Helmuth Von Moltke’s iPod

KOW readers may find interesting these two extremely scratchy voice recordings of Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years, and one of the great strategists of the nineteenth century. They were done on 21 October 1889 when Von Moltke would have been nearly 90 years old. The first recording is a message to Thomas Edison congratulating him first on the invention of the telephone which he then corrects to say phonograph. The story of the recordings including others by,  inter alia, Bismarck and Alexander III may be found in an article on the Thomas Edison page of the US National Park Service. The second reading is a passage from Hamlet, apparently.

Personally, I think it is in and of itself sufficiently cool to listen in 2013 on the interwebs to the voice of a man born when Napoleon was running roughshod over Europe, and who went on to be a central figure in the reforms of arguably the most influential model of military organisation in modern history, to make the investment of four and a half minutes of your time listening worthwhile. You’re welcome. But what I really like about the first clip is how (admittedly with a certain amount of license) it may be read as a relevant statement on military affairs even today. He remarks that telecommunications really is an astonishing development in human history allowing us to do extraordinary things; but he points out too, rather poetically, that all our artifice cannot force nature to give what it does not wish to give.

If you think I’m going too far to say this is a valid reflection on the unchanging nature of war as opposed to its supremely mutable character then, well, shoot me. It’s pretty reasonable, no? The guy lived and breathed war for 90 years; it couldn’t have been that far from his thoughts. Anyway, it reminded me of one of my favourite of Von Moltke’s aphorisms: ‘The most unfortunate commander of all is the one with a telegraph wire attached to his back.’ This is a good collection of his essays.

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4 thoughts on “Helmuth Von Moltke’s iPod

  1. David, to your comment: “If you think I’m going too far to say this is a valid reflection on the unchanging nature of war as opposed to its supremely mutable character”

    Answer: nope. Bang on!

  2. lane says:

    Agreed totally … and I think if anything you understate Moltke’s understanding of Modern and his contemporary insight on the nature of war. His use of Trains, Command Staff, high volume fire, and mobility were pretty amazing. It’s lucky for their opponents that during the First Great War it was his nephew at the top instead of him. Good article.

  3. lane says:

    Also, one point you missed that I think/assume has been verified but Moltke’s voice recording is the ONLY known voice recorded from someone born in the 18th century … (1800 not being 19th). Another neat note concerning this.

  4. John Lidbury says:

    Is there are a market for an original oil of Helmuth von Moltke measuring 27inches x 23inches canvas and painted by V Panlaghy and dated 1891.
    If so would someone like to email me and I will send a photo. I am ready to sell.

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