XI THE ARMY AND THE UNIVERSITIES: A STUDY OF EDUCATIONAL VALUES
THE ARMY AND THE UNIVERSITIES:
AN undergraduate once received a simultaneous visit from a subaltern and a High Church Socialist curate. Unfortunately he was unable to entertain them in the afternoon, so he sent them out together in a canoe on the "Char." The canoe returned in safety. As soon as he had a chance, the host asked the curate privately how he liked the subaltern. "Oh," said the curate., "a very nice chap; but awfully young, and knows very little about life." A little later the host asked the subaltern how he got on with the curate. "Quite a decent little man," said the subaltern; "but it would do him a lot of good to mix more in society and broaden his views; and, of course, he is very young!" Probably they were both right. Both were good fellows; but they had looked at life from an utterly different angle, and their views on what they saw were diametrically opposite. Neither was old enough to be very tolerant, and so it is rather a wonder that the canoe did return in safety.
Of course the curate was a University man, and the subaltern had been at "the Shop" or Sandhurst, and the implication is that each was typical of his schooling. That is as unfair as most generalizations. All University men are not Socialist curates, and all soldiers are not Tories; but at the same time the lack of sympathy between these two individuals is paralleled in most cases where representatives of the two types meet. In some outlandish Colony you will sometimes find a soldier and a University man collaborating in the government of a district. If you ask the soldier how he likes his assistant, he will probably answer: "A damned good chap when you know him"; and then he will add, with a somewhat rueful smile: "but, by Jove, that Oxford manner of his took a bit of getting over at the start!" If you ask the University man how he gets on with his chief, he will answer: "A 1 now; but, by gad, his manner was a bit sticky at first!" You will also find the same state of affairs in many battalions of the New Army. The fact is that the University, or Sandhurst, or "the Shop" receives a boy at his most plastic age, and sets its mark on him indelibly; and the mark of each is wholly different. Two boys may come from the same public school and the same home; but if one goes to Oxford and the other to Woolwich, they will be utterly different men. As one who has been to both, I think I understand just why it is.
It is twelve years since I was at "the Shop"; but from all I hear and see the place has not altered so very much. It was run on Spartan lines. The motto was, and is, "Unhasting yet unresting work," and the curriculum was almost exclusively utilitarian. The chief subjects were mathematics, gunnery, fortification, mechanics , electricity, physical training, riding, and drill. None of these is calculated to widen the sympathies or cultivate the imagination. They are calculated to produce competent gunners and sappers. Our day was fully occupied, and in the two hours of leisure between dinner and lights out, one had no inclination to embark on fresh subjects of study. The discipline was strict, and ethically the value of the life was that it inculcated the ideas of alertness, duty, and honor. To do one's job thoroughly and quickly, and to be quite straightforward about it if one had omitted any duty, was the code to which we were expected to conform. Religion was represented by a parade-service on Sundays. In so far as it meant anything, it was the recognition that God was King of kings, and, as such, deserved His weekly meed of homage. Here is a story which illustrates rather well the military view of religion. A certain devout major had promised to attend a prayer meeting, and on that account refused an invitation to dine with a member of the Army Council. When someone expressed astonishment at his refusal, he replied shortly that he had an engagement with the Lord God, Who was senior to the member of the Army Council! If there was little opportunity for the study of the "humanities," and little inducement to mysticism in religion, there was no encouragement at all to the development of the æsthetic faculties. Our rooms were hopelessly bare and hideous. My first room I shared with three others. The walls were of whitewashed brick. The floor was bare. The beds folded up against the wall, under print curtains of an uncompromising pattern. The furniture consisted of a deal table, four Windsor chairs, a shelf with four basins, and a locker divided into four compartments and painted khaki. One could do nothing with such a room. It crushed individuality of taste most effectually. Finally, one learnt not to show physical fear or nervousness. The plank bridge across the roof of the "gym." ensured an appearance of courage, while the "snookers' concert," where one had to sing a song in front of a hall full of yelling seniors, was the cure for a display of nerves.
The result of such a schooling is distinctive. The average officer is a man with a good deal of simplicity. His code is simple. He sees life as a series of incidents with which he has to deal practically. It is not his job to ask why. He has to get on and do something about it. If he does his work well, that is all that is required of him. His interests are practical. They relate to his profession, his men, and his recreations. His pleasures are simple. They are the pleasures of the. body rather than the mind---sport, games, sex. His relations with his fellow men are simple and defined. To his superiors in rank he must be respectful, at all events outwardly. He must support them even when he thinks they are mistaken. To his equals he must be a good comrade. To his men he must be a sort of father, encouraging, correcting, stimulating, restraining, as the occasion demands. They are quite definitely his inferiors. It is not surprising if he lacks sympathy with Socialism, Idealism, Mysticism, and all the other "isms." Like everyone else, he has the limitations of his virtues.
The life at Oxford, which I experienced some four years later, was the most complete contrast imaginable to what I have been trying to describe, and, as is only natural, the product is absolutely different from the product of "the Shop." At Oxford we were the masters of our time. We read what we liked and when we liked. We went to bed when we liked, and, in the main, got up when we liked. We had beautiful rooms, which offered every inducement to the exercise of individual taste. Our reading was the reverse of utilitarian; it was calculated not to make us competent craftsmen, but to widen our sympathies and stimulate our imaginations. We read history, philosophy, theology, literature, psychology---all subjects which incite one to dream rather than to act. Our religion tended to be mystical. In creed and ethics we were inclined to be critical, to take nothing for granted. In politics our sympathies were too wide and our skepticism too pronounced to be compatible with definite views. Socially we were theoretically democratic; but our inherited and æsthetic prejudices kept most of us from putting our theories into practice. When we left our Alma Mater we were full of vague ideals, unpractical dreams, and ineffective good-will. Those of us who then went to work took little practical enthusiasm with them at the first; and it was many months before they were able to relegate to its proper place in the dim background the land of dreams which was their kingdom of the mind.
All stories end in the same way now: "then came the war." Most University men took commissions, and found themselves working side by side with their opposites---the men from Sandhurst and Woolwich. In the end both types found that they had something to learn from the other. In the routine of the barrack and the trench the University man learnt the value of punctuality and a high sense of duty. He found it very hard to work when he felt inclined to meditate, to perform punctiliously duties of which he did not see the necessity but only the inconvenience. Yet time showed that the military code was not simply arbitrary and irritating, as it appeared at first, but essential to efficiency. So, too, the professional soldier saw that the psychological interests and broad human sympathies of the University man had their uses in helping to maintain a good spirit, and to get the best work out of men who were experiencing hardships of a kind that they had never known before. And in the days of danger and death a good many officers felt the need of an articulate philosophy of life and death, and recognized that Oxford and Cambridge had given their sons the power to evolve one, while Sandhurst and Woolwich had not,
Other University men there are who have preferred to remain in the ranks of the Army. Who shall say that they are shirking their responsibilities? The men also need the wisdom that they have gathered, for they, too, have to face death and wounds with the poorest mental equipment for doing so. And in the ranks the student will find that his philosophy is becoming practical, that his dreams are being fulfilled, and that he is the interpreter of a wider experience of life than even he ever imagined.