What seems easy is very difficult

As long as one does not know the war oneself, one does not understand where the difficulties of the matter lie, of which we are always talking, and what genius and the extraordinary intellectual powers that are required of the general have to do. Everything seems so simple, all the necessary knowledge so flat, all combinations so insignificant that in comparison with them the simplest task of higher mathematics impresses us with a certain scientific dignity. But once you have seen the war, everything becomes understandable, and yet it is extremely difficult to describe what brought about this change, to call this invisible and everywhere effective factor.

Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and create a friction that no one can properly imagine who has not seen the war. Imagine a traveler who thinks of making two stops at the end of his day's journey towards evening, four to five hours with post horses on the road; there is nothing. Now he arrives at the penultimate station, finds no horses or bad horses, then a mountainous area, ruined roads, it is dark night, and he is glad to have reached the next station after much hardship and to find poor accommodation there. In a war, for example, the influence of innumerable small circumstances, which can never be properly considered on paper, makes everything go down, and one remains far behind the goal. A powerful iron will overcomes this friction, it crushes the obstacles, but of course the machine with it. We will come back to the result often. Like an obelisk on which the main streets of a town are led, the firm will of a proud spirit stands imperiously outstanding in the middle of the art of war.

Friction is the only term that corresponds in a fairly general way to what distinguishes real war from what is on paper. The military machine, the army and everything that goes with it are basically very simple and therefore seem easy to use. But consider that no part of it is made of one piece, that everything is composed of individuals, each of whom retains its own friction in all directions. Theoretically it sounds very good: the chief of the battalion is responsible for the execution of the given order, and since discipline has glued the battalion into one piece, but the chief must be a man of recognized zeal, the bar rotates around you iron tenon with little friction. In reality, however, it is not like that, and everything that the idea of ​​what is exaggerated and untrue shows up on the spot in war. The battalion is always composed of a number of people, of whom, if chance wills, the least significant is able to make a stop or cause some other irregularity. The dangers which war brings with it, the physical exertion it demands, increase the evil so much that they must be regarded as the most considerable causes of it.

This terrible friction, which cannot be concentrated on a few points as in mechanics, is therefore everywhere in contact with chance and then produces phenomena that cannot be calculated, precisely because they largely belong to chance. Such a coincidence is e.g. B. the weather. Here the fog prevents the enemy from being discovered at the appropriate time, that a gun fires at the right time, that a report finds the officer in charge; There the rain, that a battalion arrives, that another comes at the right time, because instead of three it had to march maybe eight hours, that the cavalry can cut effectively because it gets stuck in the deep ground, etc.

These few details are only for the sake of clarity, and so that the author and reader stay focused on the matter, otherwise entire volumes could be written full of such difficulties. In order to avoid this and yet produce a clear conception of the army of small difficulties with which one fights in war, we would like to exhaust ourselves in pictures if we did not fear to tire. But a few will also give us credit for those who have long understood us.

Action in war is a movement in aggravating means. Just as one is unable to do the most natural and simple movement in water, the mere walking, with ease and precision, just as little can one keep the line of mediocrity in war with ordinary strength. Hence it happens that the correct theoretician appears like a swimming master who has movements that are necessary for the water practiced on the dry, which seem grotesque and exaggerated to those who do not think of the water; but therefore it also happens that theorists who have never gone into hiding themselves or who do not know how to abstract anything general from their experiences are impractical and themselves absurd because they only teach what everyone can - walk.

Furthermore: every war is rich in individual phenomena, consequently every one is an untravelled sea full of cliffs, which the spirit of the general can foresee, but which his eye has never seen and which he is now supposed to circumnavigate in the dark of night. If an adverse wind rises, i. H. if some great coincidence is declared against him, then the highest art, presence of mind and effort are necessary where everything seems to go by itself to the distant. Knowledge of this friction is a major part of the often vaunted war experience that is required of a good general. Of course, the one who has the best idea of ​​what it impresses most is not the best (this gives that class of anxious generals so often found among the experienced), but the general must know them in order to overcome them where this is possible and so as not to expect a precision in the effects that is not possible precisely because of this friction. - Incidentally, one will never get to know them completely theoretically, and if one could, that exercise of judgment would still be missing, which is called tact, and which is always more necessary in a field full of infinitely small and varied objects than in large, decisive cases, where one holds council with oneself and with others. Just as the man of the world can only speak, act, and move appropriately with the tact of his judgment, which has become almost a habit, so only the war-experienced officer will always decide and determine appropriately in large and small incidents, one might say with every pulse of war. Through this experience and practice, the thought comes to him of its own accord: one thing works, the other one doesn't. So he will not easily get into the case of showing himself naked, which in war, if it happens frequently, shakes the foundations of trust and is extremely dangerous.

So it is the friction, or what is so called here, that makes what seems to be light difficult. We will come back to this subject often in the following, and it will then also become clear that besides experience and a strong will some other rare qualities of the spirit are required to become an excellent general.