Nestled between the foreword and the introduction of this Andrew Natsios essay on counter-bureaucracy (it’s much more interesting than the tile suggests), is what I believe is the world’s first recorded instance of people in the field complaining about the bureaucratic demands from their colleagues at headquarters. I’m sure that today many field officers feel equally as burdened by reporting and short-term management constraints. The message is pitch-perfect.
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the
approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been
diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by
His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch
to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles,
and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s
Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on
the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and
every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable
exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains
unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there
has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of
raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm
in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related
to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France,
a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request
elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so
that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over
these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two
alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the
best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for
the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or,
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,
—Attributed to the Duke of Wellington, during the
Peninsular Campaign, in a message to the British
Foreign Office in London, 11 August 1812.1