2017/10/23

Brutes in warfare

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This is another attempt to draw on military history to provide insights for military theory.


Every now and then - often spaced by centuries - some "new" way of doing war proves disastrously superior, often creating empires or destroying existing ones. Not all such innovations (or revivals of long-known ways) have been coined by superior finesse. Sometimes the secret of success is rather that a brutish, savage approach to warfare proves superior to cautious, limited if not ritualised forms of warfare.

One such example was the success of probably the greatest warlord of all times*, Shaka Zulu. The paradigm that he faced emphasised javelins and long spears. The changed this by emphasising bigger shield and shorter spear, waiting for the javelin hail to end and then charging to a merciless melée. There was no mercy for the defeated; they either joined him or died, which enabled him to grow his army through victories.

Alexander the Great's** extremism in warfare came as a shock to existing realms and his savage treatment of Tyre ensured that hardly any other walled settlement dared to resist him later. His heavy cavalry charges aimed to slay the opposing king instead of defeating his army came as quite a shock, too.

There are more examples, but covering the whole facet of the history of war would go towards a history Ph.d. so, here's instead my suspicion:

There may be a systemic possibility that a new paradigm appears once warfare becomes too ritualised, too focused on avoiding close-up brutality, too focused on limiting the devastating effects of warfare. This new paradigm may change power balances and destroy realms.

The obvious question for a concerned observer is thus whether we might be in such a vulnerable, probably doomed paradigm.

The potential is certainly present if the entire pattern holds true:
  1. the dominance of cabinet wars with minor mobilisation. As a militarist he was unsurpassed, even
  2. the refusal to use nukes***
  3. the casualty aversion
  4. the idea that support fires can do the job before one is overrun by a more aggressively manoeuvering opponent****

Humans are used to expect a continuation of the past, not a repeat of sudden changes that occurred in the distant past. It's all-natural to not expect dictatorships that lasted for generations to suddenly disintegrate, to not expect a financial market boom to end tomorrow - or to expect a paradigm change in warfare that's not a mere jump forward on the road that's been taken for generations.


S O

*: That's no compliment. The guy turned nuts. He's also one of the greatest militarists in history, along with Lycurgus of Sparta.
**: What a fag. ;-)
***: And this was no criticism.
****: There are no support fires if there are no sufficient radio comms. How would a 90% indoctrinated infantry & 10% radio jammers army fare in East-Central Europe against a 15% combat troops & 85% support troops army?
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1 comment:

  1. Shaka, mad as he was - and he was about as mad, bad, and dangerous to know as any dictator in history - was also a logistical and social innovator. He reorganized the Zulu agricultural and social system to support a full-time army. His tactical innovations worked because he had professional infantrymen who could learn the techniques of melee combat he taught, as opposed to a raggedy-assed bunch of herdsmen who "trained" by throwing their spears at a tree while standing around guarding cows.

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