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Ripe for Conquest

By MAJOR ROBERT R. McCORMICK Associate Publisher of "The Tribune," Chicago

HE terrifying part of our unpreparedness is not only our unpreparedness in material and military organization, but our unpreparedness of intellect even to comprehend what the words "military efficiency" mean. Nearly every reader of this article has the same conception of a military organization. He and she cannot describe it, but what they think of is a skeleton regiment on parade, with six or more skeleton companies of not more than two platoons each; that is to say, they see in their mind a colonel and staff on horseback, and then lines of soldiers in double rank stretching nearly from curb to curb, with an officer, and sometimes two officers, marching in front of each double rank, with a large percentage of flags and buglers. The soldiers form into line on a parade-ground, and it is plain that there are officers enough to push the men into position and personally to instruct each one. Ideas of battle come from a round or two of blank cartridges fired while in this double rank, which indeed looks like popular engravings of the Battle of Waterloo or the Battle of Gettysburg.

Aside from officers of the regular army, experienced soldiers in the same service, and the National Guard, how many of our ten million men of military age can guess the width of a company of infantry from the right to left when in line of battle? A company of infantry of war

strength in open order of attack has a front of three hundred yards, three times the length of a foot-ball field, three city blocks, the length of a polo-ground. A regiment is composed of twelve companies. If this regiment must be deployed on one line, as is apt to happen in war, it is over two miles from end to end.

In such circumstances what control can a colonel be expected to exercise over his men? Or, putting it as it affects the average reader, how much help can the privates expect from their officers? The truth is, next to none.

In battle the fighting is done by the privates, and the direction of the privates is in the hands of the corporals and sergeants. Occasionally the company commander can give instructions to his noncommissioned officers, but he has no opportunity to superintend their execution. It was in Russia, of all places, that I learned to appreciate the dignity of the private soldier and the terrible responsibility borne by the non-commissioned officers. The occasion which drove it into my mind was a fight along the Ravka River.

In the course of an inspection of the position of the 55th Infantry Division (we used to have one division of infantry in the United States, but that has now been disbanded) I passed along the firing-trench to a point less than fifty yards from the enemy.

So many months have passed, and so much has happened since then, that I can

tell now what before it would have been improper to mention: namely, that the Russian lines were pitifully thin. Only one regiment of the four composing the division was held in reserve. The companies of the fighting regiments were all in line, with weak local supports in reserve trenches. The men on the firing-line stood at intervals of two yards, in squads of eight, and between the squads were traverses, or earth embankments six feet thick, completely separating each individual squad from the sight of its neighboring squad.

The officers could not stand up behind the line. They could only walk up and down the trench, and that but occasionally, as the company commanders were compelled to keep near their posts in readiness to receive orders from superiors, while casualties to commissioned officers had reduced their number to about one officer for every one hundred enlisted men.

While I was in this advanced position the German artillery began a heavy bombardment of the trenches to our left, our own location being safe from artillery attack because of its nearness to the German line. We did, however, come under a heavy fire from rifles and machine-guns.


People have often asked me what a battle looks like. I have answered that obviously it looks like nothing. Any man who tried to look would not look long. occasionally pushing up a periscope that I had fastened on my walking-stick and by glancing foolishly over the top of the parapet, I saw a vast number of shells breaking to the left, where our trenches were supposed to be. In the psychology of battle, you may be sure that I did not imagine the shells to be farther from the trenches than they really were. I also saw the smoke from the enemy's rifles across the wire entanglements. At one time I located a machine-gun by the steam-like appearance of its jets of smoke. The impression was very strong that our leftflank trenches were being wiped out, that the enemy would occupy them and cut off our retreat. In this case our situation would be desperate, as there was no com

municating-trench in rear of the faradvanced position that we occupied. The only thing that was needed to present the strain of war in its sharpest pain was the expected appearance of wave upon wave of gray-clad, screaming Germans, flashing their bayonets and firing as they charged.

In the event of attack, it would have been the duty of each of the groups of eight Russian muzhiks to stand fast in their squad trench and shoot the enemy immediately in front of them, trusting to every other group of eight to do likewise. The failure of any squad would have meant the death of all. If every squad did its duty, we would in all probability repel the attack, heavy as it might be.

Now, gentle reader, if you are a young man of military age, do you feel that you could stand in your place in a squad trench and do your duty as muzhiks and other peasants of monarchial Europe have frequently done? My own opinion of you is that you could not, and my opinion has the strength of a conviction. I do not care whether you are barber, barrister, banker, bartender, or broker.

Take a harder case. Supposing you were advancing in open order of attack, and had reached a point where, with your captain killed, your platoon commander wounded, your line, unable to go forward, was lying in the open, and your only chance for life was to find the range of the enemy and shoot at him so correctly that he in turn could no longer shoot correctly at you. Would you listen to the orders of your corporal? Would you take the range he gave you, carefully adjust your sight, and fire every shot as carefully as if you were trying to ring a cane at Coney Island or make a new step in a dance? No, you could not do it, and failing to do it, you would be killed by some peasant of the type that you see working on the railroad-track or mixing concrete for the foundation of the road on which you run your automobile, and upon whom you look as hardly human. He is a better soldier than you are.

The national ignorance of the conduct. of war extends into Congress, even into

the committees on military and naval affairs of the Senate and the House. This statement, which would be hotly or contemptuously denied by the committeemen now, will some day be urged for them in extenuation when a bitter and bereaved nation calls them thieves and murderers.

They have no idea what a tremendously difficult thing it is, even in peace manœuvers, to conduct in attack such a small unit as a battalion. There are not ten National Guard regiments in the United States which can deploy and advance two thousand yards across broken country and have any organization when they approach the line supposed to be occupied by the enemy. The regular army can conduct this manoeuver with a unit as large as a brigade, but certainly not with a larger one. It cannot be done without practice. To conduct a squad of eight men so as to obtain the maximum cover and at the same time maintain an effective rifle fire, is every bit as hard as it is to conduct a college foot-ball eleven; and to conduct the squad under fire is of course many times harder.

If one can imagine a game of foot-ball with one hundred and fifty elevens on a side, all coöperating with one another, he can understand what it means for a regiment to attack. Now, we know that in the case of the peaceful game of foot-ball. the players are trained for years, and that when the eleven of any university reaches a certain degree of organization it will remain dominant for several seasons, notwithstanding a gradual change in its personnel. So it is with military organizations. As in foot-ball, team-work and training are everything, individual strength is nothing. Incidentally, the leading American foot-ball coach has a larger salary than the chief of staff of our army.

Last summer we had two principal citizens' instruction camps. The first, at Plattsburg, New York, was largely made up of young college men, many of them athletes, horsemen, or hunters, and the one thing they learned was that they did not even know enough to be privates, al

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though, before arriving, they had thought to qualify themselves in thirty days to be second lieutenants at least.

The second camp was held at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago, and was composed of highly intelligent, sincere business men. At the end of three weeks' training they indulged in a sham battle with one hundred and fifty Culver Military Academy school-boys, and were disastrously defeated, as they freely admitted.

Now, if a month's "intensive training" under regular officers and with the assistance of regular troops cannot teach three hundred men of this type to fight a sham battle against one hundred and fifty trained school-boys, how would two or three or four times as much training at the hands of insufficiently drilled officers qualify any men to manœuver under fire from rifles, machine-guns, and explosive shells?

Battle conditions are very much more disconcerting to the untrained man than he would ever expect. I speak with authority and feeling because I have been there. My first experience was an agony, and if no lesson is to be learned from the fact that two British officers who had fought through the Marne campaign were unaffected, what will you say to the unconcern of an American regular officer who had served fourteen years in the army but had never smelled smoke before? The answer is that he was mentally prepared while I was not. If he had been in command of troops, he would have disposed them with all his native ability. I would not.

It is unfortunate for the country that the truth about the conduct of raw troops in the Spanish and Philippine wars has not been printed. Of the four volunteer regiments put to a severe test in 1898, only one did not fail utterly, and this one, as we all know, was composed largely of cow-boys, woodsmen, and mountaineers; was officered in its high command by two of the most remarkable men their generation has produced, and in the lower commands was reinforced by a strong leaven of professional soldiers.

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