Arming the Nation

A people’s war in civilised Europe is a phenomenon of the nineteenth century. It has its advocates and its opponents: the latter either considering it in a political sense as a revolutionary means, a state of anarchy declared lawful, which is as dangerous as a foreign enemy to social order at home; or on military grounds, conceiving that the result is not commensurate with the expenditure of the nation’s strength. The first point does not concern us here, for we look upon a people’s war merely as a means of fighting, therefore, in its connection with the enemy; but with regard to the latter point, we must observe that a people’s war in general is to be regarded as a consequence of the outburst which the military element in our day has made through its old formal limits; as an expansion and strengthening of the whole fermentation- process which we call war. The requisition system, the immense increase in the size of armies by means of that system, and the general liability to military service, the employment of militia, are all things which lie in the same direction, if we make the limited military system of former days our starting-point; and the levéee en masse, or arming of the people, now lies also in the same direction. If the first named of these new aids to war are the natural and necessary consequences of barriers thrown down; and if they have so enormously increased the power of those who first used them, that the enemy has been carried along in the current, and obliged to adopt them likewise, this will be the case also with people-wars. In the generality of cases, the people who make judicious use of this means will gain a proportionate superiority over those who despise its use. If this be so, then the only question is whether this modern intensification of the military element is, upon the whole, salutary for the interests of humanity or otherwise -- a question which it would be about as easy to answer as the question of war itself -- we leave both to philosophers. But the opinion may be advanced, that the resources swallowed up in people’s wars might be more profitably employed, if used in providing other military means; no very deep investigation, however, is necessary to be convinced that these resources are for the most part not disposable, and cannot be utilised in an arbitrary manner at pleasure. One essential part, that is the moral element, is not called into existence until this kind of employment for it arises.

We therefore do not ask again: how much does the resistance which the whole nation in arms is capable of making, cost that nation? but we ask: what is the effect which such a resistance can produce? What are its conditions, and how is it to be used?

It follows from the very nature of the thing that defensive means thus widely dispersed, are not suited to great blows requiring concentrated action in time and space. Its operation, like the process of evaporation in physical nature, is according to the surface. The greater that surface and the greater the contact with the enemy’s army, consequently the more that army spreads itself out, so much the greater will be the effects of arming the nation. Like a slow gradual heat, it destroys the foundations of the enemy’s army. As it requires time to produce its effects, therefore whilst the hostile elements are working on each other, there is a state of tension which either gradually wears out if the people’s war is extinguished at some points, and burns slowly away at others, or leads to a crisis, if the flames of this general conflagration envelop the enemy’s army, and compel it to evacuate the country to save itself from utter destruction. In order that this result should be produced by a national war alone, we must suppose either a surface- extent of the dominions invaded, exceeding that of any country in Europe, except Russia, or suppose a disproportion between the strength of the invading army and the extent of the country, such as never occurs in reality. Therefore, to avoid following a phantom, we must imagine a people-war always in combination with a war carried on by a regular army, and both carried on according to a plan embracing the operations of the whole.

The conditions under which alone the people’s war can become effective are the following:

1 That the war is carried on in the heart of the country.

2 That it cannot be decided by a single catastrophe.

3 That the theatre of war embraces a considerable extent of country.

4 That the national character is favourable to the measure.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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