Way of the Gun
Military Technology and its
Effects on Humanity
Dr. Bryan Feuer
War is an evolutionary creature, feeding off the progress of humanity and its technological achievements. And just as humankind has evolved and undergone change, so too has warfare in its technologies, theories, and innovations. In the course of human history, technology, and more specifically gunpowder, has played a monumental role in shaping the dynamic of the world today. Furthermore, the impact of the gunpowder age on European social life has been equally dynamic. To some degree, it might be argued that the way of the gun and the way of society lived a semi-symbiotic existence. The fortunes of one have been inextricably entwined with the fate of the other. By looking at the impact of technology on warfare from the 1500’s on, the student of history can better understand how the advances of science and industry have affected the growth of society at large.
The greatest advance in warfare from the dawning of the Renaissance onward has been the implementation of gunpowder and firearms. Gunpowder was invented in
The cannon ushered in an era of unprecedented change in
Fortifications had to evolve in order to meet the challenge of mobile cannon. Iron cannonballs leveled and fired along a similar horizontal plane could chew holes through castle walls (Keegan 322). This created a unique set of circumstances as the breach that was created by the cannon served to turn the physics of the castle wall against itself (Keegan 322). Walls tumbled down and oftentimes took one or two of the defensible towers with them. At the same time, the debris from the falling wall served to fill the channel of the moat or ditch that surrounded the castle (Keegan 322). The castle wall became its own worst enemy, allowing an easy passage for an assault force to cross the moat and oft times toppling a tower that likely held archers whose job was to prevent such an assault force from penetrating the breach. In response to these failures, nation-states spent enormous sums of money developing and building newer and better fortifications, eventually settling on the bastion fortress design (Keegan 323). The bastion featured an angled outer wall that served to make incoming cannon shot glance off the surface with a minimum of damage. Defensive technology had caught up to the cannon and forced more change on the attackers part. Essentially, what the invaders had to do was build a succession of three trenches and move their cannon from the farthest trench to the trench nearest the bastion walls (Keegan 327). At the closer range, the firepower behind the shot could impact significant damage on the heavy bastion wall and create a breach (Keegan 327). The effect of this on the soldiery, as one might expect, was considerable. To risk one’s life by forging ahead and digging a trench under cannon or arrow or bullet fire was suicide and many soldiers resented being, in essence, ditch diggers (Keegan 327).
The problem thus far is how to gauge the effect of cannon on society. It is easy to state that the success of Charles and his mobile cannon ushered in sweeping changes in fortification spending and design. War, as now, was big business during the Renaissance and many cashed in on become fortress engineers. So fashionable and trendy was it to design fortifications that two of
While social impact of the cannon might be seen as vague when we try to consider how it effected nation-states and their domestic policy, the development of the handgun ushered in more visible social changes in
The use of gunpowder made handgunners the heart of
Now, with cannon being more accurate and deadly and with muskets and rifles becoming the same, additional social changes would take root in
Finally, as cannon and rifle warfare trudged into the 19th and 20th Centuries, inventions such as the telegraph allowed for news from the war fronts to reach that nations civilian and political populations quicker. Newspaper sales boomed, as did the technology of the gun. New military concepts such as “total war”, where the entire resources and population of a nation are brought to bear in assisting the war effort, are introduced (Feuer 71). Armies swelled to numbers topping 100,000. Casualty rates skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands as well. World War I saw the technology of the gun lay waste to 15 million tons of allied shipping, 8.6 million soldiers killed, 800,000 German soldiers die from malnutrition due to siege, Zeppelins dropping bombs on civilian targets, tanks roll into cities, airplanes command the sky and U-boats roam the seas, and a massive flu epidemic destroy the lives of some 20 million debilitated veterans following the wars conclusion (Feuer 75-77). This truly was, as King Henry V so succinctly put it, “the royal fellowship of death”.
The technology of the gun brought sweeping changes to the social climate of
Feuer, Dr. Bryan. Humanities 530: War and the Human Experience. Course
Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. Vintage Books division of Random