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General Ideas And Rules For Solving Military Problems

The cave man knocked over his foe with a rude club. The operation is
greatly refined to-day. The technique of war changes with the ages, but
human nature remains the same. Whether with grenade or gas, from
submarine or aeroplane, a man after all possible woe and suffering is no
more than killed. Human nature will submit to losses in battle up to a
certain point, after that the frailties are asserted. The instinct of
self-preservation dominates. Organization and discipline and reason are
dissipated. A condition ensues similar to that which we have in theaters
during fires.

Napoleon's success as a military leader was due to his knowledge of men
and how to handle them, common sense, and in a lesser degree to what he
learned from books. Upon such a basis the young managers of industrial
concerns would be most valuable material from which to select and train
successful military leaders. They know men, and it is necessary to
possess a world of common sense to acquire any such knowledge. Many of
those elements that make success in a military man are exactly the same
as those that make a man successful anywhere. A president of a
university, a lawyer or banker or merchant or engineer, has exactly the
same kind of daily problems to solve, and requires much the same talents
as those possessed by a military leader.

Since success in battle is the thing at which we are driving in all
military training, it is common sense to prepare a machine that will do
the business. Every officer and noncommissioned officer has got to know
how to play the game. A good private makes a good corporal, a good
corporal makes a good sergeant, a good sergeant makes a good
lieutenant--a good colonel makes a good brigadier general--all exactly
as in civil life.

Prussia has had her greatest military success when she devoted her
energies to manoeuvers and to the solution of tactical problems. Her
defeats and humiliations have come when she has neglected this work. And
there's nothing mysterious about the way Prussia or Napoleon or anybody
else has solved their military problems. No occult forces are involved,
any more than there is in building a canal or hunting tigers. The real
general is, in a sense, a postgraduate hunter, or an advanced,
all-American quarterback.

One phase of the military work is significant and should cause
reflection. The punishment for errors in war is very severe. A leader
who makes mistakes may not only pay for them with his own blood but
others too may suffer with him. In war we must obey our leaders whether
they are right or wrong. How great, do you suppose, are those hordes
that have been sacrificed on history's battlefields to the goddess of

Napoleon says in one of his maxims, Read and reread the campaigns of
Alexander, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turrenne, Eugene, and Frederick;
take them for your model; that is the only way of becoming a great
captain, to obtain the secrets of the art of war. To read more
intelligently such history we should know something about solving
problems in minor tactics. We must know how to solve such problems if we
are to master our duties as officers.

Whether, as general or corporal, you are solving a problem on a map or
on the ground, your methods will be, in principle, the same. In the
former case your soldiers understand thoroughly all orders and do
exactly as directed. In the latter case your soldiers are human. They
get tired and sick. They go in the wrong directions and get lost
sometimes. One forgets, another is late, and the third misinterprets an
order, etc.

Here is the common-sense way in which an all-American quarterback
performs his duties. He studies carefully the opposing team (enemy) by
reports beforehand and on the field of the contest, to determine his
weak and strong points. The latter he wishes to avoid in directing his
attack. He considers his position on the field, the wind and weather, if
raining, etc., and then his different plays to hit the weaker parts of
the opposing line with the advantages and disadvantages of each. To his
well-trained mind all this is done in a flash, but the logic and causes
and effects of action are none the less present. This quarterback has
analyzed the conditions of his problems, he has figured out what he is
up against; that is to say, he has estimated the situation.

He is now ready for a decision. He determines where he is going to
strike and with what kind of a play he will do it.

He gives a signal, 44--11--17--5. That is to say, he issues his orders.

That is exactly the way a military man, whether he be a corporal or a
general, goes about handling a problem, whether on paper or on the
ground. When he goes into battle he finds the only difference is that
the problem is complicated by bullets and excitement.

Don't think that you are going to learn to solve problems from books
alone, any more than you can learn to play tennis or build bridges on
paper. You have got to get out into the country and work with actual
troops. But first study map problems. Come to a decision slowly until
you have had considerable practice, then write out your order with no
guides or references. Then check yourself up. Common sense and simple
plans are the safest guides.

To frame a suitable field order you must make an estimate of the
situation, culminating in a decision upon a definite plan of action. You
must then actually draft or word the orders which will carry your
decision into effect.

Next: The Logical Way To Estimate The Situation

Previous: A Model Order For An Advance

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