On War — Volume 1 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about On War Volume 1.

As a conclusion to this subject, we must dwell for a moment on the point at which the courage of the Commander engages in a sort of conflict with his reason.

If, on the one hand the overbearing pride of a victorious conqueror, if the inflexible will of a naturally obstinate spirit, if the strenuous resistance of noble feelings will not yield the battlefield, where they must leave their honour, yet on the other hand, reason counsels not to give up everything, not to risk the last upon the game, but to retain as much over as is necessary for an orderly retreat.  However highly we must esteem courage and firmness in War, and however little prospect there is of victory to him who cannot resolve to seek it by the exertion of all his power, still there is a point beyond which perseverance can only be termed desperate folly, and therefore can meet with no approbation from any critic.  In the most celebrated of all battles, that of Belle-Alliance, Buonaparte used his last reserve in an effort to retrieve a battle which was past being retrieved.  He spent his last farthing, and then, as a beggar, abandoned both the battle-field and his crown.

CHAPTER X. EFFECTS OF VICTORY (continuation)

According to the point from which our view is taken, we may feel as much astonished at the extraordinary results of some great battles as at the want of results in others.  We shall dwell for a moment on the nature of the effect of a great victory.

Three things may easily be distinguished here:  the effect upon the instrument itself, that is, upon the Generals and their Armies; the effect upon the States interested in the War; and the particular result of these effects as manifested in the subsequent course of the campaign.

If we only think of the trifling difference which there usually is between victor and vanquished in killed, wounded, prisoners, and artillery lost on the field of battle itself, the consequences which are developed out of this insignificant point seem often quite incomprehensible, and yet, usually, everything only happens quite naturally.

We have already said in the seventh chapter that the magnitude of a victory increases not merely in the same measure as the vanquished forces increase in number, but in a higher ratio.  The moral effects resulting from the issue of a great battle are greater on the side of the conquered than on that of the conqueror:  they lead to greater losses in physical force, which then in turn react on the moral element, and so they go on mutually supporting and intensifying each other.  On this moral effect we must therefore lay special weight.  It takes an opposite direction on the one side from that on the other; as it undermines the energies of the conquered so it elevates the powers and energy of the conqueror.  But its chief effect is upon the vanquished, because here it is the direct cause of fresh losses, and besides it is homogeneous

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On War — Volume 1 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.