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Subject: The first modern war rss

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Steve Pole

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I remember being taught that the first modern war was the ACW or WW1: industrialization, railways, continuous fronts, etc. However, these feature only rarely in today's wars which tend to be asymmetrical, COIN-type conflicts. Such was equally true of many ancient wars such as the Jewish Revolt, to cite one obvious example. Does it follow that the date of the first modern war should be pushed back by a couple of millenia?
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Bob Zurunkel
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I suppose it depends on how one defines "modern". It is often taken to mean wars occurring after the industrial revolution.

Some defining characteristics would be mass production of weapons, improved logistical support (railroads, then trucks, then aircraft) allowing much larger armies to be maintained in the field, the internal combustion engine (which never completely replaced animal power in wars of large size), repeating rifles, then Gatling guns/machine guns, barbed wire.

To that could be added improved communications systems (telegraph, then radio), heavier than air craft (balloons were used as early as Napoleon, although never seeing much use; it was the airplane that truly brought war to the skies).

The ACW does fit many of the criteria, as do the wars of Bismarck.

WWI has all of the modern systems in place, at least in an embryo form, save for nuclear weapons.
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Scott Gillispie
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Check out the History of the Twentieth Century podcast episodes on the Russo-Japanese War; you might be interested in some of the discussions of characteristics later seen in WWI (railroads, trenches, mass infantry charges into machine gun fire). Episodes 31-36 - particularly the 'Lessons Learned' episode (#36).
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Bill Eldard
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Westie wrote:
I suppose it depends on how one defines "modern". It is often taken to mean wars occurring after the industrial revolution.

We have since entered an Industrial Revolution, so should we reset "modern" to begin somewhere in the 1990s (or slightly earlier) and continue through today? I would argue that we should.

Westie wrote:
Some defining characteristics would be mass production of weapons, improved logistical support (railroads, then trucks, then aircraft) allowing much larger armies to be maintained in the field, the internal combustion engine (which never completely replaced animal power in wars of large size), repeating rifles, then Gatling guns/machine guns, barbed wire.

I'm going to respectfully disagree. By today's standards, those tenets of industrialized warfare are old; those that have been improved remain and play a vital roll, but new technologies have elevated warfare yet again.

- Today's wars rarely involve national mobilization of manpower and industry.

- In today's modern armed forces, state of the art information technologies -- including communication at all command levels and common operational pictures (COPs) -- have mitigated the need for large forces.

- Today's wars are more likely to be about state versus non-state entities than state versus state. Global conflict, though always possible, appears much less likely today.

- The battlefield technologies in the areas of weaponry (especially precision-guided munitions and the range of power projection), military medicine, ISR (including space and unmanned vehicles), transportation, and logistics (especially global) are as far advanced beyond mid-20th Century military technologies as WW2 was above the ACW. Cyber-warfare, though non-kinetic, may be more destructive than a nuclear weapon.

So, I would argue with World War 2 -- that most popular of wargaming subects -- should no longer be considered "modern" war. Maybe we should begin modern warfare with Operation Desert Storm.
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Pete Belli
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Re: The first modern war


There is little room for doubt...




Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Pick one between the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, Russo-Japanese War, or WWI.

WWI is the most compelling answer, but I have a sentimental fondness for the War Between the States since I'm a Civil War nerd.
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Ryan Keane
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At the historic macro level, the tools of war have been a natural progression of technological improvement without discrete lines. I would define modern war as covering the era of 1775-1945, from the American Revolution to World War II, where modernism, nationalism and political ideologies became the drivers of conflicts. 1946 onward is the era of postmodern conflict.
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Bill Eldard
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Ryan Keane wrote:
1946 onward is the era of postmodern conflict.

Huh?
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Bob Zurunkel
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Eldard wrote:
Westie wrote:
I suppose it depends on how one defines "modern". It is often taken to mean wars occurring after the industrial revolution.

We have since entered an Industrial Revolution, so should we reset "modern" to begin somewhere in the 1990s (or slightly earlier) and continue through today? I would argue that we should.

Westie wrote:
Some defining characteristics would be mass production of weapons, improved logistical support (railroads, then trucks, then aircraft) allowing much larger armies to be maintained in the field, the internal combustion engine (which never completely replaced animal power in wars of large size), repeating rifles, then Gatling guns/machine guns, barbed wire.

I'm going to respectfully disagree. By today's standards, those tenets of industrialized warfare are old; those that have been improved remain and play a vital roll, but new technologies have elevated warfare yet again.

- Today's wars rarely involve national mobilization of manpower and industry.

- In today's modern armed forces, state of the art information technologies -- including communication at all command levels and common operational pictures (COPs) -- have mitigated the need for large forces.

- Today's wars are more likely to be about state versus non-state entities than state versus state. Global conflict, though always possible, appears much less likely today.

- The battlefield technologies in the areas of weaponry (especially precision-guided munitions and the range of power projection), military medicine, ISR (including space and unmanned vehicles), transportation, and logistics (especially global) are as far advanced beyond mid-20th Century military technologies as WW2 was above the ACW. Cyber-warfare, though non-kinetic, may be more destructive than a nuclear weapon.

So, I would argue with World War 2 -- that most popular of wargaming subects -- should no longer be considered "modern" war. Maybe we should begin modern warfare with Operation Desert Storm.


I suppose we're looking at it from different angles: how wars are fought versus what they are fought with.

I doubt there has been anything new in types of war (the how) since recorded history. Technology, on the other hand, has continually changed.

The Native Americans did not use IEDs, nor the US cavalry helicopters, yet it was same type of war as is going on now. There have always been state versus non-state wars. We are fortunate to live in a time when wars between Great Powers do not occur; that could change, there have been such interregnums before.

There have not been any wars between great powers since WWII (with the possible exception of the Korean War), but I wouldn't say the wars fought subsequently are modern in other than advances in technology. There are advances in technology, but I see these as improvements rather than quantum leaps.

There was nothing comparable to electronic communications prior to the telegraph. Certainly, it has advanced but the difference between using cellphones versus radios is not nearly as different as using the telegraph versus a messenger.

The advances you mention, such as precision guided munitions, had already appeared in WWII. They are vastly improved, no doubt, but these are changes in degree, not in kind. Cyberwarfare has its roots in cutting telegraph lines and jamming radio signals.
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Ryan Keane
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Eldard wrote:
Ryan Keane wrote:
1946 onward is the era of postmodern conflict.

Huh?


Postmodernism in philosophy and the arts is generally considered the era from 1945 to present. Applied to warfare, I'm using postmodern to mean that after 1945 the presence of atomic bombs, computer technology, reduced colonialism imperialism, increase in "humanitarian" conflicts, etc. created a world where conflicts are distinctly different from those that preceded them.

I understand that most war theorists usually put ACW or WWI as the first modern war and then include all subsequent conflicts as modern war, but if you use modern to mean everything from point X into the endless future, it seems to lose any meaning. Either you move point X and redefine what modern means (which is how the word is generally applied outside art and philosophy), or you need a new word to define what is happening today once it is distinctly different than what happened at point X.
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There's more than one dimension to characterize a war. An important dimension is level of commitment of the participants. ACW, WWI, WWII are all "total" wars with the participants going all in. Post-WWII we haven't seen that (from the major powers).
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John Middleton
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Where does that leave post-post modernism?

I think academically, almost everyone believes we are past the early tenets of post-modernism. Some time in the 90s, if I remember.

Than there's millenialism for 2000s and that already has a post-millenialism for the 2010 -> period.

Or trans-modernism, which has a post also.



This shit is why I left Academia.
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Ryan Keane
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DegenerateElite wrote:
Where does that leave post-post modernism?

I think academically, almost everyone believes we are past the early tenets of post-modernism. Some time in the 90s, if I remember.

Than there's millenialism for 2000s and that already has a post-millenialism for the 2010 -> period.

Or trans-modernism, which has a post also.



This shit is why I left Academia.


Yes, much of the writings on modernism/post-modernism/"post-postmodernism" in philosophy and the arts kind of boggle my mind. I was applying postmodern very loosely. If one felt that the next conflicts were distinctly different than conflicts from 1945-2015, then I guess you would need a new term. Would controlling regime change of an enemy democratic nation by surreptitiously hacking their voting system be a post-millennial war?

I thought post-millennialism was trying to define the ideas of 2000 onwards as rejecting everything from the previous millennium, rather than separating the 2000's from the 2010's. But I probably don't know what I'm talking about.
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Roger Hobden
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The first Modern War was the Crimean War, in 1853.

cool
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What is considered to be 'modern' is going to change. I think this will only become more and more true as the rate of technological advancement continues to accelerate.
Today, smart bombs and drones are old hat, but they were big news in 1990.
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I call modern anything where the CRT is supposed to be Lanchester Logarithmic (own losses are proportional to own strength) and premodern is where the CRT is supposed to be Lanchester Linear (losses proportional to both own and enemy strength). In premodern you aren't harmed by massing your forces out in the open: being a bigger target is balanced out by firing more shots at the enemy, so the average attacker/defender loss ratio is always the same. The only thing that changes is the speed of losses and ammunition use. In modern, there's a surplus of firepower so it's essential to reduce exposure to it, suppress it before assaulting, use combined arms, defend in depth, etc.

To justify creating a third category of postmodern, I'm inclined to agree with Biddle that technology would have to advance so far that terrain would become irrelevant and one would be able to see and destroy everything within range. This might be the only type of war where the Lanchester Square Law would be appropriate (own losses proportional to enemy strength).
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Bill Eldard
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Ryan Keane wrote:
Eldard wrote:
Ryan Keane wrote:
1946 onward is the era of postmodern conflict.

Huh?


Postmodernism in philosophy and the arts is generally considered the era from 1945 to present. Applied to warfare, I'm using postmodern to mean that after 1945 the presence of atomic bombs, computer technology, reduced colonialism imperialism, increase in "humanitarian" conflicts, etc. created a world where conflicts are distinctly different from those that preceded them.

I'm deeply confused about tying the definition of modern -- which seems pretty straight forward to most people -- to an academic definition related to philosophy and the arts, unless there is a connection between warfare, philosophy, and the arts.

If "modern warfare" ended in 1945, then is the Korean War "post-modern?" Afterall, except for the dominance of jet fighter aircraft in the air, how was Korea different than World War 2?

Ryan Keane wrote:
I understand that most war theorists usually put ACW or WWI as the first modern war and then include all subsequent conflicts as modern war, but if you use modern to mean everything from point X into the endless future, it seems to lose any meaning.

Exactly. Modern means the here and now, plus/minus a period of time. If the here and now ended in 1945, then we are living in the future -- thus future loses all meaning.

Ryan Keane wrote:
Either you move point X and redefine what modern means (which is how the word is generally applied outside art and philosophy), or you need a new word to define what is happening today once it is distinctly different than what happened at point X.

Is it not you who have redefined what modern means? Certainly in the hobby, publishers and gamers considered any war after 1945 as modern, at least as far back as the old SPI days in the early '70s.

Here's a definition of modern I can relate to:

1. relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past. synonyms: present-day, contemporary, present, current, twenty-first-century, recent.

Am I alone in understanding the word modern to mean this?

As for moving point X, that's exactly what I'm proposing, because I don't believe the application of the word -- meaning current or recent times -- has been adjusted in the hobby since the '70s. It's been generally applied to wargames from WW2 to the present.

How about this? If the last participants of a war have all died of old age, it's no longer considered a modern war?
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Ryan Keane
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Eldard wrote:
Ryan Keane wrote:
Eldard wrote:
Ryan Keane wrote:
1946 onward is the era of postmodern conflict.

Huh?


Postmodernism in philosophy and the arts is generally considered the era from 1945 to present. Applied to warfare, I'm using postmodern to mean that after 1945 the presence of atomic bombs, computer technology, reduced colonialism imperialism, increase in "humanitarian" conflicts, etc. created a world where conflicts are distinctly different from those that preceded them.

I'm deeply confused about tying the definition of modern -- which seems pretty straight forward to most people -- to an academic definition related to philosophy and the arts, unless there is a connection between warfare, philosophy, and the arts.

If "modern warfare" ended in 1945, then is the Korean War "post-modern?" Afterall, except for the dominance of jet fighter aircraft in the air, how was Korea different than World War 2?

Ryan Keane wrote:
I understand that most war theorists usually put ACW or WWI as the first modern war and then include all subsequent conflicts as modern war, but if you use modern to mean everything from point X into the endless future, it seems to lose any meaning.

Exactly. Modern means the here and now, plus/minus a period of time. If the here and now ended in 1945, then we are living in the future -- thus future loses all meaning.

Ryan Keane wrote:
Either you move point X and redefine what modern means (which is how the word is generally applied outside art and philosophy), or you need a new word to define what is happening today once it is distinctly different than what happened at point X.

You have redefined what modern means.


It seems you are getting upset - sorry. Historians commonly use "modern" to refer to specific eras in time that do not shift with what year it is today: early modern being around 1500-1750, late modern 1750-1945, contemporary or postmodern 1945-present. Warfare is fought within the overarching context of history and human thought, so I thought it made sense to use similar terms, but better terms might be "Total War era","Cold War era", and "Contemporary era," and avoid the use of modern and postmodern completely.

I do think the Korean War was distinctly different than ACW, WW1, or WW2, and is best grouped with more recent conflicts. So if we call everything post-WW2 "modern wars," then perhaps the French Indochina War or Arab-Israeli War were the first modern wars. But it makes sense to bookend that category from the beginning and end of the Cold War. So perhaps per your argument in an earlier post that truly modern warfare started in the 90's, then the Persian Gulf War could be the first modern war.
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For me we switched to modern war when we went from my army going to meet your army to capturing territory.

I would say the last pre-modern war (in the west) was the Franco-Prussian War, with WW1 then being the first modern war.

I think the main reason for the switch was the huge increase in expenditure of munitions. It wouldn't surprise me if one day's worth of artillery from WW1 was the whole amount of artillery carried by the Prussian army in 1870.

The mini ball of the mid 1800's made the defense very strong. So, to counteract that, artillery was used in massive quantities, later augmented by airplanes, aka mobile artillery.

These definitions are only for regular war: state vs. state. Asymmetrical (Vietnam, etc.) war is a whole different type of war and has neither pre, mid, or post modern war.

I would say post modern was was started with nuclear weapons and fine-tuned with drones. In both cases, the warriors are in comfortable bunkers sipping their lattes while they fight.
 
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DegenerateElite wrote:
Where does that leave post-post modernism?

I think academically, almost everyone believes we are past the early tenets of post-modernism. Some time in the 90s, if I remember.

Than there's millenialism for 2000s and that already has a post-millenialism for the 2010 -> period.

Or trans-modernism, which has a post also.



This shit is why I left Academia.


I hear you. We humans like to categorize everything. In biology we have the same problem/tendency. We spend way to much time figuring out and arguing about what category something belongs in when we should use that time figuring out why something works and how to benefit people with the new knowledge.

It can get very frustrating.
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marc lecours
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I've always hated the terms "modern" and "contemporary" referring to historical periods. 3000 years from now, it will seem ridiculous to call the period before WW2 as modern. It is already starting to be a stretch.
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Eddy Sterckx
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rubberchicken wrote:
I've always hated the terms "modern" and "contemporary" referring to historical periods. 3000 years from now, it will seem ridiculous to call the period before WW2 as modern. It is already starting to be a stretch.


New Model Army anyone ?

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fredthomas wrote:
I call modern anything where the CRT is supposed to be Lanchester Logarithmic (own losses are proportional to own strength) and premodern is where the CRT is supposed to be Lanchester Linear (losses proportional to both own and enemy strength). In premodern you aren't harmed by massing your forces out in the open: being a bigger target is balanced out by firing more shots at the enemy, so the average attacker/defender loss ratio is always the same. The only thing that changes is the speed of losses and ammunition use. In modern, there's a surplus of firepower so it's essential to reduce exposure to it, suppress it before assaulting, use combined arms, defend in depth, etc.

To justify creating a third category of postmodern, I'm inclined to agree with Biddle that technology would have to advance so far that terrain would become irrelevant and one would be able to see and destroy everything within range. This might be the only type of war where the Lanchester Square Law would be appropriate (own losses proportional to enemy strength).


I really like this. Well put.

Premodern: Massing up troops in the open is a good tactic. The bigger concentration usually wins.

Modern: (even though I dislike the term "modern") massing up is a bad idea. Soldiers spread out until some type of equilibrium is found between density of bullets over a battle field and density of human targets. I like the idea of a surplus of firepower.

I kind of like the idea that the next stage is that no matter how spread out, everyone dies. 90% (or better) accurate weapons run by computers.

The tragedy of WW1 is that the density of soldiers on a battlefield was too large compared to the density bullets over the battlefield. This made the bullets fired too efficient. Reduce the density of soldiers and the number of bullets to kill a soldier rises.
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John McD
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In the UK, Modern History starts with the Romans leaving.

I think the argument that modern warfare is asymmetric is a red herring. That's the general nature of wars that great powers have been involved in but it's not how a war between great powers would happen. It's just a reflection of the wars we've mostly had rather than the wars we could have. It's probably also more possible to fight asymmetrically for a strategic purpose with improved communications. Even the word guerrilla war only dates back a couple of hundred years.

In any era there have been different types of warfare between players of different sizes, capabilities and commitments. We're fortunate we don't have two fully committed, capable major powers going at one another right now, but there is nothing to stop that - certainly no inherent limit on the nature of war. Most modern wars have been guerrilla wars, but so were most historic wars.

I think modern war is perhaps also distinguished by the development of some of the rules that govern war today. Prohibitions on gas and biological agents, treatment of prisoners, minimisation of civilian casualties. Any deviation from the expectations agreed on those topics tends to see some serious agitation that barbarism has broken out.
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BlackSpy wrote:

I think modern war is perhaps also distinguished by the development of some of the rules that govern war today. Prohibitions on gas and biological agents, treatment of prisoners, minimisation of civilian casualties. Any deviation from the expectations agreed on those topics tends to see some serious agitation that barbarism has broken out.


This is not something new - the Sack of Magdeburg in 1631 produced a Europe-wide outcry of "barbarism" because it went against the rules in vigor back then.
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
BlackSpy wrote:

I think modern war is perhaps also distinguished by the development of some of the rules that govern war today. Prohibitions on gas and biological agents, treatment of prisoners, minimisation of civilian casualties. Any deviation from the expectations agreed on those topics tends to see some serious agitation that barbarism has broken out.


This is not something new - the Sack of Magdeburg in 1631 produced a Europe-wide outcry of "barbarism" because it went against the rules in vigor back then.


Doesn't need to be new, and I'm not saying its a hard line, but I think conduct in war is something that is very much an active question now rather than something exceptional.

Arguably Vietnam was lost by the US because it was unable to adhere to a standard of conduct that allowed it's civilians to support it. The My Lai massacre and similar meant the war wasn't won or lost on surplus firepower or airspace, it was lost on conduct. Equally, in the Falklands, the UK probably came very close to losing the war over the sinking of the Belgrano, again on conduct.

Atrocities in war are not new, and the use of terror to win a war is surely stone age, but is a modern war one that can be lost because you're own troops conduct themselves to badly they no longer have the support of their people?

I'm sure there will be examples in ancient history right through to the modern where it's happened, I'm no authority!
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