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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/443

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435
MODERN WARFARE.

combatants slain. A barricade fight between a mob of rioters a thousand strong, and a battery of artillery, in which fifty reformers get shot, is not "less sanguinary" than a street quarrel between three topers, of whom one gets knocked on the head with a pewter pot; though no more than the twentieth part of the forces on one side fall in the first case, and a third of the total forces engaged, in the second. Nor could it he proved by the exhibition of these proportions of loss, that the substitution of explosive shells, as offensive weapons, for pewter pots, rendered wounds less painful, or war more humane.

Now, the practical difference between ancient and modern war as carried on by civilized nations, is, broadly, of this kind. Formerly the persons who had quarrelled settled their differences by the strength of their own arms at the head of their retainers, with comparatively inexpensive weapons, such as they could conveniently wield; weapons which they had paid for out of their own pockets, and with which they struck only the people they meant to strike. While, nowadays, persons who quarrel fight at a distance, with mechanical apparatus, for the manufacture of which they have taxed the public, and which will kill anybody who happens to be in the way; gathering at the same time, to put into the way of them, as large a quantity of senseless and innocent mob as can he beguiled or compelled to the slaughter. So that, in the words of your contributor, "Modern armies are not now small fractions of the population whence they are drawn; they represent — in fact, are — whole nations in arms." I have only to correct this somewhat vague and rhetorical statement by pointing out that the persons in arms, led out for mutual destruction, are by no means "the whole nation" on either side, but only the individuals of it who are able-bodied, honest, and brave, selected to be shot, from among its invalids, rogues, and cowards.

The deficiencies in your contributor’s evidence as to the totality of loss do not, however, invalidate his conclusion that, out of given numbers engaged, the mitrailleuse kills fewer than the musket. It is, nevertheless, a very startling conclusion, and one not to be accepted without closer examination of the statistics on which it is based. I will, therefore, tabulate them in a simpler form, which the eye can catch easily, omitting only one or two instances which add nothing to the force of the evidence.

In the six undernamed battles of by gone times, there fell, according to your contributor’s estimate out of the total combatants —

At Austerlitz  .   .   .   .  1-7
  Jena  .   .   .   .  1-6
  Waterloo  .   .   .   .  1-5
  Marengo  .   .   .   .  1-4
  Salamanca  .   .   .   .  1-3
  Eylau  .   .   .   .  5-2

while in the undernamed five recent battles, the proportion of loss was —

At Königgratz  .   .   .   .  1-15
  Gravelotte  .   .   .   .  1-12
  Solferino  .   .   .   .  1-11
  Worth  .   .   .   .  1-11
  Sedan  .   .   .   .  1-10

Now, there is a very important difference in the character of the battles named in these two lists. Every one of the first six was decisive, and both sides knew that it must he so when the engagement began, and did their best to win. But Königgratz was only decisive by sudden and appalling demonstration of the power of a new weapon. Solferino was only half fought, and not followed up because the French emperor had exhausted his corps d'élite at Magenta, and could not (or, at least, so it is reported) depend on his troops of the line. Worth was an experiment; Sedan a discouraged ruin; Gravelotte was, I believe, well contested, but I do not know on what extent of the line, and we have no real evidence as to the power of modern machines for death, until the proportions are calculated, not from the numbers engaged, but from those under fire for equal times. Now, in all the upper list of battles, probably every man of both armies was under fire, and some of the regiments under fire for half the day; while in the lower list of battles, only fragments of the line were hotly engaged, and the dispute on any point reaching its intensity would be ended in half an hour.

That the close of contest is so rapid may indeed be one of the conditions of improvement in our military system alleged by your correspondent, and the statistics he has brought forward do indeed clearly prove one of two things — either that modern weapons do not kill, or that modern soldiers do not fight, as effectually as in old times. I do not know if this is thought a desirable change in military circles; but I, as a poor civilian, beg to express my strong objections to being taxed six times over what I used to be, either for the equipment of soldiers who rarely fight, or the manufacture of weapons