” . . . To sit in darkness here hatching vain empires.”
During his discussion of the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie in his classic Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Joseph Schumpeter asked whether “in the end such complete emancipation was good for the bourgeois and his world.” He concluded that it had not been. Capitalist society needs the “steel frame” of the precapitalist aristocracy and its values in order to survive. It was the “human material of feudal society” which “continued to rule the roost right to the end of the period of intact and vital capitalism.”
It filled the offices of state, officered the army, devised policies . . . and, though taking into account bourgeois interests, it took care to distance itself from the bourgeoisie.
The passing of this class was the principle reason Schumpeter believed that capitalism was doomed. Not that it would fail economically; Schumpeter was a firm believer in the economic superiority of capitalism. It would fail politically because “the bourgeois class is ill equipped to face the problems, both domestic and international, that have normally to be faced by a country of any importance.”
We have seen that the industrialist and the merchant, as far as they are entrepreneurs, also fill a function of leadership. But economic leadership of this type does not readily expand, like the medieval lord’s military leadership, into the leadership of nations. On the contrary, the ledger and the cost calculation absorb and confine.
Schumpeter, by birth an Austrian, was attempting to warn his adopted United States of its weakness as a capitalist nation without a feudal past. A nation about to assume global responsibilities. The weakness Schumpeter perceived has been manifest on many occasions. The revolt of middle-class students during the Vietnam War comes readily to mind. Examples still abound. Polls on the air strike against Libya reveal that the “Yuppies” composed virtually the only group to oppose the raid. It will take more than a spirit of “democratic capitalism” to save the United States and the West.
The U.S. can produce the conservative leaders it needs if its “natural aristocracy” can acquire values other than those of the stock market. Certainly one of the sources of President Reagan’s strength as a leader is his background as a cinema hero and rancher rather than as a lawyer or financier. For inspiration, one can always turn to biographies of great men who have exhibited proper values in the past. In this quest, the British Empire is always an attractive place to look because of a shared cultural heritage and the fact that Britain once held the position of global responsibility to which the U.S. is heir.
Philip Warner is a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Author of several previous military histories and biographies, he knows military life and its culture well. He has chosen for his subject England’s foremost soldier at the height of the Empire. Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) was the son of a professional soldier. Col. Henry Horatio Kitchener. Like many builders of the Empire, Kitchener was born of English parents living in Ireland. His family was not wealthy, though the Colonel made a success of the bankrupt Irish estate he had bought from its creditors. The young Kitchener did not attend English public school, but a Swiss boarding school followed by the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich where he became an engineer. His experiences as a student were thus more demanding than most. He learned to work from dawn to midnight mastering details. He also acquired a knack for learning foreign languages.
He was an observer with the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War and with the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War. He thus learned early the folly of being unprepared for battle. He exhibited his courage in Palestine by staring down a Druse mob and his ambition in Cyprus by manipulating his superiors in an attempt to be posted to Egypt where he could see more action.
Egypt made his reputation. In 10 years (1882-1892) he advanced from a cavalry lieutenant to commander in chief of the Egyptian Army with the rank of major-general. He had advanced by talent rather than by money or influence. He was not very sociable, being shy and puritanical. He consistently failed in his attempts to find a suitable wife. His one engagement ended when his fiancee died of typhoid. All his other proposals were rejected (Warner dismisses the rumors that Kitchener’s bachelorhood indicated any homosexual tendencies). However, as a military leader he was unsurpassed. He had a capacity to understand the situations he confronted. A reformer, he stressed the importance of training and logistics and exploited the advantages of the railroad and the machine gun. He could train native troops to levels of performance few had thought possible. He earned the tide “The Man Who Must Be Obeyed,” but also earned the loyalty of his troops by a willingness to endure their hardships on campaign.
His greatest victory was Omdurman (1898), in which his Anglo-Egyptian force of 26,000 men defeated successive attacks by 100,000 Dervishes, killing 16,000 of the enemy at a loss of only 48 of his own. This completed his systematic reconquest of the Sudan to avenge the death of Gen. Charles Gordon, who had been massacred at Khartoum in 1884 by the forces of “the Mahdi,” a religious fanatic (Kitchener had served with the relief force which failed to reach Gordon in time). Omdurman was the site of the Mahdi’s tomb which Kitchener destroyed, Gordon’s nephew having the honor of throwing the Mahdi’s bones into the Nile. Kitchener kept the skull as a trophy. This shocked the young Winston Churchill who was serving with the expedition. However, it was not so unusual. Sir Reginald Wingate, who tracked down the Mahdi’s successor, the Khalifa, had the Khalifa’s skull turned into a mug from which he drank a toast on each anniversary of the Omdurman victory. Wingate had been Kitchener’s intelligence officer and would become governor-general of the Sudan.
After Omdurman, Kitchener met the French expedition which had penetrated to Fashoda to claim the southern Sudan. By deft diplomacy he defused a situation which threatened war between London and Paris. As a reward for Omdurman, he was made Lord Kitchener of Khartoum and was voted 30,000 pounds (about $1 million in today’s value) by Parliament.
He was next sent to South Africa as second in command to Lord Roberts to reverse the early defeats of the Boer War. Kitchener took command (1900) after Roberts had defeated the Boers in open combat. Kitchener was left to deal with the years of guerrilla warfare that followed. Again, he understood the nature of the war. The Sudan had been won by long preparation leading to a decisive battle. South Africa would be different. A war of attrition concluded by negotiation. The Dervish cult had to be destroyed, the Boers had to be assimilated. Kitchener relocated the Boer population, built a web of 8,000 blockhouses, and sent mobfle columns on “search and destroy” operations. He earned the respect of the tough Boer leaders. This mixed with generous terms led eventually to the war’s end.
Though a national hero, he was disliked by the press and by the Liberals. The feeling was mutual. According to Warner, “Kitchener regarded journalists as detestable, a dangerous liability to Intelligence, and despicable as well.” Kitchener had little regard for politicians but was a known supporter of the Conservative Party. He was a close friend of the Tory leader Lord Salisbury. He felt that Gladstone and the Liberal anti-imperialists had dishonored themselves when they abandoned the Sudan after Gordon’s death. (The Sudan was retaken under Salisbury.)
Kitchener was an imperialist who believed that the expansion of British power was also the expansion of civilization. He had seen firsthand the corruption of native officials and the routine cruelty of backward cultures. Before the British arrived, the principal product of the Sudan had been slaves. The idea of returning such areas to “self-government” was immoral. Referring to men like Kitchener, Warner observes, “They did not consider whether they had a God-given right to rule territories occupied by alien people; they merely considered that it was best for all that they should do so.” The dismal record of so many of the colonies since “independence” speaks volumes on this point.
Kitchener was made a viscount and was voted 50,000 pounds for his South African service. Now quite wealthy, he dabbled in investments in trade with Japan, railroad building in Russia, and a plantation in Kenya, but business was of little interest to him. With the rank of field marshal, he went on to India as commander in chief of the Indian Army where he introduced major reforms. He reorganized the Indian Army from scattered garrisons into nine divisions of three brigades each (one British, two Indian). “He saw the task of the Indian Army not as acting as a safeguard against another mutiny but as a means of defending the country . . . and, if the need arose, of supplying units for tasks overseas.” The need arose with World War I. Four Indian divisions were rushed to France, two more went to Egypt where they stopped a Turkish invasion, and two protected the oil fields in Mesopotamia.
Kitchener quarreled with Lord Curzon, the viceroy, over the authority of the viceroy’s military department (headed by an officer of inferior rank) to overrule the commander in chief Curzon resigned in 1905, but the Liberal government under Asquith refused to appoint Kitchener viceroy. Kitchener instead returned to Egypt as consul general.
His record as a military reformer and battlefield victor made him the obvious choice in 1914 as secretary of state for war. He understood the nature of the war and contrary to the optimism of others argued that the war would last at least three years. The war would not be won by the first million troops England sent into battle but by the last million which could be raised. Firepower was the key, and Kitchener emphasized the need for industrial mobilization. He was disgusted by the fact that while men were dying at the front, factories could still be closed by strikers demanding higher pay.
The field marshal was appalled by the lack of military preparedness, blaming not only the politicians but the general staff for neglecting its duty to press the government for more funds. Germany could put three million men in the field with substantial reserves. Excluding colonial forces, England had fewer than 250,000 regulars and 450,000 territorials (who were not obligated to serve overseas). The continental armies were conscript, while England still relied on volunteers. Kitchener had favored conscription before the war but now opted for a recruiting campaign more in step with British tradition (England did not go to the draft until 1916). The response was overwhelming with two and a half million men rushing to the colors.
In the post-Vietnam era it is hard to picture a society in which those who did not enlist were harassed in the streets and sent white feathers by their girlfriends. The poster in which Kitchener sternly stares out and points his finger at the viewer with the caption “Your Country Needs You” became the model for the classic “Uncle Sam Wants You” poster adopted in the United States. (Kitchener’s stern look was the result of eye and facial nerve damage sustained from a march through a sandstorm.) Warner includes copies of other posters used to attract enlistment which stress the integral nature of loyalty and duty within society. One urges “the young women of London” to ask their boyfriends to enlist because “If your young man neglects his duty to his King and Country, the time may come when he will neglect you.”
Warner laments in his introduction that “Dying for one’s country has a diminished appeal in the late twentieth century.”
In fact, the whole idea of patriotism has become suspect in many European countries. In Britain there seems to be a widespread credo that to be proud of one’s homeland and heritage is wrong. The ideas and beliefs of immigrant peoples must be given equal place to the ones traditionally associated with this country. In consequence. Kitchener’s statement that “your country needs you” has been rendered almost meaningless.
In our time the grand and wealthy civilization of the West trembles before the barbarians of the East and South.
Trench warfare ground up the new divisions in France. Kitchener’s reputation as the Empire’s greatest general was damaged as the casualties mounted. Sir John French’s attack at Loos and Winston Churchill’s expedition to the Dardanelles were not conceived by Kitchener, but he was won to their support despite fears England did not yet have the strength to see them through. Thus he shared the blame when they failed. Warner argues, however, that both plans came close to success, laying the blame on their tactical execution rather than their strategic conception.
Kitchener’s time was taken up more by diplomatic and production problems than with the kind of military duties which had made his reputation. Warner argues that he “virtually assumed the role of wartime Prime Minister” in part because the Liberal leaders, Asquith and Lloyd-George, were too busy chasing women (in the latter case “with all the discrimination of an amorous rabbit”). It was on a mission to Russia to see what could be done to prop up the eastern front that Kitchener was killed when the cruiser Hampshire, on which he was traveling, struck a mine and sank. Warner speculates that Kitchener “might have prevented the disasters in Russia which led to the revolution,” but that seems to be carrying matters too far.
[Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend, by Philip Warner (New York: Atheneum) $15.95]
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