The ideal Army, patriotic, full of the sense of Duty, and perfect in discipline, would be invincible; but such an Army has never yet been seen. A deficiency of one or two of these qualities may be made up for by a fuller measure of the others. The history of each war will seem to indicate for a time the proportions in which the qualities should be blended, which is the essential, and whether any one of them can be omitted; but the inferences thus drawn from one war will probably be found misleading in the next war.
The inference to be drawn from the South African War seems to be that the value of those military qualities which are created by Discipline and training has been over-rated, and that a passionate bigoted belief in the justice of a cause is a more potent factor in the making of a soldier. Even if every allowance be made for the strategical advantages possessed by the Boers, of fighting in their own land on interior lines in a sparsely populated country peculiarly adopted for guerilla, it is difficult to account for their success if the tests by which the efficiency of a European army is measured are applied to them. It may be that war has hitherto been regarded too exclusively as a statical and dynamical problem and that the moral element has been overlooked. It certainly was overlooked in South Africa; for the war which Lord Roberts in October, 1900, believed was practically at an end had in fact then run little more than one-third of its course.
The astonishment, distress, chagrin and bewilderment caused by want of success, “regrettable incidents,” and disasters, sometimes found consolation during the South African War in the foolish remark—The Germans would have done no better. What the German Army, which had not been actively employed for twenty-eight years, might have accomplished under the same conditions is a matter for sterile speculation which has little bearing on the case. But the German Army certainly had not been accustomed to look upon War as a branch of Sport or Athletics.
Owing in all probability to the happy fact in History that England has not been invaded and over-run by a foreign army since the time of William the Conqueror—an episode which had in the end an excellent influence on the national life—she has never taken the military art seriously. She alone, thanks to the protection of Providence, has never been compelled to fight on her own fields for her existence as a nation; she alone knows nothing even by tradition handed down from distant generations of the appearance of an alien soldier on her shores. Some of her wars, as for example the successful struggle by which the Napoleonic domination was broken up, have been fought for the purpose of safe-guarding her independence, but they were not popular with the people at large, whose short sight did not permit them to see that a defensive war may have to be fought beyond the seas; and they had little or no effect in evoking a patriotic military spirit. Napoleon’s gibe that the English were a nation of shopkeepers was not unasked for, and is still seasonable.