by Dr. Martin E. Goldstein, Professor of Political Science at Widener University
The ancient Chinese sage Sun Tzu wrote, in The Art of War, “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”
From the beginning of time to the present, the art of war has marched in step with the development of technology. During the Neolithic era, primitive tools gave rise to the first daggers and swords. However, ambitious leaders could hardly carve out far-flung empires based on such weapons. Later, during the time of ancient Greece and Rome, empire-building machines of war came into existence, including warships, chariots, catapults, and the crossbow.
The invention of gunpowder, believed to have occurred in China in the ninth century A.D., transformed warfare. Regional dukes and barons could no longer retreat behind castle walls in defiance of kings. Utilizing gunpowder to launch cannon balls to blast down these walls, kings were able to assert their authority and build the modern nation-state. Gunpowder also laid to rest the bow and arrow, replacing it with the incredibly more deadly rifle and (during World War I) the machine gun. Tanks also appeared at that time.
Alfred Nobel, who provided the funds for the prizes awarded in his name today, vastly expanded killing power with his invention of dynamite in the mid-nineteenth century. This innovation led eventually to the development of explosive artillery shells and bombs. When joined with the airplane and the missile, these weapons have rendered, for the first time in history, all countries vulnerable to attack, even those insulated by two oceans — like the United States. Nuclear weapons have exponentially raised the killing power of today’s instruments of warfare.
It seems that Darwin’s theories apply to weaponry as well as to flesh and blood. One
can only wonder what instruments of warfare will evolve over the next fifty, one hundred,
or five hundred years.
Dr. Martin E. Goldstein has been a member of the faculty at Widener University for 40 years specializing in government and politics. After having been awarded two governmental fellowships, Goldstein spent two years working for the Department of Defense as a policy analyst and has worked with the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. You can reach him at email@example.com