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Maurice Baring's Memorable Perceptions of War in Pre-Bolshevik Russia

Maurice Baring's Memorable Perceptions of War in Pre-Bolshevik Russia

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After considering these varied, but representative, above insights from Maurice Baring’s 1905 book, With the Russians in Manchuria, we shall be even more grateful to reflect upon the admonitory conclusions he draws from his trenchant depiction of modern war, which he so diversely experienced in several foreign cultures before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Moreover, his piercing and humane warning about the nature of modern war came some twelve years before the impending Bolshevist Era of Revolutionary Total War and thus also before the 1917 events in Portugal, at Fatima.
After considering these varied, but representative, above insights from Maurice Baring’s 1905 book, With the Russians in Manchuria, we shall be even more grateful to reflect upon the admonitory conclusions he draws from his trenchant depiction of modern war, which he so diversely experienced in several foreign cultures before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Moreover, his piercing and humane warning about the nature of modern war came some twelve years before the impending Bolshevist Era of Revolutionary Total War and thus also before the 1917 events in Portugal, at Fatima.

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Published by: Saint Benedict Center on Jun 27, 2013
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Dr. Robert Hickson 13 June 2013Saint Anthony of Padua 
Maurice Baring’s Memorable Perceptions of Warin Pre-Bolshevik Russia and Constantinople
Epigraphs:
“It is often said [as of 1905] that the Russian soldier is admirable on thedefensive and when qualities of endurance are needed, but that he is no goodon the offensive.
I believe this is a catch-word which has no foundation infact
. I believe the truth to be that the Russian soldier will go anywhere and doanything, only that the amount of dash of which he will be capable will dependon the amount of dash with which he is led. That Russian infantry is capable of doing marvels under inspired direction was proved to the world in 1799 by thecampaign of Suvorov, but since Suvorov Russia has not had
an inspired leaderof genius
. Skobelieff was a dashing soldier, but he had not
the Napoleonicrapidity of conception and action
as Suvorov [d.1800] had; and it needssomething more than dash to handle an army,
as a great musician handles amusical instrument
. (Maurice Baring,
With the Russians in Manchuria
(London: Methuen, 1905— 3
rd
ed. in 1906), pp. 183-184—my emphasis added)“A great deal has been written
and is still written daily
[as of 1905] about thehardships Russians are enduring owing to their being without food and winter clothing [in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905].
This is mere fancy
. Thesoldiers have a plentiful supply of meat and are probably, as far as feedinggoes, better off at the front [in Manchuria and Korea] than they are in barracks....As to warm clothing—by the middle of December [1904] the wholearmy was provided with thick coats reaching to the knees and lined withsheepskin, fur caps and felt boots....Besides the thick overcoats (poloushoubki)the men had shirts made of a soft woolen stuff like a blanket.
It is the morediscontented of the ‘intellectuals’ in St. Petersburg and Moscow who areresponsible for the reports about the wretched insufficiency
of the men’sclothing;
and they are magnified by our daily press
[in England].” (MauriceBaring,
With the Russians in Manchuria
, pp. 186-187—my emphasis added)“If lack of initiative is the most crying defect of the Russian army [given theabsence of clear purpose and objectives in the War], lack of proper 
 
organizationis the second fault. Just as in the civil administration of Russia disastrousresults are obtained by the utter lack of cohesion and complete disconnection between one department and another, so in the army there is a deplorable wantof connection between the various parts. As to the strategy and tactics, thecompetent authorities seem to agree that there has been no very brilliant displayof strategy on either side; and that the war in this respect has been almost pre- Napoleonic.” (Maurice Baring,
With the Russians in Manchuria
, p. 187)1
 
After considering these varied, but representative, above insights from Maurice Baring’s 1905 book,
With the Russians in Manchuria
, we shall be even more grateful to reflect upon the admonitoryconclusions he draws from his trenchant depiction of modern war, which he so diversely experienced inseveral foreign cultures before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Moreover, his piercing andhumane warning about the nature of modern war came some twelve years before the impendingBolshevist Era of Revolutionary Total War and thus also before the 1917 events in Portugal, at Fatima.
1
It seems fitting, therefore, now at the outset to quote in their entirety the three final paragraphsof Baring’s 1905 book about Manchuria, in order to prepare us, and even to help clarify for us in proper  proportion, what is to follow. For, most of these rare glimpses of early-20
th
century war will come fromthe candid Russian and Balkan writings of Maurice Baring, who—like his intimate friends, G.K.Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc—was himself a very cultured and courageous man with a deep,answering heart and a poetic soul of rare and nuanced perceptions. And that was so even before he wasgratefully to enter the Catholic Church on 1 February 1909, on the Vigil of Candlemas—after havinghad, for some years, his own privileged experiences of the Orthodox Faith and its rooted sacred (andsacramental) culture in Russia.At the end of his vivid narrative account as a gifted multilingual journalist amidst many battlesin the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, Baring says, by way of conclusion and warning, the following:As to the war I shall be satisfied
if 
there is a
single
sentence in this book whichwill have brought home
to anyone
the
unalterable
horror, misery, pain, andsuffering which is caused by a modern war— 
anything
which will make peoplereflect when,
or rather before
, they beat the big drum and appeal to
St. Jingo
.War is an insensate abomination, and the
only
redeeming feature in it seems tome
the sparks it knocks out of the human character
,
apart from
the actualcourage displayed, and the deeds of heroism which are done.War seemed to me to be
like the palace of truth
, to act
as a touchstone onmen’s characters
; it revealed many vices, follies and failures, weaknesses, themeanest and smallest sides of human nature;
but also
in the other scale of the
1In this context, see especially Major General J.F.C Fuller,
The Conduct of War, 1789-1961: A Study of the Impact of the French, Industrial, and Russian Revolutions on War and Its Conduct 
(New York: Da Capo Press, 1992—first edition in1961, from Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey). Notably illuminating are J.F.C. Fuller’s Chapter X(“Lenin and the Russian Revolution”) and Chapter XI (“Soviet Revolutionary Warfare”), to be found on pages 183-216.
2
 
 balance, and surely the balance is weighed down on this side,
many noblethings and innumerable small forgotten acts which were beautiful, andamong these perhaps the most precious are the unexpected surprises inmen, the “self-sacrifice of the indifferent, the unworldliness of the worldly,the unselfishness of the selfish
.” (204-205—my emphasis added)
2
As an example of such a noble human character amidst that desolating war, Baring had earlier  presented his brief, but abiding, depiction of Colonel Philemonoff:I left [“to return to Mukden”] on the 30
th
October [1904] with ColonelPhilemonoff, who had been ordered home to Russia by the doctors. He had been getting worse,
and could scarcely move from his bed
. In spite of this hewould get up from time to time, and, muffled in cloaks, go up to the top of thehill [“Poutiloff’s Hill”] in the bitter cold. He was an example of mans“unconquerable mind.”
And it was indeed bitter to him when he was at lastforced to go and leave his men and the work, which was his life
. I saw himsay good-bye to the Cossacks. He made a short speech in a low voice,absolutely simple and unpretentious.Then as he rode away
he told me how he had lived with these men, andregarded them as his children, and that it broke his heart to go away
. Hewas a man of forbidding exterior, with a quiet, grim manner, but he wasrefined, cultivated, with a quiet sense of humour. “Lofty and sour to them thatlov’d him not; But, to those men that sought him sweet as summer.”
Theembodiment of natural unaffected courage, and the men worshipped him
.(180-181—my emphasis added)As another sign of the magnanimity and compassion of the Russian soldier for his opponent,Baring—who knew the Russian language very well—reveals another inspiring example, perhaps toform, as well, our own character when we are grappling or under fire:The Russians used always to say that the Japanese were “molodtzi,” whichmeans “fine fellows,” and is the greatest praise you can express in Russian.
The following is a story of truth which I can vouch for
. A Russian and aJapanese were found locked in a hand to hand struggle. The Japanese was taken prisoner and
the Russian was severely wounded
. The Russian
refused
to be
2Maurice Baring,
With the Russians in Manchuria
(London: Methuen, 1905, 1906), pp. 204-205. This reference and allfurther references to this book will be placed in the main text of this essay, in parentheses. In 1927, Maurice Baring published a larger volume of his pre-Bolshevist writings on Russia, but, for some reason unknown to me, he does nottherein include these poignant, final three paragraphs presented in the three earlier editions of 
With the Russians in Manchuria
(June 1905, August 1905, and 1906). See Maurice Baring,
What I Saw in Russia
(London: WilliamHeinemann LTD, 1927), 386 pages. The selected portions of 
With the Russians in Manchuria
are to be found in Part I of this latter volume, on pages 1-156. Part II considers “What I Saw in Russia, 1905-1906,” after the Russo-Japanese War;and Part III considers “What I Saw in Russia, 1907-1914,” and just before the outbreak of World War I.
3

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