Technological advancement is a key storyline in the world history of warfare

Conquered into liberty (2011) and Empires and indigenes (2011) offer valuable insights regarding military history.

The subtitle for the first-mentioned text is: Two centuries of battles along the great warpath that made the American way of war.

The book refers to “a protracted struggle between ‘North’ and ‘South,’ beginning in the 1600s and lasting for more than two centuries, that shaped American geopolitics and military culture. Here, Eliot A. Cohen explains how the American way of war emerged from a lengthy struggle with an unlikely enemy: Canada.”

Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at John Hopkins University, served as a senior advisor on strategic issues with the U.S. State Department from 2007 to 2009. Among his other books (with varied co-authors or co-editors) are:

Supreme command (2002)

War over Kosovo (2001)

Knives, tanks, and missiles (1998)

In a book entitled The right war? The conservative debate on Iraq (2005), the author discusses his support for the American invasion of Iraq.

The subtitle for the second-mentioned text is: Intercultural alliance, imperial expansion. and warfare in the early modern world. The book is edited by Wayne E. Lee, professor of history at the University of North Carolina and author of Barbarians and brothers (2011).

A blurb explains that Lee’s book is “a sweeping examination of how intercultural interactions between Europeans and indigenous people influenced nilitary choices and strategic action.

“Ranging from the Muscovites on the western steppe to the French and English in North America, it analyzes how diplomatic and military systems accommodated the demands and expectations of local peoples, who aided the imperial powers even as they often became subordinated to them.”

The book describes processes of ethnic soldier mobilization and the interaction of culture and military technology. The discussion brings to mind the Crusader attacks on the Baltic states during the early 1200s as described by Andres Kasekamp (2010).

Kasekamp notes, in A history of the Baltic states (2010), that the Crusaders’ advantage over the natives in those wars was the professionalism of their warrior class and their superior military technology: the crossbow, catapults, seige weapons, and the armoured knight on horseback – which he describes as the equivalent of the tank in modern times.

Kasekamp also remarks that native allies and auxiliaries always formed the majority of the manpower in the Crusaders’ force. He adds that similarities can be noted in the contemporaneous conquest of the Welsh by the English and the conquest of the Americas a few centuries later.

Empires and indigenes features a chapter by John K. Thornton entitled “Firearms, diplomacy, and conquest in Angola: Cooperation and alliance in West Central Africa, 1491-1671.” Thornton notes that many discussions of warfare in the early Atlantic world focus on guns and horses – which together can be viewed as a technology – as a crucial component of such warfare.

Thornton notes that we rightly think of the Middle Ages as a time of knights and castles. Starting about 1100, European iron workers began making stronger armour and horse breeders began breeding stronger and faster horses to carry the greater weight of the armoured riders.

At the same time, partly in response to the dominance of battlefields by armoured cavalry, European elites began to build more elaborate and stronger fortifications, while offensive weapons – first the crossbow and then firearms – were also developed that could penetrate the stronger and thicker armour. Similarly catapults and eventually cannons were developed to deal with stronger fortifications.

A central message from the books is that technological advancement is a key storyline in the world history of warfare.

 

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