The Science of War: Back to First Principles

By Brian Holden Reid | Go to book overview

3

ECONOMY OF EFFORT: A PASSIVE PRINCIPLE

Colonel P.P. Rawlins MBE

'To the devil with history and principles. What is the problem?'

(Verny-du-Vernois at Nachod, 1866)

Many might say that the quotation above has a distinctly British ring about it, and reflects very much the style of an army in which the role of the leader had traditionally been emphasized almost to the exclusion of all other factors; an army which would probably accept that war is a science only in so far that, to quote Thomas Hurley, science is 'organised common sense' (though it would prefer to ignore the fact that Hurley went on to describe common sense as 'the rarest of all the senses'). When, towards the end of the nineteenth century, British military thinkers were seeking to set out rules for the conduct of war, based on their interpretations of past campaigns, they were generally much quicker to concede that there are indeed a number of basic principles of war than to commit themselves as to what these principles might be. Thus Hamley 1 could say 'History shows clearly that all successful tactical methods have been based on great fundamental principles, which are as changeless as the human nature on which they depend', but he never followed this up with any statement of what these principles are. G.F.R. Henderson, in a lecture published after his death, having said that 'strategical principles are neither to be rigidly adhered to nor overscrupulously respected', concluded that:

there are two great principles which are the foundation and crown of all strategic methods…defined for us by 'Stonewall' Jackson as:

-49-

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