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General Ideas And Rules For Solving Military Problems

Military Handbooks: The Plattsburg Manual

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

f-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.