Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics

Author: Maurice de Saxe

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After the organization of troops, military discipline is the first matter that presents itself. It is the soul of armies. If it is not established with wisdom and maintained with unshakable resolution you will have no soldiers. Regiments and armies will be only contemptible, armed mobs, more dangerous to their own country than to the enemy.

It is a false idea that discipline, subordination, and slavish obedience debase courage. It has always been noted that it is with those armies in which the severest discipline is enforced that the greatest deeds are performed.

Many generals believe that they have done everything as soon as they have issued orders, and they order a great deal because they find many abuses. This is a false principle; proceeding in this fashion, they will never reestablish discipline in an army in which it has been lost or weakened. Few orders are best, but they should be followed up with care; negligence should be punished without 246 partiality and without distinction of rank or birth; otherwise, you will make yourself hated. One can be exact and just, and be loved at the same time as feared. Severity must be accompanied with kindness, but this should not have the appearance of pretense, but of goodness.

Whippings need not be severe. The more moderate they are the more quickly will abuses be remedied, since all the world will join in ending them.

We have a pernicious custom in France of always punishing with death. A soldier caught pillaging is hung. The result is that no one arrests him because they do not want to cause the death of a poor devil who is only trying to live. If, instead, he were only turned over to the guard to be put in chains and condemned to bread and water for one, two, or three months, or put to work at any of the labors that always have to be done in an army, and then were sent to his regiment before a battle or when the general wished, everyone would agree with this punishment and the officers of the patrols would arrest them by hundreds. Soon there would be no pillaging because everyone would join in putting it under control.

At present only the unlucky are arrested. The guard and all the world, when they see them, turn the other way. The general complains because of the outrages committed; finally the provost marshal arrests one and he is hung. Arid the soldiers say that it is only the unlucky that loses. Does this conserve discipline? No, it only causes the death of a few men without reforming the evil.


Ah, it may be said, officers also allow them to pass their posts unnoticed. There is a remedy for this abuse. It is only necessary to question soldiers that the provost marshal has captured, make them admit what posts they have passed, and send the officers in charge of them to prison for the rest of the campaign. This soon will make them vigilant, attentive, and inexorable; but, when it is a question of the death of the man, there are few officers who will not risk two or three months in prison.

There are some things of great importance for discipline to which no attention is given and which officers ridicule. They even treat those as pedants who attempt to enforce them. The French, for example, ridicule the custom of the Germans of not touching dead horses. Nevertheless, it is very prudent and very wise if not carried too far. Its purpose, in armies, is to prevent soldiers from eating the carcass which, besides its uncleanliness, is very unhealthy. This does not prevent them, during sieges and in case of necessity, from killing their horses and eating them. Let us judge if the infamy that is now attached to this regulation is useful or otherwise.

The Germans are reproached for whipping; it is an established military punishment among them. If a German officer strikes or otherwise abuses a soldier, he is dismissed on the complaint of the soldier. The officer is obliged to give him satisfaction in a duel, if the soldier demands it, when he is no longer under his command, without dishonoring the officer. This obligation prevails through all the military ranks, and there are often instances of generals giving satisfaction at the point of a 248 sword to simple officers after they have left the service. They are unable to refuse the challenge without dishonoring themselves.

The French do not hesitate to strike a soldier with their hand, but they fear to use whipping as punishment because false ideals of personal rights have destroyed its use. Nevertheless, this type of punishment is often needed, and promptly, and is neither injurious nor dishonorable. Let us compare these different customs and judge which is best for the service and which is most consistent with personal honor.

It is the same with the discipline of officers. The French reproach the Germans with their provosts and their chains; the latter retort by exclaiming against the prisons and ropes of the French. German officers are never confined in prison, where they may be thrown in with thieves or men about to be hanged. They have a provost in every regiment; it is always an old sergeant who is given this post as a reward for his services. With respect to chains, I have never seen them used unless a criminal affair was involved. I have seen French tied with ropes. Let one balance these methods again, and it will serve to demonstrate the absurdity of condemning customs before the causes have been examined.

After having explained my ideas about infantry and cavalry, on methods of fighting and on discipline, which are, so to speak, the base and the fundamentals of the military art, I shall now proceed to the sublime parts. Perhaps few will understand me, but I write for experts and to instruct myself from their criticisms. They should 249 not be offended by the assurance with which I deliver my opinions. They should correct them; that is the fruit I expect from this work.


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Chicago: Maurice de Saxe, "My Reveries Upon the Art of War: Military Discipline," Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics in Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics, ed. Thomas R. Phillips (Harrisburg, PA: The Military Service Publishing Company, 1940), Original Sources, accessed February 3, 2023,

MLA: de Saxe, Maurice. "My Reveries Upon the Art of War: Military Discipline." Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics, in Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics, edited by Thomas R. Phillips, Harrisburg, PA, The Military Service Publishing Company, 1940, Original Sources. 3 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: de Saxe, M, 'My Reveries Upon the Art of War: Military Discipline' in Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics. cited in 1940, Roots of Strategy: A Collection of Military Classics, ed. , The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, PA. Original Sources, retrieved 3 February 2023, from