4th-generation warfare

In the early hours of this morning, police defused a car bomb parked in the heart of London.  Had it gone off, hundreds, perhaps thousands, would have been killed, hundreds more injured, the property damage to busy and historic centres beyond calculation.  At this point, analysts are suggesting that the bomb seems to bear the hallmarks of Al Qaeda, but police say the suspicious car was noticed by accident, and that they had no prior intelligence about this potentially devastating attack.

Different groups of the human specieshave fought each other for as long as the eye can see.  But the lethal calibre of our warfare has steadily increased.

  • When we lived as nomads, we fought over areas where wild food was plentiful.  Weapons were handmade, and were rarely fought to the death.  The victors gathered food in the most desirable spots, while the losers sought another source of wild fruits.
  •  About 4,000 years ago, the level of warfare was ratcheted up.  People had begun to live in cities surrounded by domesticated fields which were their main food source.  These lush fields were also attractive to migrating tribes in seach of food on the road.  Now, though, the sedentary communities has more to lose than a field of wild berries.  If they lost their fields, they faced starvation or slavery.  They countered attacks with fortifications and more organized warfare.
  • At the same time, the weapons of war also became more deadly.  The migrating tribes began to attack on horse-drawn carriages, and both sides began to arm themselves with weapons made of the metal made first of copper, and later with far tougher copper.
  • Another dramatic change came with the invention of dynamite and gunpowder in the 13th century.  Until then, defences of thick walls, wide moats, and elevated positions were often too difficult to defeat, and fortified landowners held the upper hand.  Gunpowder and cannon fire demolished them.  As weapons became increasingly sophisticated and more mobile, war became more steadily more deadly.  The culmination of their destructiveness came with the improvement of military weapons brought about by industrialization.  When the two World Wars in the 20th century finally ended, at least 65 million people were dead.
  • Atomic and nuclear power brought in what contemporary analysts call “2nd-generation warfare.”  The atomic bomb was used to bring WWII to an end, followed by a peace of sorts born of mutual  terror called The Cold War.
  • But atomic and nuclear weapons were not effective against guerilla tactics.  It was this “3rd-generation warfare,” that defeated first France, and then America in VietNam.
  • Today, terrorism is “4th-generation warfare.”  There is no distinction made among intended victims, between military fighters and civilians, between innocent and guilty, between male and female, adult and child.  Relatively speaking, the numbers actually murdered in a terrorist attack are small, but they are deliberately designed to increase fear, and demoralize entire nations.

War has changed in the last 10,000 years.  Globalization has given us more mobility, population increases have brought us closer together, and technological development has taught us more and terrifying ways of killing each other. 

Perhaps we will finally become an extinct species because the only way we know to resolve our differences is by killing those who disagree with us.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
This entry was posted in humans, primates, and other life on earth, in the last 10,000 years or so. Bookmark the permalink.

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