Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Technology in U.S. Military History – 1

with 2 comments

My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.

Patent drawing for R.J. Gatling's Battery Gun, 9 May 1865. (Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain)

Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.”  The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]

More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.

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——-For the Common Defense

[i]   Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

[ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.


2 Responses

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  1. Many times I’ve read themes like this, how tech is some how radically changing the soldier’s way of conducting war. Sadly, after reading Mr. Roland’s book, I was far less impressed with the premise. From personal experience I could have discounted many of his underlying points. For example, I joined the Army in 1986 and left it in 1998. During that entire time I was armed and equipped with one basic personal weapon – the M16. There were two major variants of the M16 during my time – A1 and A2. However, while the differences were important, the basic weapon was the same. I served with NCOs who’d been on duty during the Vietnam War. They also carried M16s for most, if not all of their careers. In 2003 I was sent overseas in as a civilian supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers still carry M16, although in A3 and A4 variants. The most important change was the inclusion of a scoped sighting system (arguably not better than the old sights). Still I was able within a few minute to re familiarize with the weapon and qualify expert. Things didn’t change that much.

    The major change to warfare in the last 25-30 years isn’t so much the technology, but the doctrinal approach the military has taken to the battle space. Most of that was driven by politics (post-Cold War). The military has been forced to embrace different technologies due to that shift. Or in many cases, use the technology in different ways.

    The battle space today is “faster” due to the over arching requirements driven by political pressures. The pace of war is no longer measured by movement rates of armored formations. Rather the speed at which a spot report ends up processed and displayed on CNN or Fox News.


    July 17, 2008 at 6:44 am

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Good information on weapons history.


    Rene Tyree

    July 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm

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