How Did Modern Weapons Change the Dynamics of City Fighting?

How Did Modern Weapons Change the Dynamics of City Fighting?

In medieval times, an attacking army that had breached the walls/outer defense of a city, could enter it and overrun the defenders at relatively little cost.

A major modern exception was the battle of Stalingrad. The city was "invaded" and largely overrrun, but the defenders were able to conduct a successful house-to-house, street-to-street defense in the remainder for two months until the Germans were surrounded by a counterattack.

A similar thing occurred with the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Polish rebels were able to hold parts of the city against greatly superior forces for two months, basically until their food and ammunition ran out.

These battles constrasted greatly with other, less successful city defenses such as those of Rostov and Kharkov earlier in the same war. Why was that?

In any war, the strategic goals (and logistics) of the war defines what is worth doing and what is not. The same is true of sieges.

Environment: Pre-gun fire, the only way to raze a city was to (maybe sack it first and) burn it to the ground. Urbanisation of the country side moved more people into cities making them bigger. Now, guns could destroy large portions of a city but not fully. There should be cover, sneakaways, places to hide either bombs or snipers or small units for ambushes. Even fires would stop and not travel as far as they used to -- steel and concrete do not burn that well. So, you have more people and an environment where they can fight effectively. Add to this easy to use weapons (see below) and you the means to do effective urban warfare.

Strategic goals: Now, both Stalingrad and Warsaw were highly political targets that both sides really wanted to keep. Stalingrad because it was Stalin's City and losing it would have been a propaganda disaster. Warsaw because it was the Polish government's in exile (in London) way to assert control over Liberated Poland against the Soviet Union (veiled?) attempt at conquest. Keeping or liberating the city were war goals worth of the nightmare of getting into urban warfare.

As ever, it comes to the overall strategy of the war whether a battle is worth it or not.

A modern example: In more modern times, Baghdad fell to armoured divisions which was thought to be utterly impossible. Again, the goal of the defenders was to flee and create a civil war, not fight for the capital. Thus no major urban war within Baghdad happened. Maybe that helped with the above statement, maybe not. It's too early to tell. Was Baghdad seen as a strategic goal by the US? Yes. Was it seen as a strategic goal by Saddam forces? Maybe. Was it seen as a strategic goal by Al Qaeda? No. Again, it comes down to overall strategical goals.

Side note: Finally, firearms are much easier weapons to use than swords, bows, spears, crossbows, and co. They require limited expertise (thus why the Kalashnikov is so popular because it is so simple) which you can train easily. Its effects are hard to protect against. It takes a few minutes to be able to shoot, a few days to become competent. Thus your civilian population can learn to defend itself really quickly. Explosives need good bomb makers, the delivery system can be dumb -- see suicide bombers, IEDs, mines, etc…

Modern vs. medieval: it's a matter of cover.

If you're facing someone with a sword or a pike, cover gains you little in the way of protection: an attacker can simply approach, reach around the cover, and stab you. In contrast, height gains you a great deal of protection: it's hard for an attacker standing below to reach you, but you can drop things on them, or reach over a low barrier you're standing behind while the attacker can't reach up and over. The city walls provide you with a great deal of height, but once they're breached, the cover provided by an urban environment gains you little.

In contrast, if you're using a gun or a grenade launcher, cover provides you with a great deal of protection by stopping bullets, while an attacker without similar cover is an easy target. Height, on the other hand, just makes you a bigger target. City walls function mainly as a mechanical barrier to advancing troops which can easily be countered by heavy artillery or combat engineers, but the city itself provides a seemingly endless supply of cover.

Stalingrad vs. Kharkov: it's a matter of objectives.

During the Battle of Kharkov, the Soviets were fighting a delaying action while they evacuated the city (including its industrial facilities). Once they'd finished that, the city itself was a strategically untenable position, so the Soviets retreated.

Holding Stalingrad, on the other hand, was a matter of vast pride to the leaders of both side. Thus, they kept throwing men and materiel into the fight long past the point of diminishing returns.

Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project was the code name for the American-led effort to develop a functional atomic weapon during World War II. The controversial creation and eventual use of the atomic bomb engaged some of the world’s leading scientific minds, as well as the U.S. military𠅊nd most of the work was done in Los Alamos, New Mexico, not the borough of New York City for which it was originally named. The Manhattan Project was started in response to fears that German scientists had been working on a weapon using nuclear technology since the 1930s𠅊nd that Adolf Hitler was prepared to use it.

Technology and the Weapons of the First World War, 1914-1918

American troops using a newly-developed acoustic locator, mounted on a wheeled platform. The large horns amplified distant sounds, monitored through headphones worn by a crew member, who could direct the platform to move and pinpoint distant enemy aircraft. Development of passive acoustic location accelerated during World War I, later surpassed by the development of radar in the 1940s.

World War I was one of the defining events of the 20th century. From 1914 to 1918 conflict raged in much of the world and involved most of Europe, the United States, and much of the Middle East. In terms of technological history, World War I is significant because it marked the debut of many new types of weapons and was the first major war to “benefit” from technological advances in radio, electrical power, and other technologies.

From the onset, those involved in the war were aware that technology would make a critical impact on the outcome. In 1915 British Admiral Jacky Fisher wrote, “The war is going to be won by inventions.” New weapons, such as tanks, the zeppelin, poison gas, the airplane, the submarine, and the machine gun, increased casualties, and brought the war to civilian populations. The Germans shelled Paris with long-range (60 miles or 100 kilometers) guns London was bombed from the air for the first time by zeppelins.

An Austrian armored train in Galicia, ca, 1915. Adding armor to trains dates back to the American Civil War, used as a way to safely move weapons and personnel through hostile territory.

World War I was also the first major war that was able to draw upon electrical technologies that had been in development at the turn of the century. Radio, for example, became essential for communications. The most important advance in radio was the transmission of voice rather than code, something the electron tube, as oscillator and amplifier, made possible. Electricity also made a huge impact on the war. Battleships, for example, might have electric signaling lamps, an electric helm indicator, electric fire alarms, remote control—from the bridge—of bulkhead doors, electrically controlled whistles, and remote reading of water level in the boilers. Electric power turned guns and turrets and raised ammunition from the magazines up to the guns. Searchlights—both incandescent and carbon-arc—became vital for nighttime navigation, for long-range daytime signaling, and for illuminating enemy ships in night engagements.

Chemical warfare first appeared when the Germans used poison gas during a surprise attack in Flanders, Belgium, in 1915. At first, gas was just released from large cylinders and carried by the wind into nearby enemy lines. Later, phosgene and other gases were loaded into artillery shells and shot into enemy trenches. The Germans used this weapon the most, realizing that enemy soldiers wearing gas masks did not fight as well. All sides used gas frequently by 1918. Its use was a frightening development that caused its victims a great deal of suffering, if not death.

The interior of an armored train car, Chaplino, Dnipropetrovs’ka oblast, Ukraine, in the spring of 1918. At least nine heavy machine guns are visible, as well as many ammunition cases.

Both sides used a variety of big guns on the western front, ranging from huge naval guns mounted on railroad cars to short-range trench mortars. The result was a war in which soldiers near the front were seldom safe from artillery bombardment. The Germans used super–long-range artillery to shell Paris from almost eighty miles away. Artillery shell blasts created vast, cratered, moonlike landscapes where beautiful fields and woods had once stood.

Perhaps the most significant technological advance during World War I was the improvement of the machine gun, a weapon originally developed by an American, Hiram Maxim. The Germans recognized its military potential and had large numbers ready to use in 1914. They also developed air-cooled machine guns for airplanes and improved those used on the ground, making them lighter and easier to move. The weapon’s full potential was demonstrated on the Somme battlefield in July 1916 when German machine guns killed or wounded almost 60,000 British soldiers in only one day.

A German communications squad behind the Western front, setting up using a tandem bicycle power generator to power a light radio station in September of 1917.

Submarines also became potent weapons. Although they had been around for years, it was during WWI that they began fulfilling their potential as a major threat. Unrestricted submarine warfare, in which German submarines torpedoed ships without warning—even civilian ships belonging to non-combatant nations such as the United States—resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, killing 1,195 people. Finding ways to outfit ships to detect submarines became a major goal for the allies. Researchers determined that allied ships and submarines could be outfitted with sensitive microphones that could detect engine noise from enemy submarines. These underwater microphones played an important part in combatting the submarine threat. The Allies also developed sonar, but it came too close to the end of the war to offer much help.

The firing stopped on November 11, 1918, but modern war technology had changed the course of civilization. Millions had been killed, gassed, maimed, or starved. Famine and disease continued to rage through central Europe, taking countless lives. Because of rapid technological advances in every area, the nature of warfare had changed forever, affecting soldiers, airmen, sailors, and civilians alike.

Allied advance on Bapaume, France, ca. 1917. Two tanks are moving towards the left, followed by troops. In the foreground some soldiers are sitting and standing at the roadside. One of them appears to be having a drink. Beside the men is what appears to be a rough wooden cross with an Australian or New Zealand service hat on it. In the background other troops are advancing, moving field guns and mortars.

Soldier on a U.S. Harley-Davidson motorcycle, ca. 1918. During the last years of the war, the United States deployed more than 20,000 Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles overseas.

British Medium Mark A Whippet tanks advance past the body of a dead soldier, moving to an attack along a road near Achiet-le-Petit, France, on August 22, 1918. The Whippets were faster and lighter than previously deployed British heavy tanks.

A German soldier rubs down massive shells for the 38 cm SK L/45, or “Langer Max” rapid firing railroad gun, ca. 1918. The Langer Max was originally designed as a battleship weapon, later mounted to armored rail cars, one of many types of railroad artillery used by both sides during the war. The Langer Max could fire a 750 kg (1,650 lb) high explosive projectile up to 34,200 m (37,400 yd).

German infantrymen from Infanterie-Regiment Vogel von Falkenstein Nr.56 adopt a fighting pose in a communication trench somewhere on the the Western Front. Both soldiers are wearing gas masks and Stahlhelm helmets, with brow plate attachments called stirnpanzers. The stirnpanzer was a heavy steel plate used for additional protection for snipers and raiding parties in the trenches, where popping your head above ground for a look could be lethal move.

A British false tree, a type of disguised observation post used by both sides.

Turkish troops use a heliograph at Huj, near Aza City, in 1917. A heliograph is a wireless solar telegraph that signals by flashes of sunlight usually using Morse code, reflected by a mirror.

An experimental Red Cross vehicle designed to protect the wounded while gathering them from trenches during World War I, ca. 1915. The narrow wheels and low clearance would likely make this design ineffective in the chaotic and muddy front line landscape.

U.S. soldiers in trench putting on gas masks. Behind them, a signal rocket appears to be in mid-launch. When gas attacks were detected, alarms used included gongs and signal rockets.

A disused German trench-digging machine, January 8, 1918. The vast majority of the thousands of miles of trenches were dug by hand, but some had mechanical assistance.

A German soldier holds the handset of a field telephone to his head, as two others hold a spool of wire, presumably unspooling it as they head into the field.

Western front, loading a German A7V tank onto a railroad flat car. Fewer than a hundred A7Vs were ever produced, the only tanks manufactured by Germany that they used in the war. German troops did manage to capture and make use of a number of allied tanks, however.

False horses, camouflage to allow snipers a place to hide in no-man’s land.

Women working in the welding Department of the Lincoln Motor Co., in Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1918.

A duel between tank and flamethrower, on the edge of a village, ca. 1918.

Derelict tanks lie strewn about a chaotic battlefield at Clapham Junction, Ypres, Belgium, ca. 1918.

Gas masks in use in Mesopotamia in 1918.

Americans setting up a French 37mm gun known as a “one-pounder” on the parapet of a second-line trench at Dieffmattch, Alsace, France, where their command, the 126th Infantry, was located, on June 26, 1918.

American troops aboard French-built Renault FT-17 tanks head for the front line in the Forest of Argonne, France, on September 26, 1918.

A German aviator’s suit is equipped with electrically heated face mask, vest, and fur boots. Open cockpit flight meant pilots had to endure sub-freezing conditions.

British Mark I tank, apparently painted in camouflage, flanked by infantry soldiers, mules and horses.

A Turkish artillery squad at Harcira, in 1917. Turkish troops with a German 105 mm light field howitzer M98/09.

Irish Guards line up for a gas mask drill on the Somme, in September of 1916.

The Holt gas-electric tank, the first American tank, in 1917. The Holt did not get beyond the prototype stage, proving too heavy and inefficient in design.

On the site where a steel bridge was destroyed, a wooden temporary bridge has been built in place. Note that an English tank which fell in the river when the former bridge was demolished now serves as part of the foundation for the new bridge over the Scheldt at Masnieres.

Telegraph office, Room 15, Elysee Palace Hotel, Paris, France, Major R.P. Wheat in charge. September 4, 1918.

German officers with an armored car, Ukraine, Spring of 1918.

An unidentified member of the 69th Australian Squadron, later designated No. 3 Australian Flying Corps, fixes incendiary bombs to an R.E.8 aircraft at the AFC airfield north west of Arras. The entire squadron was operating from Savy (near Arras) on October 22, 1917, having arrived there on September 9, after crossing the channel from the UK.

Seven or eight machine-gun crews are ready to set out on a sortie in France, ca. 1918. Each crew consists of two men, the driver on a motorbike and the gunner sitting in an armored sidecar.

New Zealand troops and the tank “Jumping Jennie” in a trench at Gommecourt Wood, France, on August 10, 1918.

A German column looks over a destroyed Canadian Armored Autocar, the bodies of Canadian soldiers, empty belts, and cartridge boxes strewn about.

U.S. Soldiers in training, about to enter a tear gas trench at Camp Dix, New Jersey, ca. 1918.

German troops load gas projectors. Attempting to exploit a loophole in international laws against the uses of gas in warfare, some German officials noted that only gas projectiles appeared to be specifically banned, and that no prohibition could be found against simply releasing deadly chemical weapons and allowing th wind to carry it to the enemy.

Flanders front. Gas attack, September, 1917.

French lookouts posted in a barbed-wire-covered trench. The use of barbed wire in warfare was recent, having only been used for the first time in limited form during the Spanish-American War. All sides in World War I used extensive networks of barbed wire entanglements to prevent ground troops from moving forward. The effectiveness of the wire drove the development of technologies like the tank, and wire-cutting explosive shells set to detonate the instant they made contact with a wire.

American and French photographic staff, France, 1917.

The original caption reads: “The Italian collapse in Venezia. The heedless flight of the Italians to the Tagliamento. Captured heavy and gigantic cannon in a village behind Udine. November 1917”. Pictured is an Obice da 305/17, a huge Italian howitzer, one of fewer than 50 produced during the war.

Western front, Flammenwerfers (flame throwers) in use.

A patient is examined in a mobile radiology lab, belonging to the French Army, ca. 1914.

A British-made Mark IV tank, captured and re-painted by Germans, now abandoned in a small wood.

(Photo credit: National Archives / Library of Congress / Official German Photograph of WWI).

More about World War One

But war took its toll and the effect of how much it cost was felt for many years to come. It left much of Europe in severe economic hardship.

Germany, especially, had to pay an enormous bill of £6,600 million for the damage caused, as well as provide other compensation.

Up until the war, women were perceived in a certain way in society. Their role was traditionally to stay in the home.

Issues like politics and war were very much seen as things for men to deal with.

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In the UK, laws were being changed to improve women's standing in society. For example, they had more rights when it came to their houses and their children, but there was still a long way to go before men and women would be treated more equally.

When war broke out and the men went off to fight, it was women who took on their jobs and kept things running back in Britain. Across the country, by late 1918, nine in every ten workers in the munitions industry were female - jobs which traditionally would have been done by men. Women also worked as conductors on trams and buses, as typists and secretaries, and on farms.

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The war also changed how many women looked. Trousers appeared for the first time, corsets became increasingly less popular and short, bobbed hair came into fashion.

Women still weren't allowed to do all jobs that men did, though, and there was still inequality in terms of wages and the skills they were allowed to learn.

Many women also had to return to a more domestic life when the men came home as a result of a law called 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act. It wasn't until the Second World War in 1939 that many women returned to these industrial jobs.

But in February 1918, some women won the right to vote for the first time. Then the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 made it illegal to exclude women from jobs because of their gender.

The contribution made during the war by women was seen an important reason for laws changing, and progress being made in terms of better equality and opportunities for them.

As can often be the case following conflict between countries, World War One resulted in the political map of Europe being reshaped. Countries' borders moved and there was arguing over who would rule where.

Under the Treaty of Versailles which was drawn up after the war to essentially decide what would happen next, Germany lost about a tenth of its lands. Further treaties saw Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary all lose territory too.

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World War One spelled the end of the Ottoman Turkish empire and also contributed to the Russian revolution, which marked the beginning of a new politics system in action - communism.

Even today, countries disagree over who should be in charge of certain areas, but World War One certainly had a big impact on how Europe's political map was drawn.

It is not accurate to say that World War One was a cause of World War Two, but it is accepted that the punishments put on Germany a result of the Treaty of Versailles after World War One contributed to the causes of it.

In 1919, this treaty imposed harsh terms on Germany forcing them to accept the blame for the war and pay huge sums for the damages of the war, as outlined above.

Germany was shocked by how strict the treaty was. It was humiliating and many people wanted revenge.

At a time when the country was politically unstable and extremely poor, it was the perfect climate for Adolf Hitler (who led the Germans in World War Two) to rise to power by telling the German people what they wanted to hear and making big promises to them.

Unmasking War’s Changing Character

These concepts have deep roots—in the West, anyway. In ancient Rome, for example, a particular class of priests called fetiales officiated the onset of war by throwing a ceremonial spear into an enemy’s territory and opening the doors of the temple of Janus. Bringing war to an end has traditionally been just as ceremonial—think of Vercingetorix laying his sword at Caesar’s feet, Lee and Grant’s meeting at Appomattox, or Emperor Hirohito’s representatives signing documents of unconditional surrender on board the USS Missouri in 1945.

Things are certainly more complicated today. The United States and its allies have been “at war” for almost two decades, yet it is difficult at times to explain the who, the why, or at times even the where. What happened?

There seems to be widespread agreement that the character of war is changing but little consensus as to exactly how. New terms have proliferated. Some of these focus on speed, like “hyperwar.” Others allude to the odd co-mingling of old and new tactics: “‘hybrid war.” War today can be nonlinear, fourth-generation, next-generation, even contactless. Some add “meme wars” and “like wars” to the mélange. Which, if any of these concepts have merit?

Like Janus, war has many faces. Though its nature or, if you prefer, logic, has been consistent since the dawn of time, its character—or grammar—is always adapting itself to the environment in which it is expressed. Carl von Clausewitz, the doyen of contemporary war, recognized that it was practically limitless in variety, describing it as “complex and changeable,” noting that every age has its particular kind of war with “its own limiting conditions and its own particular preconceptions.”

Sadly, many military thinkers have fixated on Clausewitz’s contemporaneous observations of the character of nineteenth-century warfare and confused them with the unchanging nature of war itself. The result is that a single paradigm has monopolized how we conceive of war and warfare for over a century. But there are other, older models of conflict and competition now resurfacing as a hitherto dominant West dilutes, and other powers cohere. In classical Islamic jurisprudence, for example, there is only the house of Islam and the house of war. Ancient Chinese traditions of legalism and Confucianism diverge in other ways from the more familiar Western construct, framing war as rebellion from the rightful order under the mandate of heaven.

Strip away its modern trappings—nation-states and international laws, for instance—and war is at its core organized violence waged for political purpose. Politics is the competition between rivals for power and influence. War, then, is organized violence to gain power and influence. If humans are naturally political animals, then war is the proverbial state of nature and peace the aberration. To turn Clausewitz on his head, politics may be the continuation of war by other means—and warriors are politicians.

Of course, I’m not the first person to figure that out. Thinkers from Leo Tolstoy to John Boyd to (most recently) Sean McFate have argued that On War was incomplete at best. Does this mean we should cast it into the trash bin of history?

Rumors of the demise of “conventional” warfare have been exaggerated for decades. Clausewitz left us a powerfully explanatory theory of conflict that has withstood the test of time. Military theorists who criticize the master, do so at their peril. And after all, Clausewitz himself advised us against paradigmatic complacency: theories, he wrote, were “meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or more accurately to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield.”

To be useful, paradigms must accurately reflect reality. When they cease to do so, they must be replaced, or the institutions that rely upon them will inevitably fail. Today strategists reared in Western-style liberal democracies, used to thinking in terms of an orderly Westphalian world, are slowly being forced to come to terms with anomalies in the existing paradigm.

War is changing today, but only because so is everything else. Nearly twenty-five years into the twenty-first century, civilization is in the midst of a societal transformation on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. This transformation is driven by four key trends that are dramatically altering all social interactions—including war.

Killing Time

First is the continuing compression of relative time—what Karl Marx referred to as the “annihilation of space by time” (emphasis added). You may be more familiar with it as the “death of distance.” Advances in transportation and communication technologies have rendered the concept of “over there” increasingly quaint, having brought many more people into much more regular contact. Old distinctions of regional conflict have started to lose their meaning in an age where localized violence has global implications since every part of the planet is being interwoven into a shapeless whole.

The democratization of these technologies is rendering the distinctions between great powers, regional powers, multinational corporations, and nonstate actors vague. What were once prohibitively expensive niche capabilities are becoming ubiquitous. As the relative effects of industrial-age weapons deteriorate on one end, off-the-shelf technological tools and weapons available to low-end actors are increasing on the other, resulting in something like relative parity.

Brave New World

Second, as former Secretary of Defense James Mattis once told his Marines, “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” He was right, in more ways than one. The information domain has become the center of gravity in Clausewitzian terms—the source of power that provides an actor with moral or physical strength.

Data is the critical raw material of this new era, information is its weapon system, and data brokers its arms dealers. A failure to treat data as a strategic resource—essentially giving it away—cedes precious time and space to our adversaries. Like any raw material, data must be harvested, refined, and delivered.

But unlike the fossil fuels that powered the industrial era, data is renewable, self-generating, and practically limitless. Within five years the global datasphere will exceed 175 zettabytes by 2025, compared to thirty-three zettabytes in 2018. By 2020, the internet of things will consist of more than fifty billion connected devices, silently and relentlessly producing and consuming data.

This unprecedented growth of global digital networks is just now beginning to influence the creation of new physical systems that will have profound effects on geopolitics—altering the flow of global commodities and capital for instance, and controlling who can access what information.

The continuing weaponization of human heuristics and psychometrics has enabled precision targeting and manipulation of the cognitive space that makes previous eras’ “information operations” look ham-fisted by comparison. It’s the difference between the strategic bombing campaigns against cities and other expansive targets during the Second World War and the precision fires of Desert Storm that drove the last revolution in military affairs.

Once, you had to defeat a state’s armed forces in battle and occupy it even to attempt changing its political system. Today, it may be possible to alter political preferences without ever firing a shot.

It’s All Connected, Man

Third—and mainly because of the first two—global interconnectivity has grown far beyond anything in history. Recollections of the Silk Roads, the Roman Empire, or pre–First World War Europe as periods of proto-globalization are apt examples of how human societies have always pursued connectivity, but they are crude approximations of the sheer volume of routine interactions we take for granted today.

Things that were once separate have now become linked in ways we can’t completely understand, and the contingent outcomes from their complex interactions are impossible to predict. The resulting delimiting of conflict makes the kind of decision Clausewitz envisioned from a bounded battlefield difficult to even imagine. At the same time, shocks in one part of our interconnected system can have cascading effects elsewhere far removed, which should give us pause.

Furthermore, connectivity blurs the lines between what used to be fairly distinctive “domains” of warfare—land, sea, air, and space. Modern naval combatants can affect broad swaths of terrain far from the sea ground platforms can destroy satellites in orbit or sink ships at sea. The burgeoning information domain cuts across every other aspect of war like never before.

In contemporary war, the notion of “net assessment”—counting up hulls and tanks and missiles—doesn’t hold up. In an era when unprecedented speed, precision, or impact can have outsized effects on intricately interconnected systems, industrial-era comparisons are misleading.

The Speed of Relevance

Lastly, all of these combine to make everything go faster. I’m not being flippant the rate of change—the pace of life itself—is literally accelerating. Successive technological revolutions—broad transitions, like that from wind to steam, from steam to combustion, or from analog to digital—occur at increasingly smaller intervals. Santa Fe Institute physicist Geoffrey West compares this to society repeatedly jumping from one accelerating treadmill to another, even more quickly accelerating treadmill, over and over.

Communications almost anywhere in the world now occur instantly. Soon, artificially intelligent swarms of hypersonic missiles will be able to prowl the atmosphere, able to strike at targets an ocean away within minutes.

The actor who collects, processes, analyzes, and disseminates information more rapidly and accurately than any competitor will possess a decisive advantage in contemporary conflict, a fact our adversaries recognize. The United States has long assumed air superiority—but it may not possess temporal superiority. Forget vertical envelopment—in the information age fourth-dimensional envelopment may be a risk.


Change, of course, is continual. But it’s not always incremental or evolutionary. In periods like the one we are currently living through—a punctuated equilibrium—change can be exponential and revolutionary. These paradigm-shifting periods are often accompanied (or caused) by what some call military-technical revolutions—that is, “periods of sharp, discontinuous change . . . [in which] existing military regimes are often upended by new more dominant ones, leaving old ways of warfare behind.”

These transitions are often turbulent since the adoption of new technologies almost always outpaces the ability of people and governments to understand them and adapt. Recall the deep misconceptions that led planners in 1914 to waste millions of lives in the opening months of the First World War because they were slow to grasp its changed character from an agrarian to an industrial era.

Today, an American superiority inherited from the Second World War is degrading as institutions and operating systems created for a bygone era decay. A growing lack of faith in these and the erosion of once-accepted norms of behavior are driving security communities to seek new models of organization and concepts of operation. Advantages still retained are increasingly vulnerable to disruption, or risk becoming irrelevant as new weapons surpass them in effect.

Commentators have long decried the tendency of American presidents from both parties to increasingly rely upon Defense Department capabilities instead of other elements of national power. But the fact is that the existing bureaucracy wasn’t designed for whole-of-nation competition. Quite the opposite—the major muscle groups of the American government—State, Treasury, Commerce—were built to cooperate under an American-created, American-led global order that assumed mutual interests were built into the system.

The resulting asymmetries in the structures that govern the United States’ military, intelligence, and law enforcement functions—asymmetries that made sense in the twentieth century—are now not only showing their age, but actively working against us. For another example consider NATO’s Article 5, the cornerstone of the twentieth-century collective security framework. It declares an armed attack against one ally an attack against them all. But Article 5 requires that attack to be overt enough to warrant broad political consensus—precisely the stipulation Russia is exploiting with so-called “gray-zone” actions.

Philosopher Raymond Aron observed that strategic thought “draws its inspiration from each century, or rather at each moment of history, from the problems which events themselves pose.” On a Clausewitzian battlefield, lines of soldiers arrayed against one another would fire and maneuver according to their commander’s directions.

Today by contrast, these have been replaced with ambient forms of physical and nonphysical violence—sniping, roadside bombs, and lethal drones on the one hand, electronic attack, spoofing, and disinformation on the other. War is always likely to require some amount of sacrifice on the part of men and women required to fight for and control territory. But the problem posed by our moment in history has broadened in both time and space, increasing the opportunity for myriad actors to produce tactical effects.

If, as Helmuth von Moltke taught us, strategic effects emerge from the amalgamation of these tactical effects, it is incredibly more difficult today to forecast the outcome of tactical actions because the number of actors has increased exponentially, as everyone is connected to everyone else.

Make no mistake, the character of war is changing, because it always is. War is a social construct, an interaction between political communities. Its expression changes in line with the tools we use to make those interactions. Wise commanders will recognize these changes and adapt their formations and weapons to suit them.

Zachery Tyson Brown is an intelligence consultant for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and US Army veteran. He most recently graduated from the National Intelligence University’s graduate program in Strategic Intelligence. His writing has appeared in The Strategy Bridge, War on the Rocks, and RealClearDefense. Find him on Twitter @ZaknafienDC.

The Bullet That Changed History

Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.

It was late afternoon on Aug. 30, 1862, the concluding day of the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the largest simultaneous massed assault of the Civil War was about to be unleashed. The Confederate general James Longstreet’s corps was in position on the left flank of the Union general John Pope’s unsuspecting Army of Virginia, and when the signal was given 25,000 Rebels surged forward, catching the surprised Federals in an immense “hammer on anvil” movement.

Leading the charge was John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade, a force of roughly 2,500 men that included Pvt. William Fletcher, Company F, 5th Texas Infantry. When Fletcher and his fellow Texans had advanced to within 150 yards, a line of Union soldiers stood and fired, then turned to run, precipitating a retreat that would nearly result in Pope’s annihilation.

The Federals’ parting volley was mostly ineffective, but one bullet struck Private Fletcher in the stomach, knocking him to the ground and momentarily rendering him unconscious. When he came to, he saw the “long and ugly wound” and guessed that his bowels had been pierced. Fletcher sat up and actually faced into the raging battle, hoping he “might be so fortunate as to get a dead shot” that would “put an end to his existence.”

Private Fletcher had good reason to wish for a mercy shot. Earlier battles had taught veterans like him that serious gunshot wounds to the head, chest and abdomen were most often fatal. But while the first two were very likely to kill quickly, abdominal wounds condemned their victims to agonizingly slow deaths. Fletcher cursed his fate but resigned himself to it.

F.A. Otis and D.L. Huntington, “Wounds and complications, Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.” Paintings of wounds made by a conical bullet in a Civil War casualty: entrance wound at left, exit wound at right.

In the history of armed conflicts, there has never been a good time to be wounded in battle, but the soldiers of the American Civil War were especially unlucky that their battles took place during the early 1860s. Those four years were a brief period when recent developments in arms and ammunition made battlefields far more lethal than they had been a decade before, while discoveries in medicine – which could have partially counterbalanced the awful effects of the new ordnance – were still a handful of years in the future.

Almost as soon as the war ended, historians began to study the factors that contributed to so much bloodshed – more than 200,000 killed and nearly 500,000 wounded – and concluded that the introduction of the rifle musket was the primary cause of the staggering casualty rates. And not without reason: the rifle musket combined the best features of the smoothbore musket and the Kentucky flintlock rifle. It could be loaded quickly and easily – an experienced soldier could load and fire up to four rounds a minute – while its long, grooved barrel gave it an effective range up to four times that of a smoothbore, with similar improvements in accuracy.

Many chroniclers noted that, unlike the tactics of the American Revolution, when defenders would hold their fire until they could “see the whites” of their attackers’ eyes, Civil War defenders armed with rifle muskets could aim at and frequently hit targets at 400 yards or more. It was the rifle musket, researchers determined, that had made the bayonet obsolete and drastically transformed the roles of cavalry and field artillery.

Statistics appear to bear out this theory. Of all the wounds treated by Union Army doctors throughout the war, nearly 95 percent were caused by small-arms fire, less than 1 percent were attributable to bayonets and swords, and all but a handful of the remainder resulted from artillery shells and shrapnel.

Several modern historians, however, have disputed the notion that the rifle musket alone deserves the credit — or rather the blame — for the Civil War’s incredible carnage. They note that many battles were fought at close quarters, effectively negating the superior range and accuracy of rifle muskets over smoothbores, and that in any case most Civil War soldiers lacked the training and practice to take advantage of the new weapon’s awesome killing capacity. Of the millions of rounds fired at the enemy during the war, far more sailed over the heads of their intended targets than actually struck home.

What these discussions tend to overlook, though, is that it was not just the accuracy or frequency of fire that killed and maimed so many men, but the characteristics of the ammunition that encountered flesh and bone. While a smoothbore musket could expel a solid ball with a greater muzzle velocity than a rifle musket, it was the projectile that the latter weapon fired – the slightly smaller Minié ball – that made all the difference.

Division of Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution Smoothbore .69-caliber musketball right: .55-caliber Minié ball

The Minié ball (properly pronounced “min-YAY” after its developer, the French Army officer Claude-Étienne Minié, but pronounced “minnie ball” by the Americans) wasn’t a ball but a conical-shaped bullet. Popularized during the Crimean War, it was perfected in early 1850s America. An armorer at the arsenal in Harpers Ferry named James Burton simplified the design that had made Minié famous and developed a hollow-based, .58-caliber lead projectile that could be cheaply mass produced.

The first generation of rifled projectiles were hard to load, since they had to fit snugly within the rifling grooves inside the barrel. Minié balls were slightly smaller in circumference than the inside of the barrel, so they could be dropped in quickly. When fired, the base of the bullet expanded and gripped the rifle grooves, which imparted a spiral on the projectile and thereby gave it its greater range and accuracy. In 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis adopted the rifle musket and Burton’s improved Minié ball, or bullet, for the United States Army.

The intent of the designers of the rifle musket/Minié ball combination was to increase the firepower of the individual soldier, and in this quest they succeeded. But in developing a defender’s dream they also created a nightmare, not just for the men felled by the bullet, but for the medical corps stewards and surgeons who had to deal with its effects. The very attributes that increased the bullet’s range and accuracy also increased its destructive potential when it struck its target. Unlike a solid ball, which could pass through the human body nearly intact, leaving an exit wound not much larger than the entrance wound, the soft, hollow-based Minié ball flattened and deformed upon impact, while creating a shock wave that emanated outward.

The Minié ball didn’t just break bones, it shattered them. It didn’t just pierce tissue and internal organs, it shredded them. And if the ragged, tumbling bullet had enough force to cleave completely through the body, which it often did, it tore out an exit wound several times the size of the entrance wound. Civil War surgeons were quickly overwhelmed by the gaping wounds, mangled bodies and mutilated limbs they were asked to repair as the scope of the war broadened and casualties mounted. Though often accused of being too partial to their bone saws, amputating arms and legs as quickly as the men could be placed on their operating tables and subdued with chloroform or ether, the surgeons really had no choice. Even if they𠆝 had the skills and resources to attempt reconstructive surgery, in the heat of battle they didn’t have the time.

Disunion Highlights

Explore multimedia from the series and navigate through past posts, as well as photos and articles from the Times archive.

Over all, Civil War surgeons did a respectable and generally successful job of trying to save lives, given the unrelenting slaughter with which they had to cope. They were notably less successful, however, in convincing the public of this fact, as cries of 𠇋utchery!” continued to dog the medical corps throughout and after the war. As an editorial writer noted in the Cincinnati Lancet and Observer, following the Union victory at Gettysburg: “Our readers will not fail to have noticed that everybody connected to the army has been thanked, excepting the surgeons.”

As for Pvt. William Fletcher, he survived the abdominal wound he suffered at the Second Battle of Bull Run, thanks in part to a “Kentucky button” – a plug of dried oak he had whittled to hold up his pants. The minié ball that knocked him down fractured the button, dissipating enough of the bullet’s force to prevent it from penetrating too deeply. Fletcher recovered and went on to fight at the battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Chickamauga, where he was again wounded, this time in the foot.

Fletcher credited the care he received from the Sisters of Charity with saving his foot from amputation and enabling him to return to duty. Thirty-four years later, as a successful businessman in Beaumont, Tex., he acted on the gratitude he felt by donating the land and lumber to build the order’s hospital in that city, the Hotel Dieu. His memoir of the Civil War – “Rebel Private: Front and Rear” – was said by author Margaret Mitchell to be “her single most valuable research tool when writing ‘Gone With the Wind.&apos”

When did humans first go to war?

Cain and Abel. Credit: Palma il Giovane

When modern humans arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago, they made a discovery that was to change the course of history.

The continent was already populated by our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, which recent evidence suggests had their own relatively sophisticated culture and technology. But within a few thousand years the Neanderthals were gone, leaving our species to continue its spread to every corner of the globe.

Precisely how Neanderthals became extinct remains a subject of fierce debate among researchers. The two main explanations given in recent years have been competition with the recently arrived modern humans and global climate change.

The persistence of Neanderthal genetic material in all modern people outside of Africa shows the two species interacted and even had sex. But it's possible that there were other kinds of interactions as well.

Some researchers have suggested that competition for resources such as prey and raw materials for stone tools may have taken place. Others have proposed violent interactions and even warfare took place, and that this may have caused the Neanderthals' demise.

This idea might seem compelling, given our species' violent history of warfare. But proving the existence of early warfare is a problematic (although fascinating) area of research.

New studies keep moving the threshold at which there is evidence for human warfare progressively earlier. But finding such evidence is fraught with problems.

Only preserved bones with injuries from weapons can give us a secure indication of violence at a given time. But how do you separate examples of murder or a family feud from prehistoric "war"?

To an extent, this question has been resolved by several examples of mass killing, where whole communities were massacred and buried together at a number of European sites dating to the Neolithic period (about 12,000 to 6,000 years ago, when agriculture first emerged).

For a while, these discoveries appeared to have settled the question, suggesting that farming led to a population explosion and pressure for groups to fight. However, even earlier instances of group killing suggested by the bones of hunter gatherers have re-opened the debate.

A further challenge is that it is very difficult to arrive at a definition of war applicable to prehistoric societies, without becoming so broad and vague that it loses meaning. As social anthropologist Raymond Kelly argues, while group violence may take place among tribal societies, it is not always regarded as "war" by those involved.

For example, in the dispensation of justice for homicide, witchcraft or other perceived social deviance, the "perpetrator" might be attacked by a dozen others. However, in such societies acts of warfare also commonly involve a single individual being ambushed and killed by a coordinated group.

Both scenarios essentially look identical to an outside observer, yet one is regarded as an act of war while the other is not. In this sense, war is defined by its social context rather than simply by the numbers involved.

A key point is that a very particular kind of logic comes into play where any member of an opposing group is seen as representing their whole community, and so becomes a "valid target". For example, one group might kill a member of another group in retribution for a raid that the victim wasn't involved in.

In this sense, war is a state of mind involving abstract and lateral thinking as much as a set of physical behaviors. Such acts of war may then be perpetrated (usually by males) against women and children as well as men, and we have evidence of this behavior among skeletons of early modern humans.

So what does all this mean for the question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals went to war?

There is no doubt that Neanderthals engaged in and were the recipients of acts of violence, with fossils showing repeated examples of blunt injuries, mostly to the head. But many of these predate the appearance of modern humans in Europe and so cannot have occurred during meetings between the two species.

Similarly, among the sparse fossil record of early anatomically modern humans, various examples of weapon injuries exist, but the majority date to thousands of years after the Neanderthals' disappearance.

Where we do have evidence of violence towards Neanderthals it is almost exclusively among male victims. This means it is less likely to represent "warfare" as opposed to competition between males.

While there is no doubt Neanderthals committed violent acts, the extent to which they were capable of conceptualizing "war" in the way it is understood by modern human cultures is debatable. It is certainly possible that violent altercations could have taken place when members of the small, scattered populations of these two species came into contact (although we have no conclusive evidence for such), but these cannot realistically be characterized as warfare.

Certainly, we can see a pattern of violence-related trauma in modern human skeletons from the Upper Paleolithic period (50,000 to 12,000 years ago) that remains the same into the more recent Mesolithic and Neolithic times. However, it is not at all clear that Neanderthals follow this pattern

On the bigger question of whether modern humans were responsible for the extinction of Neanderthals, it's worth noting that Neanderthals in many parts of Europe seem to have gone extinct before our species had arrived. This suggests modern humans can't be completely to blame, whether through war or competition.

However, what was present throughout the period was dramatic and persistent climate change that appears to have decreased the Neanderthals' preferred woodland habitats. Modern humans, although they had just left Africa, seem to have been more flexible to different environments and so better at dealing with the increasingly common colder open habitats that may have challenged Neanderthals' ability to survive.

So although the first modern Europeans may have been the first humans capable of organized warfare, we can't say this behavior was responsible or even necessary for the disappearance of Neanderthals. They may have simply been the victims of the natural evolution of our planet.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Each nation had their own way of crafting weapons and their own innovations. Some would play a small role in the Revolution, but take on a greater role in later wars.

Muskets and Rifles

Brown Bess: The Brown Bess was a muzzleloading smoothbore musket and one of the most common weapons from the Revolutionary War. While it originated in Great Britain and was a British weapon it was the primary musket used by the Americans. Considering that the colonists were former British subjects it makes sense.

The musket was used to fire a single shot ball, or a cluster style shot which fired multiple projectiles giving the weapon a &ldquoshotgun&rdquo effect.

There were two variations of the Brown Bess:

  1. Short Land Pattern: was shorter, less bulky, less heavy.
  2. Long Land Pattern: longer and was more common then the Short Land Pattern.

Charleville Muskets: Due the influence of Marquis de Lafayette, the Charleville Model 1763 and 1766 muskets were imported to America even before the French Alliance.

The Charleville would influence the Springfield Musket of 1795.

American Made Muskets: The infant country commissioned many gunsmiths to make muskets for the Continental Army. These muskets became known as &ldquoCommittee of Safety&rdquo muskets because the musket often did not bear the makers name.

Pattern 1776 Rifle: The Pattern 1776 infantry rifle was built by William Grice, and was based on German rifles in use by the British Army during its time.

About 1,000 of these were built and used by the British Army. The rifle was given to light companies of regiments in the British Army during the American Revolution. The Gun is .62 Calibre with a 30.5 inch barrel

Long Rifle: One of the most controversial weapons from the Revolutionary War. It was much more accurate than the Musket, but had a longer reload time and could not be fitted with a bayonet.

George Washington did not like the use of the rifle, but its effectiveness at Saratoga and the Battle of Cowpens could not be denied.

It took men like Daniel Morgan to create effective tactics for its use.

Ferguson Rifle: It was the first breech-loading rifle to be adopted by the British military. However, they were more expensive to produce and as a result could not be produced for the entire army.

The rifle was the creation of Patrick Ferguson and had an accurate range of approximately 100 yards with a 3-4 inch accuracy. It loaded much faster than the musket and could be loaded in the prone position.

After Ferguson was mortally wounded at the Battle of Kings Mountain, the rifle was no longer produced.

Fusil: Rifles carried by British officers. They were lighter and more accurate than muskets.

Bayonets: The Bayonet was fitted to the musket and aided the soldiers in close combat.

The bayonet was a crucial weapon from the Revolutionary War. Due to the inaccuracy of the musket the bayonet charge was used frequently. This triangular shaped blade would leave a large, easily infected, wound on the victim.

Most units on both sides of the fighting used the bayonet.

Pistols and Small Arms

Light Dragoon Pistol: Issued to British Dragoons and used throughout the American Revolution. It was used as quick moving battlefield sweepers.

This .67 caliber smoothbore flintlock pistol was made for the Light Dragoons. It has brass furniture, a pin fastened stock, a single ramrod pipe, a wooden ramrod with a swelled tip, and a raised beaver tail carving on the stock around the tang.

Kentucky Flintlock Pistol: An American pistol that was similar to the Light Dragoon Pistol the British used. Often issued to American cavalry and officers.

Sea Service Pistol: Standard issue to British navy personnel.

The sea service pistols saw extensive use during the the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

During the 1790s, the barrel was shortened to 9 inches making it more convenient in the tangled mêlées experienced by boarding parties.

The shortened version is often referred to as the East India Co. Sea Service Pistol because they were the first to shorten it.

Modele 1763 Pistol: French issued pistols to officers and cavalry. Similar to the British Light Dragoon Pistol.

Close Range Weapons

Swords/Sabres: Used on all sides by officers and cavalry. Effective in close combat.

Spontoon: A pike-like weapon carried by officers and sergeants on both sides. The spontoon was used for close-quarters combat, and for rallying troops.

After the pike was replaced by the musket as the primary weapon carried by foot soldiers, the spontoon remained in use as a signaling weapon.

Halberd: Similar to the spontoon and carried by British sergeants for signaling.

The Halberd is responsible for many British officer casualties as it served as an easy mark of an officer for an American sniper.

Native American Weapons

Native Americans also used muskets, but these are two weapons uniquely tied to them.

Bow and Arrow: Used by Native Americans. These weapons allowed for quick, silent attacks. While the range was much less than a rifle if the Bow was used by the right person it was highly accurate and could be reloaded much quicker than many of the more modern weapons.

Tomahawk: Used by Native Americans and effective in close hand to hand combat. They could also be thrown at the enemy.

Artillery Weapons

Cannons: They were used in the Revolutionary War by both armies were smoothbore, muzzle-loading guns, and made of cast iron or bronze.

When fired, the recoil moved the gun backward, requiring it to be moved into position for the next shot. The guns ranged in size from 2-pounders to 42-pounders, a reference to the weight of the shot being fired.

These guns fired multiple types of projectiles including solid shot, shell (hollow projectiles filled with gunpowder), canister (metal projectile filed with multiple smaller balls), and grape (a canvas bag containing lead or iron balls).

Mortars: They differed from cannon in both appearance and firing principles. A mortar was mounted on a flat bed, resembling a large block of wood.

An elevating wedge raised the barrel, enabling the mortar to fire an exploding shell, called a &ldquobomb,&rdquo in a high trajectory.

Fired properly, the bomb would fly over earthworks and explode while still airborne, raining shrapnel over the enemy

Howitzer: The howitzer combined the principles of both the cannon and the mortar. Mounted on a field carriage, the howitzer fired both bombs and cannon balls at a flat or high trajectory.

Carronade: A short, smoothbore cannon used during the American Revolution. Often fitted to privateer ships and British merchant ships.

Their range was limited and were generally used in close combat.

Swivel Gun: It was a small cannon mounted on a stand or fork which allowed it to easily &ldquoswivel&rdquo or turn to a wide range of targets.

In the Revolutionary War, they were used both on ships and on land as an anti-personnel weapon.

Swivel guns typically fired grapeshot or other small caliber shot. While they were small caliber with a short range, they were most effective in facing an infantry attack or men attempting to forcibly board a ship at sea.

5 Stock Brokers Jumping Out of Windows When The Market Crashes

After the Wall Street crash in 1929 that eventually led to the Great Depression, ruined investors jumped en masse from the windows of their towering buildings. They plunged to the ground in a fatal metaphor for the value of their stocks, leaving the streets below covered with splattered puddles of failed capitalism.

Knowledge of this historical event is so widespread that references to it can be found everywhere, from RoboCop to modern protests against the Wall Street bailout:

Unfortunately for the angry guy in that picture--and fortunately for the people whose job it is to clean up the sidewalks in New York--the legendary string of dramatic Wall Street suicides never actually happened.

A popular comedian at the time made a quip about speculators needing to "stand in line to get a window to jump out of." The myth grew from there, until the "suddenly bankrupt stockbroker leaping from a window" became a stereotype.

In reality, only two suicides by jumping occurred on Wall Street between the crash and the end of 1929, and one of those was that of an elderly female clerk named Hulda Borowski--not really the image that comes to mind when you hear "corporate fat-cat."

First of all, we love a good dramatic symbol. An oil tanker spills a million gallons of oil on a beach? Ah, that's just a number. But show us a picture of an otter coated in oil? Holy shit! It's a disaster.

Likewise, saying the market lost 12 percent doesn't quite stick to the mind as well as the idea of stock brokers splattering their brains on the sidewalk rather than face another day of losses.

Also, take another look at the dude's sign up there. We root for this sort of thing to happen to the Gordon Gekko types who play Blackjack with billions in other people's money. They're the ones to blame. So when we lose our jobs or retirement accounts due to a crash, it makes us feel a little better to know the guys with gold watches and slicked-back hair got a face full of concrete.

Related: This $30 Guide Will Make You Less Dumb About the Stock Market


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[1] Cultural displacement results when the tastes, norms, and desires of newcomers supplant and replace those of the incumbent residents, and can also entail the loss of historically and culturally significant institutions for a community.

[2] In this report we have used the words community, city, and metro area interchangeably. We have also used the census tract as a proxy for neighborhood in many cases and these words should be considered synonymous for our purposes.

[3] See NCRC report on HOLC and redlining

[5] Arna Valley Apartments

[8] Data on the following racial and ethnic subgroups was used non-Hispanic White, Black, Hispanic and Asian. Only the decennial Census offers a low enough sampling error to be of use, limiting our study to data from the 2000 and 2010 Censuses.

[9] The change in population at the census tract level is normally distributed.

[10] Hyra, D., 2015. The back-to-the-city movement: Neighbourhood redevelopment and processes of political and cultural displacement. Urban Studies, 52(10), pp.1753-1773.