World War II in the Context of History and Modern Warfare Essay

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World War II in the Context of History and Modern Warfare

The 20th Century was simultaneously a Century of exceptional advancement and unsurpassed violence. Why was this a Century of incomparable violence? The quick answer is that we, as a human race, used many of our advancements to become far more efficient killers; where advancements of prior centuries allowed armies to kill tens of thousands, the advancements of the 20th Century enabled armies to kill tens of millions. The longer answer involves military technological revolutions, military inventions used in World War II, business methods that drastically increased war production, the transformation of national wealth to effective fighting power, and the conversion of civilian moral energies into the will to win. Keegan, Overy, Ferguson and Weinberg, in turn, either support those conclusions or, at the very least, do not deny them.


a. The Four Military Technological Revolutions

Knox and Williamson point to four military technological revolutions to date, each building on the developments of the prior military revolution. The first military technological revolution, occurring in the 17th Century, was dominated by the French, who made tactical, organizational, naval and general military reforms.[footnoteRef:1] The first military revolution also saw tactical reforms by the Dutch and Swedish, as well as a British financial revolution.[footnoteRef:2] The second military revolution, occurring during the French Revolution of the 18th Century, created national mobilization politically and economically and Napoleonic warfare, including utter destruction of the opposition armed forces.[footnoteRef:3] Within that same second military revolution, the Industrial Revolution's 18th -- 19th Century technological advances of telegraph, railroads, steamships, small arms, automatic weapons and artillery for land wars and naval evolution of big-gun battleships and fleets, made arming, clothing, feeding, payment, swift movement to battle and consequent masses possible.[footnoteRef:4] While Overy does not speak of four military technical revolutions, he does speak of the technical and tactical revolution that took place prior to World War II.[footnoteRef:5] [1: MacGregor Knox and Murray Williamson, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 6, 13.] [2: Ibid., p. 13.] [3: Ibid.] [4: Ibid.] [5: Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York, NY W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997), pp. 47, 61.]

Meanwhile, Keegan mentions no specific military technical revolutions, though he does discuss Germany's determination in World War II not to technically lag behind the Allies as it had in World War II.[footnoteRef:6] Weinberg wholly supports and Ferguson partially supports Keegan's assertion, stating that by World War II, a determined German naval force was technically superior to the British Royal Navy.[footnoteRef:7] [6: John Keegan, The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II (New York, NY: First Vintage Books Edition, 1996), p. 94.] [7: Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2006), p. 112; Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 362.]

The First World War was not merely the third military technological revolution. According to Knox and Williamson, the use of combined-arm tactics/operations, the Blitzkrieg, strategic bombing, naval carrier warfare, submarines, amphibious warfare machinery and signals intelligence all made World War I a huge technological leap forward, as well.[footnoteRef:8] Weinberg agrees with this assessment of new developments in World War I.[footnoteRef:9] Though Keegan and Ferguson do not specifically mention the development of these advancements in World War I, they also mention the World War II use of Blitzkrieg[footnoteRef:10], strategic bombing[footnoteRef:11], naval carriers[footnoteRef:12], submarines[footnoteRef:13], amphibious warfare[footnoteRef:14], signals intelligence.[footnoteRef:15] Overy and Weinberg also discuss the vital uses of these developments in World War II.[footnoteRef:16] [8: Knox and Williamson, p.13.] [9: Weinberg, p. 1.] [10: Keegan, p. 15; Ferguson, p. 385.] [11: Keegan, p. 35; Ferguson, p. 510.] [12: Keegan, p. 66; Ferguson, p. 535.] [13: Keegan, p. 59; Ferguson, pp. 113-14.] [14: Keegan, p. 63; Ferguson, pp. 537, 572.] [15: Keegan, p. 91; Ferguson, p. 113.] [16: Overy, pp. 5, 12, 28, 40-41, 47, 106; Weinberg, pp. 189, 222, 227, 538, 548.]

The First World War also ushered in the use of heavy military vehicles and airpower for military purposes: the first tank was used in battle 1916 and the first strategic bombing by air was accomplished by airplane in 1917.[footnoteRef:17] Overy also mentions the importance of developments before, during and after World War I for effective fighting in…

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