WANTED, A REAL MINISTER OF WAR.
WE have been lately reminded that the public, in its anxiety for efficient army organi7.ation, has forgotten the more important and indeed preliminary question of army administration ; and although this is not strictly correct, it is pretty nearly so. At any rate it is a fact that a bad adminis- tration cannot produce a good army. As nothing can only come of nothing, so bad can only come from bad, and indif- ferent from indifferent. Of course we do not apply these epithets to the persons at the head of the War Department, but to the Department itself, the system in which and by which they exist. The complaint would hold good if their political opponents were in power. It is, in short, not a party or political question at all, but a question of administration. We do not even ask what is the best, but what is the best practicable, method of managing our military affairs.
The Crimean war found us with a very imperfect arrange- ment—an arrangement which, it is true, carried us through the great French wars, and it must be added, so far as admi- nistration was concerned, carried us through them very badly. The success of the Duke of Wellington was a success he achieved by his own genius, and in spite of the administra- tion. In time of peace it worked equally ill, and when we had to go to war again it fell all to pieces in rude contact with the rough edges of modern warfare. Then came the change. But the change was made in a hurry. That which should have been done years before, that which had been suggested twenty years before by Sir John Burgoyne, had to be accomplished in a few weeks. We made a separate War Office and War Minister in an emergency, and no one pre- tended to know exactly what were his duties, or where his responsibility began and where it ended. Up to that time the business of the army had been transacted in five different offices—a fact which alone serves to indicate the discordant condition into which these affairs had been allowed to fall. By degrees the new Secretary of State took from the Home Office the control over the Militia and Yeomanry ; from the Colonial Office charge of the colonial fortresses and colonial army matters ; from the old War Office the financial func- tions hitherto performed by the Secretary at War ; from the Ordnance Office all the business hitherto in the hands of the Master-General of Ordnance ; from the Treasury the business of the Commissariat. Later still the management of the Volunteers fell into the same hands, and at subsequent periods the large factories and manufactories and establishments con- nected with armaments and clothing. All this work was piled up in the Secretary of State's office, to be done as it best might, and as very much greater attention has been paid to our means of offence and defence since 1851 than was paid before, there has been of course an immmse increase of busi- ness to be done.
But independently of this part of the transaction, there was another of even greater moment—the relation between the new War Office and the Horse Guards. Now that relation was not defined until years after the new office was created, and we have just been informed in a Parliamentary paper that the minute or document defining the powers and responsibilities of each department has been lost. As matters now stand, the Minister of War is theoretically responsible for acts of the Com- mander-in-Chief over which he has no real control, or only such control as he can manage to get. That is, while the authority of the Minister is limited on the side of the Horse Guards, his responsibility is held to be unlimited on the side of Parlia- ment. Instead of being a department of the War Office, the Horse Guards is a sort of dependency governed by a Viceroy. The natural consequence follows that when a complaint is pushed home it is hard, and often impossible, to determine
who is responsible, while it is certain that as there can be no unity of management, there must be greatly impaired efficiency. And as to the devising and launching of a great scheme of military organization, of thorough systematic army reform, with our present arrangements, it is no more practic- able than a voyage of the whole department to the moon. One remedy suggested for the evil is a restoration of the state of things prior to the Crimean war, with the addition of one supreme chief ; that is, the creation of more representa- tives of the War Department with seats in Parliament, who are to answer for themselves to that body, as well as to be answered for by their head. This plan might do if the British War Office were on a colonial scale, but then it would not be needed, as one man could do all the work of direc- tion. But the duties of the heads of the different depart- ments of the War Office are so engrossing that attendance in Parliament would seriously interfere with the performance thereof. Besides, if they eat in Parliament they must go out with their party, and this is in itself a great evil. Another remedy suggested is a Board, like the Board of Admiralty. But the tendency of a Board is to become a corporation, and if a corporation has no conscience, neither has it any responsi- bility. The First Lord may be, and often is, a despot who listens to advice and gives orders ; but the public are apt to believe that the Board is not a mere consultative body, and where there is a question of responsibility it is hard to be traced home. And if the different members of the Board sat in the same Parliament with their chief, their tendency would be to defend themselves and take care of themselves, and im- pair his authority. The responsibility must come to be divided and fined away into nothing.
Would not the true remedy be to appoint one supreme Minister of War with absolute control over everything pertain- ing to war, military organization, and military administration, make him as actually and absolutely responsible to Parlia- ment as the Prime Minister, and give him as subordinates the best men that could be found, and make them permanent heads of departments? These heads of departments, having well defined functions of their own, might be consulted by the Minister, either separately or in a body, but they should not form a Board, or make minutes, or do any act which would make them and not the Minister appear to be responsible to Parliament or the public. They should be masters also in their own departments to carry out the orders given them, but they should be the servants of the Minister as he would be the servant of the country. In this way we might obtain unity of initiation, unity of direction, unity of supervision, and what is equally important, unity of responsibility. In such a scheme the officer at the head of the Horse Guards should not occupy an exceptional place. He also, while master in his own department, should be a subordinate of the Minister of War. In him might be vested certain patronage, but he must take directions in all higher matters from his chief. At present the head of the Horse Guards exercises an undue in- fluence. A Commander-in-Chief and a Minister of War are incompatible institutions. It may be said that this would be to make the army a Parliamentary army instead of a Royal army ; but the navy is a Royal navy, though directly under the control of officers virtually appointed by Parliament, and not directly under the Crown. Besides the army is a Parlia- mentary army. To the Parliament it owes its being and its right to live from year to year ; but its efficiency as a military institution is marred by arrangements which withdraw a part of it from Parliamentary control exercised through the officer of Parliament, the Minister of War. Depend upon it, unity of power is the essence of efficiency in administration, and we shall no more get an efficient administration of the army upon a sound system without a single responsible Minis- ter, than we get efficient railway administration out of railway boards. Next to his own genius, the long continued success of the first Napoleon was in no small measure due to the fact that he was practically his own Minister of War, as well as his own Commander-in-Chief ; and it would be as reasonable to fight a campaign by means of a council of war as it is to try and secure an efficient administration and organization of the military concerns of Great Britain, with a Minister nominally supreme, but fettered on every side.