Crowdsourcing a Presentation: The History of Warfare

I am going to be giving a talk to a group of undergraduates on the history of warfare. I have total carte blanche to talk about it anyway I want. I think I will cover past and present and various future predictions. I have about an hour to talk.

My request to ChicagoBoyz readers: leave a comment below, preferably in the form of an outline, top-line roman numerals and second line capital letters, showing what you think I should talk about.

Remember, I have to get the entire thing into one hour!

I want you to give me your first cut, off the top of your head, without a lot of research. Just type up the main topics you think I should hit.

When I have prepared the outline I am actually going to use, I will post it.

UPDATE: Shlok Vaidya posted a very interesting proposed outline. Check it out.

36 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing a Presentation: The History of Warfare”

  1. There is a popular belief, especially among the young, that violence never solved anything.

    I recommend you include this point in your discussion. Otherwise, any discussion of warfare ends up being little more than condemnation of violence writ large.

  2. I think you should definitely devote some time to ‘cyber-warfare’ – this would seem like a topic relevant to many college-aged students

  3. 1. killing together as a killing machine, not a mob. No more independent action
    a. specialties
    b. formations
    c. drilling

    2. Foraging vs supply lines

    3. horses, elephants, camels and the birth of mechanized warfare
    a. formations
    b. weapons

    4. machine guns and the death of formations

    5. nukes and the death of large battles and very large concentrations of troops

    6. The emergence of terrorists – combatants for whom no one is responsible

    7. The moon as a military base and the end of warfare as we know it

  4. Shlok, looking forward to whatever you come up with.

    Robert, I read that one. Didn’t actually like it very much.

    Larry, I think this crowd will not think that way, but if so I will disabuse them.

    Glen, I may mention cyberwarfare.

    Sol, I won’t quibble about the details — but that is the kind of top-line outline I am hoping to see. Thanks.

  5. I) I think the advent of gunpowder empires definitely should get a mention. Before the advent of gunpowder weapons (and the infrastructure that went with them), civilization was constantly on the defensive against nomadic tribes that would emerge periodically to ravage them. After gunpowder armies arose, civilizations were no longer afraid of nomadic hordes, since the benefits of a lifestyle trained in the martial arts were eclipsed by the sheer firepower that civilization could produce. Barbarians were reduced to raiding, not wholesale migration and conquest.

    II) Sea power and its distinctive character. The Mahan thesis, and the historical superiority of transport by sea over transport by land (not just in terms of carrying capacity and cost, but also in speed until the last hundred years or so).

  6. I think it is important to cover the role of civilians / non combatants and combatants.

    I am not an expert on the ancient world but about the time of Napoleon you started to have a significant emphasis on regular armies vs. regular armies, with the exception of Spain.

    About the time of the US civil war it started as army vs. army but then with Sherman it became an army of destruction against the civil infrastructure.

    In some ways WW1 was the epitome of army vs. army – civilians were not generally expressly targeted (with the exception of some bombing) except for the overall blockade.

    In WW2 you see a large amount of army vs. army but then you also have very significant bombing campaigns (by Germany, then by the Britain and the US) and you see very significant civilian targeting particularly on the Eastern front. In the East the Japanese vs. China is hard to characterize because it is in the midst of a civil war.

    Korea went back to army vs. army, with more of a traditional focus. The Arab / Israeli wars were also military vs. military, with the exception of the 1948 war, which moved entire populations on both sides.

    Then with Vietnam you see a large insurgency, which is largely quelled, and then the North’s conventional forces beat the south’s conventional forces when the US pulls out.

    The first and the start of the second Iraq wars were major military vs. military confrontations; obviously the 2nd Iraq war moved into more of a military vs. non-military and then finally a military protecting the non-combatants that were being deliberately targeted.

    Today the prospect of major wars with the military targeting a defined military are definitely in the minority; it is often non-military (irregular forces) specifically targeting the civilian populations, with the military trying to protect them.

    In many of the civil war states or African conflicts the forces are very irregular and mixed with the general populations and militias.

    These trends are broad arcs but are interesting to consider.

    Another one is the gradual de-militarization of most powers. In the peak of WW1 and WW2 virtually every able bodied male was conscripted and a signficant portion of all industrial production was military; now manpower represents a mere fraction of the entire population and the portion of output devoted to the military is even smaller.

  7. I would hit two themes:

    1. War is the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.
    2. The Clausewitzian Trinity:

    and use some history and possibly a more contemporary example to reinforce those two points. Two examples from the Pacific theater during WWII:

    1) The British campaign in Burma was fought to make the political point that the Japanese were Britain’s enemy too. There wasn’t much military rationale.

    2) The Australians fought a lackadaisical campaign against Japanese holdouts in New Guinea and Borneo to demonstrate to the America that they cared about the war. Those garrisons could have been left to wither on the vine but the political point had to be made.

    Something in that vein would be highly productive.

  8. You might want to start your talk with 2 questions I used to ask undergraduates or high school students.

    1) did the US fight with or against the Italians in WW2?

    2) did the US fight with or against the Russians in WW2?

    I found that many confused the cold war with WW2 and thought we fought the Russians. Many were very surprised to see that we fought the Italians, since so many Americans are of Italian descent.

    I know these questions seem pathetically easy, but you’d be surprised how little anyone knows about military history. They don’t teach it in school.

    I used to also ask about Korea vs. Nam. Many people grew up on MASH and they thought we lost in Korea. Everyone sadly knew that we lost in Nam.

  9. What an interesting task. This would be a great topic for a history undergrad to undertake.


    I. What is war? What is history?

    a. Historical record of warfare in an ancient times
    b. Historical record of warfare modern times
    c. Big history of war (e.g., Churchill) vs. individual history (ala “Band of Brothers”)

    II. How war?

    a. Technological change in warfare
    i. Science
    ii. Industry
    b. Organizational change in warfare
    c. Asymmetrical

    III. Why war?

    a. Nationalism and war (e.g., American Revolutionary War)
    b. Religion and war (e.g., Crusades, Jihad)
    c. Economics and war (e.g., Opium War)
    d. Ideology and war (e.g., Civil War, Cold War)
    e. Politics and war (e.g., Falklands)

    IV. Impact of War

    a. Unintended change to society (for winners and losers)
    b. Hope and hopelessness

  10. Military history 1940 to present

    1. 1940
    a. Very large armies
    b. Primitive air power/inaccurate bombs
    c. all combatants wear uniforms
    d. battle usually won by side with greatest number of boots on ground

    2. 1950 US defends Europe from invasion by 1,000,000 man Russian army by threatening use of battle field nukes. Comintern begins PR offensive against use of nuclear weapons. Doomsday clock invented.

    3. 1960 US develops overwhelming world-wide air superiority. Demonstrates air power in Vietnam. Shows it no longer needs battle field nukes to destroy invading 1,000.000 man Russian army. Commintern supports antiwar movement/Hollywood argues that war vets are danger to civilians.

    4. 1970-2010 world peace breaks out. Comintern invents guerillas/popular fronts for this n that. US keeps peace. Comintern asks “Who appointed US the world’s policeman?” Argues we should rely on UN.

    An interesting problem would be to ask how would the Normandy invasion be handled against Germans armed with 1942 weapons and Americans with 2010 weapons, air power, helocopters, satelites and GPS. Would any Americans die (except by accident)? Would anyone land on the beach?

  11. The whole history of War in an hour is tough.

    When asked to lecture on very open-ended topics I like to plan in terms of themes first and then fill in the details afterward. Details are easy for the well read, a lecturer can bog down or drown in them. Presenting them well is what’s hard.

    I especially like to do this with lectures that have an introductory character. The temptation to try to say everything is thus curbed and I can concentrate on making a limited number of points more effectively. Moreover, I get the luxury of reaching across all history for the most colorful examples instead of being confined within a particular case study or chronology. If I do well, some of the audience are inspired to investigate further on their own.

    The themes I’d pick for this kind of talk are (I might even cut back to three):

    I. War vs. Peace

    II. Soldier vs. Warrior

    III. Clausewitz vs. Sun-tzu

    IV. 21st C. The End of War or War without End?

  12. I like Zen’s organization of things. The only bit I can add are a couplesuggested sub points for the first theme.

    War vs. Peace (Or, what is war?)

    A) Where does war start? (Where does war begin? Do hunter gatherers bands “wage” war?)

    B)What can we call war? (Terrorism, “economic warfare”, perhaps a bit on the modern tendency to equate everything with war)

    C) When Peace Breaks Out (What are the limits to war? When is enough enough? Why does peace “break out”? A nice segue into the Clausewitz vs. Sunzi bit.)

    I think a general timeline of conflict would be useful. One of those TED-style graphs of number of conflicts/deaths in a given year. Nothing exact — just something to make the average undergraduate realize that they live in the safest and sanest period of human existence.

    Are you going to film this lecture for the viewing pleasure of Chicagoboyz readers?

  13. The History of Warfare in one hour. Daunting, to say the least. I think you should stick to either the “how” or the “why” but not both as there is simply enough time. I prefer the “how” with some “why” sprinkled in.

    1. Ancient Warfare
    a. Egypt
    b. Alexander the Great
    c. Peloponnesian War

    2. Rome
    a. Punic Wars/Hannibal – use Cannae very quickly so the kids can see some strategy.
    b. Internal wars/Caesar
    c. Perhaps a short intro to Roman infantry methods

    3. Era of gunpowder
    a. Napoleon – I guess you will have to give the ULTRA short version of his conquests and strategy
    b. Civil War (I know a LOT of war has been skipped here between Rome and the Civil War but you only have so much time)
    b.1. Give Lincoln his due
    c. If possible hit quickly on the Franco Prussian War as it sets up #4 in a way.

    4. The age of massive armies
    a. WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles
    b. WW2
    (I honestly don’t know how you will compact those two subjects)

    5. The age of nukes
    a. Korea
    b. Vitenam
    c. The Cold War

    6. Post 911
    a. Incorporate everything on Zenpundit’s blog

    Well, there you have it, an easy hour. Like I said, this is daunting – you will have to pick and choose your poisons and I don’t envy you.

    I second the motion to have this taped and put on youtube so we can all see what you ended up with.

  14. Be sure to remind then that men are as frank and accurate about warfare as they are about their sexual conquests.

  15. I- Ancient warfare
    a- The Greek Hoplites were invincible because they were organized
    b- The Macedonians perfected the phalanx which had longer spears and was better trained.
    c- The Romans designed the Legion which was more mobile and could fight on irregular terrain.
    II- Medieval warfare- The invention of the stirrup made cavalry effective and the horseman became armored.
    III- The castle and knight determined the feudal economic system.
    IV- The English longbow ended the superiority of the armored knight at Crecy and Agincourt.
    V- Gunpowder ended the era of the impregnable castle.
    VI- The smoothbore musket was used with the same tactics as the Legion. It was just a longer spear.
    VII- Napoleon began the era of national armies.
    a- Massive armies required sanitation- Baron Larrey invented military medicine and sanitation
    b- Artillery became mobile.
    c- Logistics became more important
    VIII- The Minney ball ended the era of Napoleonic warfare as it was accurate to 1000 yards.
    a- The Civil War casualties were far higher because of the rifled musket and Minie ball.
    b- The Civil War ended with trench warfare at Petersberg
    c- The defense became far more effective
    IX- The First World War combined national armies and defensive firepower.
    a- The machine gun extended the superiority of the Minie ball.
    b- The tank ended the superiority of the defense
    c- Airplanes were a minor but growing threat
    d- MIlitary medicine had gotten good enough that more died of wounds than disease.
    X- The Second World War was the last Industrial Age war.
    a- The weapons were good enough that quality and not numbers were decisive.
    b- The T 34 tank won the war in Europe.
    c- The aircraft carrier and dive bomber won the war in the Pacific.
    d- The Atomic Bomb made another Industrial Age war impossible except by accident.

    Too long but the best I could do.

  16. Hear are some questions to have your audience think about as a follow up for your lecture.

    1. How much do we value our kind of peace (do you really want to bet your life on this?)?

    2. What do we have to do to make sure it prevails?

    3. Who among us will fight(not just serve in peacetime, but actually bleed)?

    4. What will we as a society have to do to earn that service?

    5. What threats or opportunities will we consider sufficient causes for which to put ourselves through the hell of war?

    6. If we do choose to fight, whom do we kill and why?

    7. What kind of knowledge of the enemy must we have?

    8. What resources do we need to wage war?

    9. Above all, what kind of peace are we seeking and what are we willing to do to obtain it?

  17. If you were to cover how appeasement leads to war through out history, you would not just teach, you would accomplish two additional education goals. A) When Americas enemies make their warlike moves, the students will remember your lesson. The repetition they see will embed the lesson into their memory. B) They will respect your lesson more, because you were able to fore see the future conflict.

  18. In warfare what’s old is new again, sooner or later, if only in new garb. As a text reference Keegan’s Face of Battle. Extrapolate to a Muslim majority Netherlands invading Belgium?

    Foraging vs. supply train

    Tribal or mass armies vs. mercenary or professional armies

    Weapons and tactics.
    Seasonal war vs. War 24/7/365
    Shifts of advantage from offense to defence
    Mobility vs. fortification

    Motivation for war
    Religion/righteousness (Cousin’s Wars)
    Cultural survival

    Limited War vs. Total War

    War as a reflection and release of cultural strains.

  19. All Warfare is Generational in Nature

    I. Clausewitz
    A Green
    i. Emotion/chance/reason = people/army/government = fear/honor/interest
    ii. Eliminate chance by having the best army and you then have to deal with honor
    iii. Overcome fear and interest with the honor of the army
    B Blue
    i. Emotion/chance/reason = people/army/government = fear/honor/interest
    ii. Eliminate chance by having the best navy and then you have to deal with honor.
    iii. Overcome fear and interest with the honor of the navy.
    II. Non-Clausewitz
    A Revolutionary Warfare
    i. Enforce conformity by crossing the “Gap”.

    B Evolutionary Warfare
    i. Generate diversity by filling the “Gap”
    III. Emergent Complexity
    A Build Structure (Constitution) hopefully strong enough to support emerging complexity
    B Put someone in charge (Force of command, Velocity of control, Spirit of Image) = (Executive, Congressional, Judicial)

  20. Lex-

    Good luck with this project.

    My advice which you can take for whatever you think it’s worth . . .

    Avoid the swamp of 4GW theory like the plague.

    Reread Clausewitz’s On War, Book 8, Ch 3B and my own piece on Clausewitzian cohesion from the Clausewitz roundtable . . .

    Three ideal types – moral and material cohesion . . . explains it all in a theoretically coherent whole, and yes you can do it in an hour, since I have done exactly that under similar conditions here in Portugal.

    Have a good time.

  21. If I were doing a history of war (in one hour!), I would start with something from Lawrence Keeley’s “War Before Civilization”.

    (Incidentally, I have found that book useful for understanding some terrorist tactics.)

    Email me if you want to know more about the book.

  22. I think Sol Vason’s original outline from Oct. 5, 6:45 PM is pretty good. You only have an hour, after all, so it has to be quick, concise, and broad.

    I would mention in the beginning that there is a large body of evidence that suggests warfare in some form seems to have existed since the evolution of the first humans, and the behavior of other primates such as chimpanzees suggest that it existed even before then.

    It might seem noble to claim that the study of war is no longer necessary, but someone, somewhere is going to give it a try. And they will be able to roll right over anyone who hasn’t given some thought and effort into preparing a defense.

  23. In a view that John Arquilla and I have elaborated before, the history of military organization and doctrine is largely a history of the progressive development of four fundamental forms of engagement: the melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming. Briefly, warfare has evolved from chaotic melees in which every man fought on his own, to the design of massed but often rigidly shaped formations, and then to the adoption of maneuver. Swarming appears at times in this history, but its major advances as a doctrine will occur in the coming years

    If this formulation looks helpful and interesting, go here to download our old Rand study (it’s free) on “Swarming and the Future of Conflict”:

    Chapter Two (pp. 7-23) is about the evolution of military organization and doctrine: melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming, with particular reference to the roles of information and information technology in the evolution of these four forms.

    What that write-up does not show, except in a passing footnote, is that this formulation derives from a view of social evolution — a pet theory of mine (called TIMN) — which holds that, across the ages, societies have come up with only four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions (as in states and their militaries), markets, and networks. Thus, early tribes are associated with melees, hierarchical institutions with the rise of massed formations, the rise of market-oriented societies with the turn to maneuver doctrines, and now the age of networks with swarming.

    I hope this helps. It’s all a bit sketchy, but it used to brief well. Onward. (And thanks to Shlok Vaidya’s blog for pointiing me here.)

  24. 1. Annihilation of the enemy
    Prehistory to the age of the great empires; kill all your enemies down to the youngest child; utterly destroys the enemy, but at least you’re sure they will never bother you again. This sort of warfare is a one-time effort by definition.

    2. Destruction of the enemy
    Rome and Carthage would be the paradigm for this; sell all the enemy into slavery, disperse them, tear down their cities; utterly destroys the enemy as a people, but doesn’t require killing most of them; since their culture is gone, they won’t come back for revenge in a generation or so. This sort of warfare, like the first, is one-time (unless something goes wrong, e.g. you forgot to kill the young Crown Prince who manages to gather his scattered people, but this is rare).

    3. Subjugation of the enemy
    More examples in European, Islamic, and Chinese history than I can shake a stick at; exile or kill the former rulers and set governors over the enemy, require payment of taxes, etc., former enemy has legal disabilities but the culture is left largely intact; this one preserves the enemy’s culture and again doesn’t require killing most of them, but leaves them permanent subjects. This sort of warfare requires an ongoing effort; governance and tax collection are ongoing, and the chances of an uprising requiring military action to suppress are much greater than in the previous form.

    4. Transformation of the enemy
    Primary examples are US versus Japan and Germany, circa 1945; through largely psychological and administrative means, shift whatever elements of the enemy’s culture and politics are seen as having enabled them to engage in warfare; preserves the enemy’s culture, doesn’t require killing most of them, and subjugates them only temporarily. Disadvantages: seems to work best after an overwhelming military defeat which necessarily involves many deaths and much destruction; demilitarization will require extending security guarantees, perhaps permanently.

  25. Wow, like I needed a few dozen more reminders that I’m not exactly the smartest kid in the class.

    Which doesn’t keep from contributing something unusable — two somethings, in fact.

    First, the Triple Constraint:

    I. Scope
    A. Small groups or small city-states; ~10^2-10^3 combatants
    B. Coalitions or small nations; ~10^4-10^5 combatants
    C. Large nations or alliances; ~10^6 or more combatants

    II. Time
    A. Hours to months
    B. Years to decades
    C. Century or more

    III. Cost
    A. Incidental/occasional with little economic impact
    B. Regular but not predominant expenditure
    C. Total war, taking most of national/societal output

    Second, the three basic military tasks (couldn’t find a snappy term for this):

    I. Shoot
    A. Hand-to-hand fighting; ~1m
    B. Killing at a distance, but within line-of-sight; ~10-100m
    C. Large distances and/or beyond LOS; ~1-10^4 km

    II. Move
    A. Purely defensive/static or walking-pace; ~10 km/day or less
    B. Mobile, horse or motorized; ~100 km/day
    C. Air/space; ~100m-10 km/sec

    III. Communicate
    A. Informal oral messages
    B. Written messages by courier
    C. Realtime audio/video

    Or you could just talk about Subutai for an hour. KHAAAAANNNNN!

  26. Warfare has been defined by two major characteristics: weapon, and more importantly, organization. What tools were used is fascinating, and part of the endless technological march ahead, but perhaps more relevant is the manner in which soldiers were recruited, and how the polity supported its military force financially.

    Shlok Vaida does a good boilerplate job of identifying contemporary views (as well as postapocalyptic), but I think he misses the point. Since you only have an hour, I’d either talk about the progression of weaponry (tools-oriented) in infantry, cavalry, and artillery (from bladed weapons to rifles to tanks; horses to tanks to helicopters; from arrows to artillery to ICBM), or the organizational march from the muster fields and citizen soldiers to the aristocracy to mercenaries to professional armies and a permanent general staff. Or you could do both, since it’s only an hour.

    Also, no matter which course you take, I recommend using particular battles to highlight your major chapters of warfare, rather than plain roman numerical headings.

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