- from The War Illustrated, 25th January, 1919
- 'War Reputations Lost and Won'
- the Famous War Correspondent Now on the Western Front
Old Soldiers Never Die, They Fade into Obscurity
- left : Sir John French
- right : Grand-Duke Nicholas
When Garibaldi was in London somewhere about 1865 an Englishman made the remark to him that "it looked as if Napoleon the Third might leave a greater name in history than Napoleon the First." Garibaldi smiled grimly. "II faut attendre la fin" (we must wait for the end), he said. And when the end of Louis Napoleon's reign came, the world wrote him down an impostor, which was just as short-sighted as its earlier estimate of him had been. But he had in the world's eyes been guilty of the unpardonable sin: he was a failure; therefore he had no friends.
That wise, grim saying of Garibaldi's is wiseful to remember, especially in war time. When we hear generals spoken of in terms of extravagant praise, it is just as well to say, not aloud, for that makes trouble, but inwardly, "We must wait until the war is over."
So little may turn a reputation for brilliant leadership into a byword and a scorn. "Our profession," wrote General George Washington (we forget sometimes that Washington was by profession a soldier) to General Benedict Arnold, "is the chastest of all. The shadow of a fault tarnishes our most brilliant actions. The least inadvertence must cause us to lose that public favour which, is so hard to be gained."
All soldiers ought to bear that in mind intently. All who criticise soldiers should, in common fairness, keep this truth before them.
Failures in other professions can be forgiven, and forgotten. We have let slip from our memories the escape of Mr. Lloyd George, disguised as a policeman, from a meeting which he had addressed in opposition to the South African War. It is not held to be a reason against Sir F. E. Smith's advancement that he was the worst Press censor on record. Lawyers may lose cases, and doctors prescribe the wrong medicines, and bankers advise badly, without having their careers brought to a deplorable end.
But with generals the case is altered. They deal with men's lives. Their mistakes have to be paid for in blood and tears,, as well as in gold, by millions of people. They can look for no forgiveness, for no kindly forgetfulness. If they have to report failure, their reputation is gone.
In no country did the Commanders-in-Chief who began the war endure until the end. Several were deprived of their commands in such a manner that the world drew its own conclusions. Yet in every case, I think, the public continued to believe in these "stellenbosched" generals up to the very day of their supersession.
The first to go of the famous generals on the allied side was the Grand Duke Nicholas. On the very day his services as Commander-in-Chief were dispensed with the London newspapers had articles praising his foresight and resource and skilful handling of his forces.
The passing of Marshal Joffre was so managed that the public scarcely noticed what was happening. If you had suggested to any Englishman at the start that possibly "Papa" Joffre might not possess so marvellous a military mind as the English newspapers gave him credit for, you would certainly have been called a pacifist and a pro-German; probably you would have been knocked down. Yet the day came when the French Government felt that Marshal Joffre might be better employed making speeches in America than in planning campaigns.
Lord Kitchener's Fame
The same fate overtook Lord Kitchener. To hint any doubt of his genius as an organiser or a strategist was for a long time almost equivalent to high treason. But at last the fact began to be known that he had worse confounded the confusion in the War Office by refusing to trust his subordinates and trying to do everything himself. He was sent, by way of letting him down gently, first to the Dardanelles, then to Russia, with the lamentable result that he went down in H.M.S. Hampshire.
Each of these leaders, howeverLord Kitchener, Marshal Joffre, and the Grand Duke Nicholas did very valuable service as a figurehead. People have said, "Our Army could not have been raised if it had not been for Kitchener." I do not altogether agree. I rate the spirit of my countrymen more highly. I believe they would have responded readily to any appeal. They enlisted for a principle, not for a personality. They fought for "King and Empire," as the Silver Badge says, not because Lord Kitchener asked them. But the very fact of the opposite view being taken proves how deeply his personality impressed and steadied the . nation.
The same was true of Joffre, in France. I heard it said often by French people during the first months of the war, "It will be all right. You will see. Joffre will be more than a match for the Boche." That confidence was a good thing, in the circumstances. It was not entirely justified. That did not matter. It was important, above all else, to combat discouragement, to prevent panic. Joffre's name had these effects.
Three Superseded Leaders
Whether .the Grand Duke displayed great ability as a general, I have never been able to decide. Royalties get credit for all sorts of qualities which they do not possess. I do know that one very skilful retreat for which he received the praise was managed by General Alexeieff. I do know that the Grand Duke is not, in a general way, intelligent, though that need not prevent him from being a military genius. How far he deserves to be honoured for the early successes of the Russian Army; how far these were due to others' brains and to the self-sacrificing stolidity of the Russian troops, I cannot tell. Only those who were admitted to the innermost counsels of the Russian Headquarters Staff could settle these points.
But this is certain, that the Grand Duke was a picturesque and commanding figure, and that he made the Russian people believe all was well. You may retort, that this was a disaster, and that if they had, on the contrary, realised that all was not well, they might have avoided the disasters which caused the Revolution. I am afraid that is a view based upon inadequate knowledge of the Russian character!
These three generals will be admitted by history, then, to have served their respective countries usefully when the war began, whatever their shortcomings were later. General Cadorna, too, will get credit for what the Italians did in fortifying their mountain front, in defending that horrible, stony plateau which lies above Trieste, in capturing Gorizia. These entries upon the credit side of his account cannot be expected to balance the defeat he suffered in the autumn of 1917, which goes by the name of Caporetto, but they will, in some measure, clear his name.
Then there is Lord French. His title, "French of Ypres," tells of the good fortune he had for a time. Why he was recalled has never been made quite clear. He found the responsibility rather too heavy: that was one reason. He was never a man to endure a long and wearing strain. Also, it was considered at home that someone else ought to be given a chance to do better (which, by the way, was a feeling not unknown in the early summer of last year, the difficulty then being to discover a "somebody else"). Lord French made no bad mistakes, however, and history will deal lightly with him.
Some "Amateur" Successes
What, however, will history say of Sir William Robertson? I am afraid he will be severely treated. Rightly or wrongly, he will be set down as the man who failed to appreciate the value of an undivided command, and had the courage of his opinion to the resigning of his high position. Sir Douglas Haig was more prudent. He gave way, and his fame is undamaged. Foch's name will always be chiefly connected in posterity's mind with the defeat of the Germans and their allies, but Haig's will not be forgotten.
What, again, will future generations be taught to think about Admiral Jellicoe? Perhaps they will not think about him at all. The work our Navy has done reflects glory upon the men and officers in the mass, rather than upon any individual. Will Admiral Beatty be much heard of in the years to come? There were no great triumphs of leadership in the naval war, excepting the leadership of junior officersthose, for example, who distinguished themselves at Zeebrugge.
Of reputations won it is pleasanter (though not, perhaps, so interesting) to speak, than of those lost. Byng gained his by solid, bulldog ability; Plumer, by knowing how to choose clever men as his assistants ; Allenby, by energetic and very careful preparation of the blow which broke up the Turks. General Currie, of the Canadian Corps, who was an estate agent; General Hobbs, of the 5th Australian Division, who is, I think, an architect by profession ; and several others, proved that the amateur soldier may sometimes turn out to be fully the equal of those who have made the Army their occupation in life and have risen to the highest commands. This could not have happened in the French or Russian Armies ; but in ours it unmistakably did happen, and nothing can be gained by pretending it did not.
- left : Lord Kitchener
- right : general Joffre
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