Culminating Point of the Attack
The success of the attack is the result of a present superiority of force, it being understood that the moral as well as physical forces are included. In the preceding chapter we have shown that the power of the attack gradually exhausts itself; possibly at the same time the superiority may increase, but in most cases it diminishes. The assailant buys up prospective advantages which are to be turned to account hereafter in negotiations for peace; but, in the meantime, he has to pay down on the spot for them a certain amount of his military force. If a preponderance on the side of the attack, although thus daily diminishing, is still maintained until peace is concluded, the object is attained. There are strategic attacks which have led to an immediate peace but such instances are rare; the majority, on the contrary, lead only to a point at which the forces remaining are just sufficient to maintain a defensive, and to wait for peace. Beyond that point the scale turns, there is a reaction; the violence of such a reaction is commonly much greater than the force of the blow. This we call the culminating point of the attack. As the object of the attack is the possession of the enemy’s territory, it follows that the advance must continue till the superiority is exhausted; this cause, therefore, impels us towards the ultimate object, and may easily lead us beyond it. If we reflect upon the number of the elements of which an equation of the forces in action is composed, we may conceive how difficult it is in many cases to determine which of two opponents has the superiority on his side. Often all hangs on the silken thread of imagination.
Everything then depends on discovering the culminating point by the fine tact of judgment. Here we come upon a seeming contradiction. The defense is stronger than the attack; therefore we should think that the latter can never lead us too far, for as long as the weaker form remains strong enough for what is required, the stronger form ought to be still more so.