Attempted Prophecies: For one man, down millions (3)


Oh yes, Part 2 of this series did happen weeks back. You may have missed it because there was no print edition of the Business & Financial Times on that day—the 11th of January. That being the case, ‘Attempted Prophecies’ did not appear in print. So, kindly take some few minutes and google ‘For One Man, Down Millions (2)’ to get abreast before we proceed. I’ll wait…
Just as you read…

Just as you just read, in that article, we powered on into WWI, particularly the events that unfolded 1915 onwards; events which culminated in the involvement of the afore-so-called-neutral USA in the war—and ultimately resulted in the ending of the war in November 1918. Germany and the rest of the Central Powers, by an interesting turn of events, lost the war on that fateful day of 11th November, 1918. The Allies, infused with new blood—the then-mediocre new blood, USA—came out of the tedious war, victorious. Although not the downright winners they had envisioned themselves, going into the war.

Winners or losers, the warring parties were to, during that period of four years, crash under their own weight. They had each bitten more than they could ever chew. These nations had gone into the war largely imperialistic; they had come out of the gory war stripped off many of their colonies and territories. People worldwide had broken free of their imperialistic claws—finally! Wait, let’s not get too excited at this mention of our liberations. I know that as former colonies, this can still draw from us some level of excitement. But let’s save the nostalgic jubilation for another day.
We will delve deeper into the sociopolitical and geopolitical realities that were to ensue for the subcontinent of Europe, the Eastern world, and America—particularly this waning of their imperialistic status—in another article. This week, our attention is mainly on the astonishing economic upsurge that was to ensue for these warring nations, even coming, as they were, from the ashes of war. An economic upsurge that arguably found one of its foundations in this very unlikely place—in war. An economic upsurge driven by industry. And an industrialisation, itself, driven by war.

Rifles to a Machine
It wasn’t too much to ask: the expectation that war be on a surface—on an open field. If you are going to fight your fellow human being, doesn’t it make sense that you, the fighting parties, be so placed that you actually find one another so as to successfully engage in the act of exchanging blows? In fact, this reminds me of the story I shared with you the other time about that fight between two drunkards I had the pleasure of witnessing. I believe it was in the article ‘Willingly, Your Ideological Slave’. Do you remember? No? Oh, the one where these drunkards, sure of one thing: their desire to fight; yet totally uncertain of this other crucial thing, this enabling ingredient: who was to initiate the fight, wasted precious time hiding behind their individually marked territories as they threatened each other with annihilation. With their nasal ‘s3 wop3 aa bra ha’ warnings, they threatened each other with extreme annihilation should they cross each other’s territories—the barely visible marked lines in the soils upon which they each stood. Needless to say, this fight never happened. ‘The Great Battle of the Two Drunk Men of North Legon’, I must say, never happened.
This is just not how one goes into war. In war, blows have to be actually exchanged. By ‘blows’, I mean the hurling of bullets and explosives at one another, whereupon the one that suffers the most blows falls in defeat, leaving the other standing—as winner. In short, warring of the very early 20th century and all the centuries preceding it, was no place for primarily playing hide and seek. Opposing war parties, armed with differing forms of explosives, found one another on open fields, and engaged in the act of hurling bullets and explosives at one another.
But in this 20th century age of booming industrialisation, in this war which began in 1914, nations were to find on their hands, more deaths and gore than they could ever imagine. Industrialisation had made rifles much, much more efficient; it had made bombs much, much more incendiary; it had made transportation in all its varied forms much, much more efficient; communication too was more effective than it had ever been. In short, industrialisation and technological innovation had made war more efficient—ergo much, much more deadly.
Innovation on the Warfield
Warring was never intended as a playground built principally for the playing of hide and seek—true. But World War I had something completely different in store for these warring nations. Let’s rewind back to July 1914 when the war began with the bombing of Belgrade. You do remember the attitude with which these belligerent countries went into the war, don’t you? Germany, for one, went in with a hands-down victory in mind—to give a quick and decisive defeat to France, and then head to Russia, and do same to the large empire. I mean, this is the attitude with which people typically go into wars, isn’t it? People tend to enter into such things with a glass half-full mentality on hand. Winning, not losing, is always the mindset.
But with the Industrial Revolution seeing steady momentum across the world, these nations, as steeped as they were in the industrial whirlwind, were to find themselves equipped to fight a ‘better’ war—a much more deadly war. These nations were as technologically equipped in defense as they were in offense. With WWI, warfare saw innovation not only on land, but on water, and even up, up in the air.

Innovation on Land
a. The Machine Gun
First, there were the rifles. Rifles, one of the pioneering weaponries of warfare, was to see such exponential facelift during the lifetime of this war. No longer were these firearms shooting two or three rounds per minute, no longer were rifles needing a reload with each two or three rounds shot, no longer were these rifles shooting at just 250 metres…This invention called the machine gun, invented by the American, Sir Hiram Maxim, building on inventions by people such as fellow American inventor, Richard Jordan Gatling, was to come into the battlefield shooting an impressive 500 to 600 rounds per minute, and at a distance of 2,000 to 4,000 metres. WWI became the first time many of these warring nations experienced, firsthand, the vast potential of the machine gun. I mean, they had heard rumors of its power during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. But to come face-to-face with this grim reaper, to experience this level of efficiency on those 20th century battlefields was jarring, to say the least. Each battle fought during the war was averaging hundreds of thousands of deaths. WWI was bleeding nations dry of their human resources.
The machine gun was why this comparatively small and young nation called Germany started the war so strong and so confident in its strength. Germany had a total of 5,000 machine guns, while its prime opponent on the Western Front, Britain, had a meagre 250. This comparative advantage in modern firearms was to help the country advance steadily in its so-called Schlieffen Plan, i.e., in its advance towards Belgium against France—against Britain and then Russia—during the start of the war. But this German progress was to stall, because, among others, the enemy had in its arsenal, a comparative advantage in this other very important weapon…

b. The Artillery
The artillery gun was a great solution to the problem of distance in war. Thousands of meters of efficiency was not enough for these headstrong nations—they wanted hundreds of thousands of meters. So no, the machine gun was not enough weaponry for these belligerent nations. To supplement their war efforts, these nations went in strong with artillery guns. As rifles are held in the hand, artilleries are held on the land—both have the incendiary object of causing harm and preferably, death. Artilleries were massive guns that had been utilised in wars prior to WWI. But during the Great War, there were to receive such impressive upgrades.
Artillery guns were effective at maintaining a strong defensive front, all the while launching a potent offense. What they lacked in mobility they made up for in potency and relatively wide coverage. But early century artillery guns tended to depend too much on the philosophy of ‘try your luck.’ Shells were launched from their barrels, aiming for enemy lines, with the hopes of hitting the bull’s-eye. These age-old artillery were likely to lose their aim with each round fired. Each round fired meant a call for reloading; reloading of which took time—and that was too long a time than warring parties, in the heat of war, could spare. But WWI came in and changed the game. It wasn’t too long before industries were at work causing upgrades to these artilleries—consequently blessing them with not just mobility, but efficiency and precision too.

The Brits, for instance, introduced their 18-pounder artillery gun, a machine with a recoil system which helped these enormous guns maintain their aim even after firing a round. No longer were artillery guns firing two or three rounds per minute. During this war, modern artillery were firing six to twenty rounds per minute—with much more efficiency, precision—maintained precision—and a speedy reload of shells and offloads of empty casings than ever before. The artillery gun is how the British and the French maintained their hold of the French and Belgian territories against the quick advancing Germans during the start of the war—stalling Germany’s Schlieffen plan, i.e., the plan to quickly conquer France then head for Russia. It is how the Allies managed to weaken the then fast advancing and formidable German army.

c. Transportation
To render themselves mobile, these warring parties were likely to be found on horsebacks, or with the age of industrialisation—even as comparatively modest as those periods preceding the war were—on motorised forms of transports, i.e., vehicles. Motor vehicles became used in wars to supplement horses. One was to find these warring parties transporting themselves and their munitions in vehicles. Armed, these passengers were to proceed with doing the ‘needful’—causing deaths and injuries upon the foe as they advanced. Or as the further progression in industrialisation brought about, these rifles were at times attached to these vehicles, making the aiming, and firing of bullets much more efficient. These were your modern-age cavalry.
Trains became another indispensable transport system during the war. The railway system was utilised extensively for the transportation of forces and munitions. Consequently, this invention received the necessary technological upgrades and updates—one that has helped culminate into its present status, all over the world, as an unfailing public transport system.
All these technological advancements, across the board, proved way too much efficiency in war to handle. Unprecedented deaths were resulting due to this improvement in efficiency in war. So naturally, strategies had to change. Old tactics of war had to give in to new demands—demands necessitated by advancements in technology. One of such famous military tactics that resulted from these new demands was… trench warfare.

“When They Go Low…
With these bullets and explosives endlessly flying towards these war parties, it wasn’t long before soldiers found the common sense to… dig. For a place to hide in defense and plan an offense, these warring parties dug, often-times, three metres deep, zigzag trenches. This simple safety tactic was to become a defining moment of the war, contributing to its lengthy duration. Trench wars became notoriously famous on the Western Front particularly. During the last quarter of 1914, both parties, the Germans on one hand, and the Allies on the other hand, dug long stretch of trenches, stretching all the way to the North Sea.
Trench warfare with its defining feature of ‘hiding’ was to cause a series of stalemates—one like never before seen in war. These series of stalemates caused on one hand, the stalling of the war, and on the other hand, a much-needed preservation of human lives. Yet for war to progress and therefore come to its end, these warring parties had to find ingenious ways of attacking one another still, even as they hid in their respective trenches. These stalemates were essentially sieges and required siege weaponries. This need was to cause yet another set of revolutionary technologies—both the bettering of old technologies, and the inventions of new ones.
Before the advent of trench warfare, warring parties relied largely on direct fire—the enemy was spotted and was fired at. But while doing this, one knows and expects to betray their own position. That is to say that the enemy would ordinarily follow your fire, and fire right back. But with enemies now hidden in trenches, warring parties had to resort to indirect fire. Here, ‘try your luck’ played really strongly—warring parties would position their artillery at stations unobservable by the enemy and fire aimlessly, hoping to down an enemy or two. This was, needless to say, ineffective warfare. Technology had to come in to save the day—to provide eyes for each fire. And it was at this point that this then relatively new invention, the airplane, got its moment to shine.
Innovation in the Air

d. The Airplane and the Camera
When they go low, naturally you go high. That was the reasoning behind the deployment of this then comparatively new technology, the aircraft, for this gruesome war. When the war started in 1914, it had only been 11 years—just 11 years!—since the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers. This concept of humankind taking wings and flying high up in the air, had only lost its ridiculousness just some 11 years ago. Yet, there these nations were, stuck in a war which had already overstayed its welcome; a war which had found itself in the stagnation of trenches. Desperately needing sightings of the enemy, these opposing nations sought solutions in the air. Aircrafts had to provide that much needed view. Hence began the era of the deployment of aircrafts, first and foremost, for aerial reconnaissance.
The idea was a simple one: attach cameras to these planes. But execution, not so simple. The merger between these two technologies—the aircraft and the camera—still then at their infancies, proved quite the Herculean task. First of all, aircrafts of the time mostly had open cockpits; cameras of the time had bellows (those bulky, disposable accordion-like things at the front of old-fashioned cameras that served the purpose of helping the lens zoom in and out) … Flying these cameras up in an open-air cockpit meant that bellows would consistently get torn up or fall out. To solve this problem, these cameras were attached to airplanes in protective casings.
But here was another hurdle: how was the pilot, who doubled as the observer/photographer, to effectively carry out this task of aerial reconnaissance when they were busy flying a plane—and at the same time defending the plane from enemy aircrafts? Thus came the solution that was the ‘automatic or semi-automatic camera’—cameras that could automatically take a shot; cameras that were, with time, equipped with tri-lens systems, allowing for optimal reconnaissance. Needless to say, airplanes had to, during WWI, figuratively and literally, rise to the occasion. With this task of helping to decisively end the war placed on them by both parties to the war, these young inventions were to quickly advance in age—and were expected to be infallibly effective.
This same need for sighting necessitated by trench warfare saw munitions, such as artillery, seeing much-needed upgrades. Artilleries such as ‘mortars’ which had the capacity of firing at elevated angles were invented.

e. The Tank
The need to breach enemy lines, break stalemates, etc., necessitated the invention of the now famous war machine, the tank. Coming in late to the war, this machine, initially intended for civilian use—for agricultural use, to be precise—was reworked and rebranded as a formidably reinforced defensive and offensive machine of war. To solve the deadly barrage problem occasioned by the machine gun, the artillery, grenades, flamethrowers, etc., technologies which made the age-old tactic of advancing towards the enemy on horsebacks archaic—and quite the suicidal mission—the tank was introduced by the British on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. Having faced a murky start, these machines were to subsequently get much-needed revisions and upgrades—upgrades of which have helped them maintain their positions as formidable munitions of war all these years, following WWI.

Innovation on Sea
I think at the end of the day, this word: ‘attrition’ is the ultimate aim of every warring party. The ability to bleed the opponent dry—dry of humans and of resources… That always seems to be one effective way of ending wars—or so belligerent parties tend to think. After one has behaved monstrously by starting a war in the first place, bleeding an opponent dry becomes one sure way of securing an out. And there is no surer way of effecting effective attrition on nations during wars than effecting blockades on the channels of trade of such nations. And this was a tactic famously utilised by the British against the Germans right at the start of the war in 1914 to its ultimate end in 1918. Naval blockades meant formidable naval ships. Formidable naval ships meant formidable industrial and technological advancements. So, technological advancements, it was… by these nations… during the war.
To counter this effectiveness displayed at sea by the Brits—to topple their naval leviathans—the Germans went into their own industries, exerted the efforts of their scientists and inventors, and came out with a naval superpower of their own, the invention called the submarine.
On 5th September, 1914, the British warship, HMS Pathfinder, found its way into the traps of Germany’s newly unveiled submarines—the much-acclaimed ‘U-boats’. The rest, they say, is history.

Thinking Out Loud
I once met a gentleman who said he was a man of God. I remember him vividly, though having met and spoken briefly. I remember him vividly because never had I met anyone who had the potential of attributing everything to the devil as this gentleman did. All signs of human ingenuity, all scientific and technological advancements ever spawned due to this ingenuity, this gentleman was quick to dismiss as having proceeded from people who “chant”. Albert Einstein? “Oh! he chants”. Marie Curie? “Oh, she chants.” Shirley Jackson? “Oh! she chants”.
All these noted brilliant minds, according to this gentleman, chant. Many examples mentioned to him were dead; but according to him, “they chant!” And by ‘chant’ he meant, ‘worship the devil’. It’s funny because he owned a printing press. This was a man whose livelihood was made off an invention which featured prominently during the First Industrial Revolution—an invention which gave wings to knowledge, and consequently helped spawn human ingenuity on such massive, massive proportions; an invention that continues to do wonders for this Information Age of ours. Yet there he sat, a beneficiary of human ingenuity, yet having his Bible in hand, fervently damning all human ingenuity ever displayed in this world to the devil. I couldn’t help but tell him what Martin Luther did with the printing press—a move that today affords him this privilege of owning his own copy of the Bible…

Karma Failing
It’s an imbalanced world, isn’t it? And yes, I am of that school of thought that believes that we have caused on our own selves, this imbalance. Because here you have nations, who managed to, even in their most animalistic of forms—in war—display otherworldly signs of human ingenuity. Even in war, these nations managed to spawn their own silver linings… Silver linings that have secured for them and their future generations, prosperity still. A silver lining that is industrial advancement…
Let’s delve deeper into our attempt at either convicting or acquitting ‘karma’ next week.

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