between Bonaparte and Wellesley was in a way a reckoning between two blown-up and somewhat formalized interpretations of Corsican maquis warfare.
The interesting point is that, again and again, the advances of mobile warfare in Europe have been made possible by the infusion of foreign experiences through a small and marginal section of the various officer corps. The suffocating weight of first the courtiers, then the staff officers, has been such that without foreign air no creative methods have been possible. The military history of the last hundred years is filled with foreign infusions. Each time the weight of military bureaucracy has succeeded in neutralizing these changes.
The fate of Guibert's reforms is the primary example. He had used reason to organize a modern army capable of mobile strategy. He was trying to remove incompetence and mediocrity by introducing a structure which promoted only the real soldiers. But the lesson drawn by civil authorities thirty years later, after the Napoleonic adventure, was that the combination of professionalism with genius created dangerous men. Genius suddenly appeared to be the enemy of stability, even though the central justification for creating an army based upon the principles of reason was precisely to harness that genius in the service of the nation. Abruptly the authorities inverted the purpose of professionalism and used it as a structure designed to eliminate genius. That is, they removed professionalism's very reason for existence -- the creation of soldiers who can win -- and reduced it to a talent for bureaucratic organization.
This was perhaps the inevitable result of the rational idea developed by Machiavelli and Richelieu. They had seen the development of professional armies as a way to create apolitical officers. History until then had been filled with political soldiers who used every personal success as an excuse to challenge established authority. But Guibert and Saint- Germain came along at the end of almost a century of military obedience. Earlier, in his General Essay on Tactics, Guibert had written:
The effect of rational reform was not to eliminate this problem, but to expand it, so that Guibert's attack on the ancien regime came to apply with even greater ease to the authorities responsible for the Crimean War, the First World War, the Second, the Indochinese, the Vietnamese and almost any other. And it applies today to the command of our Western armies.
Reason, unable to cope with genius, had wed itself to mediocrity. Guibert and the other creators of the modern army all imagined a professional staff which would make the successful undertaking of war technically and materially possible, thus freeing a separate level of professional commanders to fight the war. Instead the various national staffs began leapfrogging, one over the other, to ever greater size and power. This began after Napoleon's defeat of Prussia. The Prussians attributed much of his superiority to his Gribeauval-Saint-Germain-Guibert organization. They set about catching up, and this led to the German General Staff, whose moments of glory were 1870 and 1914. Not only defeated but humiliated in 1870, the French propelled themselves further into reliance On a military bureaucracy. Shortly before World War 1 they managed to produce a staff- command tandem not all that different from the German model. It was Foch's period as commander of the Ecole de Guerre Superieure which fixed in place this link between staff and command. As for England, even the Crimean disaster wasn't enough to provoke a real desire for change. In the 1860s half the officers' commissions were still being purchased. And as late as 1898, Kitchener's defeat of the Mahdist forces in the Sudan seemed to confirm that everything was still all right.
The Sudanese campaign appeared at the time to be a victory of Western know-how and technology over fearless Muslims, Moreover, Kitchener had the aura and dash of a modern Hero. He was solitary, somehow mysterious and devout. His manner was that of a great commander, In reality he was devoid of strategical and practical battlefield skills. He was an engineer and spent two years pedantically building a defended railway towards the Mahdist capital at Khartoum. When he finally got there, the deciding Battle of Omdurman was, as a leading war correspondent said." not a battle but an execution." Thanks to machine guns and dum-dum bullets (which explode on impact, thus converting marginal wounds into fatal hits), the Anglo-Egyptian force was able to kill 10,800 while losing only 48 men, This apparently brilliant victory obscured the slow and heavy-handed methods of the winner. to say nothing of the inferiority of the enemy army. The power of well-led guerrilla forces and the neutralizing effects of an equally large and pedantic force on the other side therefore both came as surprises over the next fifteen years.
The first shock came almost immediately, in South Africa, where the virtually criminal amateurism of the British provoked. a movement towards reform. Their campaign was similar to that of the Americans in Vietnam, except that in the end the British didn't lose. Although massively outnumbering the Boers and equipped with the latest weaponry, they didn't know how to read maps, often didn't even have maps, didn't understand the nature of time or movement or circumstance; in fact, didn't understand anything except a line charge. What was needed, apparently, was thorough staff training. Whatever the American problem may have been in Vietnam, it wasn't lack of staff training. It was probably the opposite. The interesting point is that the incapacity of the two armies to operate against the enemy was identical. In any case, the effect of the Boer experience was to launch the British into a ten-year frenzy of staff training. And only a fool would deny that they were in desperate need of administrative training relating to movement and supplies, to say nothing of the development of shared means of communication and integrated methods of action.
But had the British looked a little closer at their difficulties in South Africa, they would have seen that their real problem had been not amateurism -- although that had been a serious handicap -- but a misunderstanding about the nature of battle. As the French General Gambiez wrote seventy years later: "The Boers, not having read Clausewitz, tried all the indirect methods."  That is to say, they used flexibility and common sense. They were eventually beaten by Kitchener, who again applied slow, heavy-handed methods which included concentration camps and a scorched earth policy. The English military, however, became fixated not on their strategic defeats but on the details of their amateurism. They decided to concentrate on organizing the efficient application of their classical and awkward strategies. Had they looked closer still at the evolution of the German and French staffs, they would have discovered clear signs that that kind of reform led not to greater professionalism but to a dangerous form of bureaucratic logic.
These trained British officers, led by the General Staff, were, in Liddell Hart's words, intended to provide "a collective substitute for genius, which no army can count on producing at need."  The positive side of such integrated and formal training was that it created a shared methodology and a shared vocabulary. Communications were facilitated. Mutual understanding was assured. To take one of the most hackneyed examples of the old versus the new, the charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War down the wrong valley as the result of a misunderstood instruction was unlikely to be repeated. Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff during World War I, said afterwards that thanks to their shared methods of administration, he had been able to telegraph to commanders everywhere without fear of misunderstanding. 
But given the mediocrity of the command, as enforced by the staff system, these shared methods and this shared vocabulary had the effect of 'reinforcing their constant errors. Staff administration provides a collective means of action and eliminates either singular or collective questioning.
Robertson also said, with great satisfaction, that common methodology kept them from panicking in difficult moments. The control of emotions and the prevention of panic is always presented by technocrats as a sign of their professionalism. To this day one of the first ploys used by professionals, when caught in public debate with nonprofessionals, is to suggest that the amateurs have panicked and that it is ignorance which leads to panic.
But a reexamination of the argument of professional cool over amateur panic, which was first used to great effect during World War I, leads one to question its value. Wouldn't it have been better for the staffs, of the various armies to have panicked, instead of duly carrying on their mutual and pointless murder of the men under their command? Is not the inability to panic a sign of stupidity or of some serious character flaw?
The ability not to panic has been turned into one of the great virtues of the last hundred years. Not only military, but all sectors of leadership are judged on this ability. Everywhere we hear businessmen, bankers, bureaucrats, politicians and generals calming us with expert tones; indicating that we may relax and follow their expert lead. The rational method has become the cool approach of the insider.
What is this air of superiority based upon? Where are the examples to prove that cool knowledge advances the cause of civilization? In reality the ability to panic has always been one of the great strengths of those in positions of command.
To panic doesn't necessarily mean to turn and run. Intelligence and a sense of dignity usually allow the maintenance of external composure. Self-doubt combined with dignity is central to competent leadership. A man or an organization, even a society, capable of profound, internal panic is able to recognize when he or it is on the wrong track and perhaps to identify the error by giving in to the need for complete reevaluation. Out of that reevaluation may come the right track.
The man of reason, as we currently understand him, is incapable of this panic. He carries about within himself such expertise and structure that he has absolute assurance. Thanks to his intellectual tools, he can always prove, even when surrounded by self-generated disaster, that he is right. If on the field of battle -- military or civil -- things do not work out, then the circumstances are at fault. The commander of reason is equipped with sufficient self-confidence to persist no matter how wrong he is. Sooner or later -- he can prove it -- reality will see the light.
The ability to respond to circumstances -- Sun Tzu's key to strategy -- is only possible, of course, if the leader is able to scramble his preconceptions. The internal strength required to let oneself panic lies at the heart of that ability. Not only has twentieth-century military training ignored that strength. It has concentrated actively on stamping out any signs of such individual intelligence in the professional officer.
Like a Neanderthal emerging from his cave into the light of day, the staff officer walked into the twentieth century bearing the club of death. its handle carved from reason. This handle enabled him to manipulate predigested arguments with self-serving vocabulary. and so to emerge from the war of 1914-18 with his reputation virtually unscathed. The protective mythology he created pinned blame for the war's disasters on an imaginary race of old-fashioned. conservative generals. In reality World War I had been conceived and, at the senior level, waged by the new men on every front except perhaps the Russian. It was the first battlefield encounter of the competing, fully developed modern staffs.
The most professional among them was the German. Senior command and administrative functions had been rolled together in Berlin and maintained in a perfectly abstract separation from the fighting officers. This extreme abstraction actually gave them an initial advantage. It meant they had a complete concept -- the Schlieffen Plan, named after Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen. Chief of the General Staff from 1891 to 1906. The Plan had been waiting, perfect in every detail. for almost a decade before it was used. In other words. the German General Staff was, if anything, overprepared. When they threw their idea into motion. it rolled forward with great velocity as far as its logic could carry it. But when that perfect logic ran up against reality on the banks of the Marne, the whole machine stopped dead. The members of the General Staff had been guilty of the most basic military error. They had tried to change circumstance to meet their strategies. rather than the opposite.
The French army had the advantage of being marginally less organized than the German, as well as being filled with colonial officers who undermined the Paris staff approach. This meant there was just enough room for individual initiative to allow one colonial maquis fighter (General Joseph Gallieni, Governor of Paris, who had made his name during the conquest of Indochina and then annexed Madagascar thanks to a particularly original campaign) to push another (Joseph Joffre, who, although of mediocre talent, was an expert in movements) into doing something that was in neither the staff manuals nor the staff mentality. Gallieni and Joffre stopped the Germans by acting irrationally. You could even say they succeeded by panicking. Had the French army already been in the hands of Foch and his friends, the disorderly but brilliant manoeuvre now known as the Taxis of the Marne, would have been impossible. And the war would probably have been lost.
Although the British had begun to take staff training seriously long after the French, they caught up so quickly during World War I that all originality was virtually eliminated. In fact, the British staff were well served in the early part of the war by having a commander in chief -- Kitchener -- who had no staff training. The full contradiction between his Heroic, inspiring exterior and the reality of his plodding methods finally came to a head. While he managed. to remain popular with the population at home, those in the know were filled with despair. As a result the two rising staff officers, Douglas Haig and William Robertson, would later be able to defend their own incompetence by recalling how things had been when Kitchener was in charge.
The war was hardly a year old before it became clear that the only sectors in which there was room for some originality were those distant from the European capitals. Like technocrats of all sorts, Staff generals don't like to travel far from the centres of power. Absence is one of the, few effective weapons which can be used against them. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the only interesting campaign of World War I took place in the Middle East, under General Edmund Allenby. Or that the most interesting campaign of World War II also took place on the same ground under General Claude Auchinleck and General Archibald Wavell; or, indeed, even farther away under General Slim in the Far East. In Europe, however, the full weight of staff solidarity during World War I ensured almost five years of slow, methodical battlefield encounters danced to the music of butchery.
The degree to which Kitchener was used as a scapegoat by the new men can be seen in the command statistics. When the war broke out in 1914, forty of the forty-five senior command positions in the British Expeditionary Force were occupied by Staff College graduates. Fourteen of those forty had actually been professors at the college. And four of the key figures -- including Haig and Robertson -- had commanded the college. From the firing of the first guns in August 1914, the strategic and administrative leadership was in the hands of men who were the very flower of modernity.
The philosophy of their school can best be understood by comparing two of its star graduates. Haig and Allenby both went as students to the Staff College in 1896. Both ended their careers as peers of the realm and as field marshals. But it was Haig who had had great power, having commanded in Europe, where he was ultimately second only to Foch and largely responsible for successive disastrous campaigns. Allenby, on the other hand, had won his Middle Eastern war quite handily. The staff dealt with this by presenting his campaigns as extraneous rather than essential.
Haig had all the characteristics of the worst staff officer. Allenby had many of the best. If the system had really worked reasonably and dispassionately, rewarding the best and weeding out the worst, their careers would have been inverted. In fact, had the system worked at all, Haig would never have been promoted beyond colonel.
Allenby (nicknamed "Bull") was strong-willed, but also outgoing and warm. He was thus able to deal with other officers and to inspire his men. Haig was shy, unable to make an impact on others and eager to keep apart. Only by aloofness or secrecy could he disguise his weaknesses and succeed via paperwork and manipulation. Even when finally named to command the British forces in Europe, he rarely left his headquarters. Allenby was widely read, a student of ornithology, passionate about music. His perception was great, and his interests. stretched far beyond warfare. Haig had a one-track mind, "like a telescope, "  fixed on soldiering. He had no other interests. The result was that Allenby generaled with a certain humanity and with the common sense that comes of recognizing the world in which violent events are taking place. Haig, on the other hand, was a narrow general, absorbed by technique and not so much indifferent to the human element of soldiering as unaware of it. He worked long hours, but in spite of this effort and application, he was slow on the uptake and showed neither imagination nor understanding. In their place he had contacts. He worked very hard at getting to know people who could help his career, including the Prince of Wales. Haig was, in fact, the perfect early model of the technocrat.
Allenby, on the other hand, was the sort of man a technocrat distrusts. For example, although both men were strong-willed, Allenby was open to the opinions of others. Haig had his mind closed up within his own misplaced self-confidence. And while it would be foolish to say that Allenby was not ambitious, Haig was literally consumed by ambition.
This pattern of conflict, between successful staff officers and competent leaders, has continued to repeat itself as the century unfolds. The originality of the young Wavell was criticized in the years just before World War I by his Staff College commandant, William Robertson. And General J. F. C. Fuller, one of the fathers of the revolutionary tank strategy, had to try twice before getting into the Staff College. Once in, he was convinced that he would not graduate. Only the outbreak of World War I saved him from this humiliation. The commandant of the college at that point was Launcelot Kiggel, the man who later became Haig's chief of staff. More precisely, Kiggel was the man who first visited the Passchendaele swamp after having sent 250,000 of his own men to their death in it. The shock of actually seeing what had seemed so rational on a map at headquarters was too much for him. He broke into tears and cried: "God, God, did we really send men into that?"
Much of World War I was fought under the banner of Foch's offensive strategy. He was certainly more intelligent than Haig and was not a technocrat of the secretive sort. Foch even had a sort of charisma which came from an inflexible, undentable optimism. Describing in 1921 how he had commanded the Allies, Foch said: "The war demonstrated that in order to win we needed to have a goal, a plan and a method." He then stopped himself, went back, and rephrased the sentence: "The war demonstrated the need for the command to have a goal, a plan and a method."  In other words he specifically and consciously removed the sole element which mattered -- fighting to win -- and replaced it with concern over the power of the senior officer. In his mind war was not about victory but about administration. His three tools of command were bureaucratic and inflexible. He made a great deal of the need for a commander to have tenacity, but in his context it merely became a reinforcement for rigidity. All this is the exact opposite of the principles laid down by the great strategists from Sun Tzu to de Gaulle.
Foch was in many ways the father of the modern French staff college, He first went there as a professor in 1895. From 1908 to 1911 he commanded the school and set the general intellectual pattern for what would follow in the trenches." A battle won," he said, "is a battle in which one does not admit one is beaten." "You must act, because only that will give results." His strategy of "attack, always attack" was a replacement for thinking. Foch had been educated by Jesuits and was a strong admirer of their methods. His devotion to the idea that war could be run from headquarters wasn't unlike that of Loyola, who, once elected superior general, stayed in Rome until his death sixteen years later.
That World War I was a strategic disaster is now commonly accepted. Blame, however, has not been clearly assigned. It was the staff who made all decisions. These were arrived at abstractly, on paper, and were communicated in writing to the field commanders. Field officers, who dared to warn headquarters that these orders would result in disaster, were religiously ignored. Headquarters felt it more important to preserve what they saw as the essential chain of command -- the common language, common method, common panic- suppressing chain of command. If, however, the results of a battle proved that the field officer's warnings had been right, then that officer -- providing he had survived the carnage -- was usually fired.
General Ferry, French field commander in 1915, heard rumours of an impending gas attack -- the first of the war -- and warned his superiors, as well as the British and Canadians on his flanks. His headquarters was furious. They instructed him not to deal directly with the Allies, but to limit himself to the proper reporting procedure. They also said he was a fool to believe, let alone report, such rumours. After the gas attack he was fired.
Shortly before the Germans attacked Verdun, beginning the bloodiest battle of the war, rumours reached the Minister of War that the local defence system was defective. These rumours had come from officers who had been unable to get the attention of their commander, Joffre. Thanks to an enquiry from the Minister, the defects now had his attention. Joffre chose to ignore them. Instead, he demanded that the Minister reveal the source of the rumours. The officers responsible had, after all, disregarded hierarchy. The Minister provided their names. They were duly fired. The Germans attacked. The defence crumbled.
Meanwhile, the various staffs on all sides worked long hours, sending reports, computing statistics, developing plans for unseen battlefields and sending off orders for these carefully organized battles. Twenty-one million men were mobilized in 1914. By 1918, 68 million had been mobilized. All along the staff claimed that this was not enough. They destroyed ministers and governments by manipulating information to make it seem that there were never enough men. And yet 68 million men in uniform represented a triumph of organization. The world had never seen anything like it. In truth, the generals did not have enough live bodies to play the various roles in their battlefield scenarios. They could have used more; but then that is a characteristic of modern organization. It is absolute in its statements of need and infinite in its ability to expand. The generals of World War I never had enough men in exactly the same way that today's generals never have enough equipment.
Not only did the generals have no sense of movement, they had no understanding of why they fought the battles. Before Foch's Somme campaign, General Fayolle wrote: "The battle he is dreaming of has no point. Not even to break through."  One million two hundred and fifty thousand men died on both sides in that single campaign. Six and a half million shells were fired by the French alone.
The only way to understand such insane events is to understand the minds of the commanders. They genuinely believed that they were on the side of right and that right took the form of a structure. Their devotion to methodology made them crusaders in a great battle for the advancement of man. A disinterested outsider might have pointed out that they seemed to be lacking the one essential talent for a general -- the ability to win. Only their sense of structure had got them where they were.
When war struck, these uniformed technocrats had been obliged to command. In the absence of what Sun Tzu called strategical sense, they avoided absolute disaster by simply throwing live bodies at the enemy. This wasn't the reaction of panicked men. They were perfectly serene in their belief that this was the right thing to do. They had prepared themselves for this approach well before 1914. As early as 1909, Haig had talked of a long war in which the enemy would gradually be worn down. Robertson, as commandant of the Staff College, discouraged original thinking, which he believed had "no connection with the rough and bloody work of masses of men trying to kill each other."  Only Foch had thought and written about strategy, yet he also believed in throwing unlimited herds of men at the enemy.
The sheer volume of pointless carnage during World War I drew an angry but confused response from normal people. So important and Widespread a division between reality and appearance -- between winning wars and commanding armies -- had not been seen in Western society since the last decades of the divine-right monarchies. Even then the division had been far less shocking, far less complete. For a real comparison. one has to go back to the worst days of Church corruption before the Reformation. Then a vocabulary of devotion and purity was used to sponsor a world of disbelief, physical pleasure and profit making. Once the Reformation began, the same vocabulary was used to justify an unending series of massacres on both sides.
Our contemporary division had been out in the open only since 1914. But the rational form has so deeply occupied our languages and other means of communication, through the tools of perfect logic, that reality is often reduced to a minor component. It is as if Galileo's equipment and knowledge had changed sides and were suddenly being used to marshal all his powers of observation, demonstration and argument to prove that the sun moved around the world. Reason, structure, calm and process are now the tools of established power and conventional wisdom. And in times of crisis, conventional wisdom becomes the absolute truth of ruling elites. It gives them the confidence to go on because it eliminates the need for thought or doubt, which in turn allows the elites to categorize any attempts at either as naivete or treason. The average man, witness to a barbaric massacre, is left to scratch about in search of some new means of communication which will allow him to express the obvious.
The point, however, is not the indifference of professional armies to the lives of their soldiers. There is nothing personal in this indifference. It's simply that the staff approach tends naturally towards large, blunt methods. There is no profound difference between the way it uses men or explosives. The only change over the last eighty years has been a growing political cost tied to losing large quantities of men. The staffs have therefore shifted their emphasis to equipment and explosives without -- as the Iraq episode demonstrated in 1991 -- abandoning their devotion to the massing of men. The rational substitution for motivation and strategy is an unlimited quantity of firepower, machinery and men. Throwing massive quantities of one or more of these elements at the opposing side is meant to either overwhelm them or wear them down. This is not strategy. It is a return to mythological barbarism.
Firepower is perhaps the most interesting element of the three, because it is the approach preferred by most modern elites. Its attractiveness lies in its abstract and quantifiable nature. It removes the unpleasant need for physical contact and visible violence. The only difficulty is that massive shelling and bombing didn't work in World War I. They didn't work in World War II either. They failed in Indochina and Vietnam and were marginally relevant in Iraq. But technocrats tend to reject the idea of linear development. Memory is irrational. Each problem is proper unto its own argument. If someone were to point out that bombs had already been dropped in massive quantities in other places at other times and failed to have the desired effect, the technocrat-officer would simply explain that, until the moment at hand, the explosives had been wrongly used.
The apparent love World War I commanders bore for equipment wasn't without paradox. For example, they collected up masses of tanks during the war, between the wars and during the early stages of World War II. And then they blocked the intelligent use of those tanks. What concerned them was not how the tank might best be used but how it might best be controlled by the staff structures.
It could be argued that during the entire European campaign of World War I, there were only three examples of good and telling action, The blocking at the Marne inspired by Gallieni was one. Liddell Hart attributes two others to Churchill: the mobilization of the British fleet before war was declared, which began the Starvation process that broke Germany five years later, and the landing of three thousand men in Belgium behind the Germans, who were racing towards Paris in 1914. The landing was accompanied by leaks of false information which inflated the figure to forty thousand. It caused the Germans to look over their shoulders and slow down. The next five years consisted of slugging imposed from headquarters.
The technocrat, however, lives by the fictional reorganization of circumstances, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig therefore undertook to complete the official version of history. After the peace he set up a, friendly committee to report on staff organization during the war. Its report concluded: "The outstanding feature of the evidence brought before us has been the success of the work of the Staff throughout the war. This points indubitably to the soundness of the general principles on which the Staff is organized." 
It is difficult to assign any level of emotional value to this live-year reign of the staff officer. For example, between Haig, Foch and the German commander general Erich Ludendorff seventy-live years ago, and Pol Pot today, there is remarkably little difference. In common they have their self-righteousness, their obsession with secrecy, their ambition. their conviction of the justice of their mission, their readiness to sacrifice any number of men and their honest belief in the necessity of other people's deaths. There was a time when English admirals were hanged for losing battles. From 1914 on, Western nations instead took to hanging medals on the chests of incompetent commanders.