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Recently, after reading a science fiction book, I had a thought and I started pondering about technology and its effect on the fate of nations, over the centuries.

Being Indian, it is fairly common for us to discuss how ‘outsiders’ came and raided / defeated / conquered Indian kingdoms throughout history. In many of these discussions, the reference of ‘how Indians were not united’ comes up many times. Quite a few times, it also gets mentioned how the ruling kings were not up to the task and were cowards, who lost easily, were not brave and were frequently lost in the arms of women and the bottle.

While this may have been true for some kingdoms, it surely was not true for an equally sizable number of other kingdoms, who fought bravely, but still were defeated.

Coming to the point of this post. What the Sci-Fi story got me thinking was, how technology can influence the outcome of a war / battle. I remember reading somewhere that the swords used by the British army / French army was made of steel, while many swords used by the Maratha force were made from iron / inferior steel. In battle, such swords, being more brittle compared to the steel swords, would break easily. If this was true, then in battle, how is a person, however brave, supposed to fight, when his weapons simply refuse to cooperate? Surely, that brave solider is going to be killed by the opponent and may lead to a defeat for the nation.

The same story was highlighted in a couple of books I read regarding the development of the machine gun and automatic rifles like the AK-47. In the initial days, the sword / cavalry / bow and arrow continued to dominate the muskets and early guns. As the gun evolved from a musket to a high caliber sniper rifle, it shaped many a battle. For example, during the First World War, many generals were accustomed to the cavalry charge and insisted on the same, in front of enemy lines who was using machine guns. Obviously, such charges failed, as the soldiers and their charges could be killed from far away, much before they were able to reach the machine guns. In addition to the cavalry charge, generals were prone to lead infantry columns across the battlefield, using their tried and tested tactics. But these tactics were ineffective against the machine gun, which had a long enough range and a rapid rate of fire.

Based on these examples, I have developed the view that simply dismissing soldiers as ‘cowards’ is doing a majority of them a disservice. It is quite likely that technology also played an important role in the defeat faced by the soldiers – the technology used by one side was inferior to the technology used by the other side and it simply did not stand up to the enemy’s better technology.

Link

  • The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today by Thomas E Ricks
  • The Gun: The Story of the AK-47 by C J Chivers
  • The Physics of War: From Arrows to Atoms by Barry Parker
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