Decisive Victory and Correct Doctrine: Cults in French Military Thought Before 1914 (A Rereading of Ardant du Picq, Ferdinand Foch, and Loyzeau de Grandmasion)

Many critics have discussed French military doctrine in terms of its broad social and political contexts. They assess, for example, the endemic political crisis and the pathological civil-military relations characteristic of the Third Republic, the general acceptance of social Darwinistic attitudes to international relations, and the influence of Bergson's élan vital. I shall not survey this wider debate but will concentrate on a careful reading of military doctrine as such. What are its strength? its weaknesses? What are its hidden assumptions?

My reading of French military doctrine will focus on the writings of Ardant du Picq, Ferdinand Foch, and Loyzeau de Grandmaison for two reasons. First, they are most often quoted by critics of the French military.  Second, each of them is interesting in his own right and demonstrates some of the deeper dilemmas of military doctrine. Taken together they span the period from before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 up to the First World War.  I shall not criticize these military writers for failing to predict the future but will concentrate on their implicit assumptions and logical errors, which in principle could have been identified by an independent and critical observer contemporary with the writers.