Gentleman Ranker

ALL good tales of past wars seem contemporary during a current war. Mr. Jennings’s good tale of the French and Indian War — specifically, of Braddock’s dismal campaign and its aftermath in the frontier settlements — is written without overt reference to anything more recent; and yet it constantly brings up the present, almost as if 1942 were an actual echo of 1755. Modern war has entered new dimensions with new weapons, but not even its aerial dimension is newer to us than the Pennsylvania wilds were to Braddock’s men and officers. They lost the campaign by insisting on the letter of what they had learned on parade grounds and on battlefields of Europe — lost it to opponents stronger in individual initiative and self-trained to make instant adaptation of their tactics to the place and the conditions. After the better part of two centuries the wheel has come full circle, and again we see campaigns and actions won, both on the ground and above it, not by drilled automatons and drillmasters, but by men who can think for themselves under stress and whose ready adaptability in emergencies is precisely that of the successful Indian fighter, the unregimented frontiersman — men who can turn mechanized war to unmechanized uses. That is what is brought home to the modern reader in the picture of Braddock, on his fifth horse of the battle and about to receive his mortal wound, beating his soldiery with the flat of his sword, cursing them out into the open to stand in platoons and be mowed down in strict military propriety by a foe they cannot even see. Some of the survivors learned the lesson and stayed to achieve re-education as provincials, frontiersmen, Americans. In these, the ones who graduated from the redcoat to the buckskin theory of how to fight and how to live, the story finds most of its characters and all its meaning. W. F.