|HAS TECHNOLOGY BEEN CHANGING WARFARE?
WILL THE NEXT WAR BE LIKE YOUR FATHER'S WAR?
There was more to come. Machine guns had been used in a very one-sided way for a while, but when
the 20th century ushered in World War I (keeping traditional nomenclature), both sides had machine
guns, and other mechanized weapons, for the first time. Nations used to quick victories with these
mechanical marvels suddenly found themselves on the receiving end. You can check Chapter 6 for the
results, but they were not pretty. More warfare-inspired R&D followed producing the likes of aerial
bombing, tanks, and poison gas (also introduced by Wells in "The War of the Worlds). They were not
quite ready for World War I, but weapons R&D thrives under threat of war. These and other new
weapons were well-developed by World War II.
This war was complex, so much so that I have devoted several chapters to it and have still ignored
much of it. However, in World War II, bombing came of age. Massive bombing of cities and
attempts to carry out pinpoint bombing of industries played a major part. Some results of this
bombing campaign in Europe are outlined here, in Chapter 7. Some of this World War II bombing
created fires so intense that there were called firestorms. Find out what makes a firestorm in
Sidebar 1. The first of the World War II firestorms burned part of Hamburg, Germany. Find out
more about the city and what happened there in Sidebar 2.
Meanwhile, the newly developed aircraft carriers were able to project air power into areas undreamed
of only a few years earlier -- such as Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. They also made the
American advance across the Pacific toward Japan possible. The story is here in Chapter 8.
Once the advance came close enough to Japan, about 1500 miles, large scale bombing of those islands
could begin. Find out about the result of this bombing in Chapter 9. This is quite an extension of
the lethal range of weapons from the 100 yards or so of smoothbore muskets.
While talking about bombing, we should mention the bombing raids on New York City and Washington
DC on Sept. 11, 2001. Suicide planes have been used before, of course, such as in World War II by
Japan against US ships. And there have been many cases of bombing of civilians on the ground. But
this was the first time planes containing innocent people were deliberately crashed in order to destroy
something and take lives on the ground. Probably there have been many people throughout history who
could have done that, but modern technology has given some of them the opportunity. By the way,
these buildings did fall because of the planes that crashed into them and not because of some other
conspiracy. There are some things you can see with your own eyes that tend to discredit the
conspiracy theories, if you wish to do look at them. See the extra page on this subject.
World War II finally came to an end after two atomic bombs were used as told in Chapter 10, which
also considers whether the war could have ended in some other way. This new bomb gave a single B29
bomber the lethal ability that a whole fleet of them possessed just a short time before. A nuclear
weapon is not just a bigger bomb, though. It has effects and abilities not even approximated by
earlier bombs. So we need to spend some time looking at them, especially since it has gone out of
fashion to think much about them. In this as yet unnumbered chapter, you can find a look at the
effects of nuclear weapons and also a peek at how many of them there are. 'nuff to make you think...
The proliferation of nuclear weapons has been a major concern lately, and any citizen and voter really
ought to take a look at what is needed to build one. Don't actually build it though! This chapter, also
not yet numbered, will tell you something about those countries building nuclear weapons and how they
do it. It is, however, not nearly detailed enough to provided an actual blueprint. Also, here are
some links to more information on nuclear weapons.
Some of these chapters are not yet numbered, because I am still working on extending this into the
very, very modern world. There is a whole zoo of modern weapons which, although not nuclear, still
extend the lethal abilities of individual people so far beyond those of earlier years that the word
"conventional" no longer describes them. However, they are generally called "conventional" anyway. I
am working on a chapter or two on these, and I am not yet sure of the order of the concluding
Anyway, we might expect a new world war to shoot the works -- everything from nuclear weapons to
the modern non-conventional weapons to actual conventional ones. I'm still not quite sure exactly what
it might be like, but I think most of us would find ourselves in the way of some kind of "incoming".
And in the world, there are 6 billion of us.
Here is a link to the same chapter that was referenced at the top of the page. It not only describes
some previous world wars, but it also tells about some relatively recent close calls. Here is the link:
World Wars: How Many? How many More?
Several centuries of warfare and development went into creating a practical
firearm. Cannons advanced to something practical first, but they were big,
heavy and clumsy for a long time. A hand-held firearm made gradual
inroads and eventually dominated the battlefield as outlined in Chapter 2. .
By the way, this series of slide shows is not trying to be a comprehensive
technological history of warfare. Check the bibliography for some of those.
This is supposed to be a few checkpoints to illustrate the constantly
expanding reach of violent technology as we pass from ancient times to
modern times to more modern times.
Well I have just been
wondering what the next
big world war will be
like. I am talking about
really big ones like
"World War II". Of
course we may think we
have become immune to
anything that silly, or
what is more likely, we
may not be thinking
about such a war at all.
All this research and development (R & D) produced the smoothbore musket
of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 period. These were pretty
deadly at close range especially if there were a lot of them firing at once.
But that wasn't good enough. No one could hit much with them at long
range. But there was always the possibility of a practical rifle which could
spin the "ball", as they used to call the projectile, to stabilize it and hit
people at ten times the range of the older muskets. Check out how this
technology matured just in time for the US Civil War in Chapter 3. The
casualties in this war were horrible, largely due to the new rifles.
Shipbuilding was changing too during the US Civil War. This was not too far
into the steamship era, and navies were being rapidly converted. There
also seemed to be little reason to resist better protection of ships against
cannonballs. Along came ironclad ships, which were still fairly new, though
not unknown, at the time of the Civil War. Some of the efforts toward
using ironclads during the Civil War might surprise you. See Chapter 4.
And weapons developers had many other ideas at the time. Breech-loading
rifles were available, but not much used by the infantry. But if rifles had
reached that stage of development, why not mount a bunch of them on some
kind of wheel, load them by mechanical means, and fire them one after
another to create a real hail of bullets? Of course this was the Gatling
Gun, named after the inventor, and if the Civil War had lasted a little
longer, they would have been developed to the point of increasing casualties
far above the grim level they reached anyway. The Civil War was
particularly effective at promoting R&D.
Although the Gatling Gun was, strictly speaking, not quite a machine gun, it
had the same effect. As Chapter 5 describes, true machine guns came
along soon and played an important role in helping the "civilized" world of
the late 19th century conquer and colonize the rest of it. These weapons
were so advanced that they reminded at least one popular novelist, H. G.
Wells, of weapons that might be used in an invasion from outer space. His
science fiction novel, "The War of the Worlds", which has inspired several
movies, expanded on the idea to create a heat ray, but machine guns were
the inspiration. It is strange and a bit terrifying, but by the early 2000's
even the heat ray was no longer fiction.
But maybe we should worry. For one thing, World War II is probably
misnamed. There have been more than two of these big wars, with long
intervals between them. Check this slide show for some examples of
world wars. It seems that many of the world's technological powers have
mixed it up over large sections of the world several times, and if that is
not a world war, then what is? Usually it seems unthinkable, but
sometimes the world's nations start to glare at one another while thinking
the unthinkable. The hairs on their necks stand up, and certain groups
decide they can no longer stand what other groups represent. The
consequences of not acting seem too great to too many. So they act.
So what might it look like next time? That is going to depend on the
technology available, among other things. At least the technology should
determine the limits of how many people can be shot, stabbed, burned,
blown up, irradiated and otherwise mutilated in how short a time. And
that technology has been getting more and more efficient especially in
To get a handle on where it might go, I have gone back into history to try
to trace the advance of war making devices and machines. The beginning
means just that -- back to what looks like the dawn of serious warfare.
You can check that out here in Chapter 1, the first slide show. Check out
the Sidebar to Chapter 1 for a lot more on the evidence about ancient
caves and rock art mentioned in Chapter 1.
By the way I really don't want to worry about whether people ever lived
in some sort of ideal, peaceful, primitive state. The evidence of very
ancient graves and depictions of fighting in rock art suggests a strong
escalation in the violence of warfare maybe twelve thousand or so years
ago. But of course, that doesn't mean the initial condition was one of
zero violence. There was an advance in the quality of weapons at the
time, which might be the first example of warfare igniting serious weapons
research. It wasn't the last.