To two generations of Americans the German General Staff has stood as an object of hatred, fear and revulsion. In the two greatest of our wars Germany was our principal opponent; twice in a lifetime we have seen our normal world, if not our national existence itself, imperilled by her formidable and ruthless armies. Through the whole thirty years from 1914 to 1945 we were to live more or less under the shadow of the grimly expert, professional militarism by which those armies were led —a tradition nurtured, and in the world's eyes personified, by the German Great General Staff.
This remarkable organization seemed so much a thing of evil in itself that its extirpation became a chief object of the Treaty of Versailles. Duly it was abolished, and Germany forbidden ever to recreate such an instrument of military power; apparently, the only result was that twenty years later it was functioning as it always had, managing still greater armies, launching them with still greater precision and more deadly effect upon a shattered world society. The General Staff, which traced its origins to the armies of Frederick the Great, did not finally cease to exist until that apocalyptic moment in the ruins of the Reichskanzlei, when Germany was at last left without an army of any kind through which it might operate.
That it had left an indelible impress upon our national life, our history and our future was obvious enough. Less obvious — and certainly far less clearly understood — was the earlier influence which it had exerted upon our own institutions, in common with those of Western society as a whole. In the late Nineteenth Century it was far from seeming the evil power which it was later regarded as being; in the days of the elder Moltke it was, rather, a model, earnestly imitated by all the greater nations as they sought to bring their military systems and policies into line with the revolutionary changes which sociology and technology were working in the ancient art of war.
The Napoleonic era had posed, or clearly foreshadowed, certain fundamental military problems of great complexity. It had combined the invention of the democratic, popular mass army with the beginnings of a technological revolution which was to make possible the mobilization, supply, deployment and maneuver of such masses on an unparalleled scale. Both the ideological foundations and the technical apparatus had been provided for a "total" outpouring of the national energies in war to an extent which would have seemed incredible even as late as the mid-Eighteenth Century. How were such tremendous potential forces to be controlled; how were they to be commanded; how, in particular, were they to be related to the political and social ends of the state, which they were supposed to serve?