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6 Revolution, Transformation, and the Present

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

Modern military power is based upon technology, and technology is based upon computers. . . . We [the Soviet Union] will never be able to catch up with you [the United States] in modern arms until we have an economic revolution. And the question is whether we can have an economic revolution without a political revolution.

Nikolai Ogarkov, Chief of the Soviet General Staff, 1983, cited in the New York Times, August 20, 1992

The literature on recent, current, and future warfare is dominated by the language of change and modernization. As is the general pattern in modern culture, change and modernization are descriptive, prescriptive, and normative, being equated with improvement. Relative performance or promise is defined according to these emphases, as are the conflicts seen as worthy of attention by scholars, and therefore, in a circular sense, as contributing to their analyses. Such an approach to modernization, however, begs the question of what is a modern, let alone a more modern, style of military operations? This question is one of recurring relevance for military history and for understanding present and future situations, and thus links the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) discerned in the 1990s and 2000s to earlier episodes of what have been presented as military revolutions.

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6 New States and the Possibilities of Lineage

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

THE MUSEUM OF DESIGN IN LISBON OCCUPIES THE CENTRAL site of the former bank that handled the currencies of Portugal’s colonies, its extensive African Empire. In the former bank’s lobby, there is a colorful and large wall mosaic from 1962 depicting Portugal’s colonization of Africa from the fifteenth century. This colonialization is presented in benign terms, with friars teaching natives, other natives farming, and the Portuguese soldiers not shown engaged in any violent acts. Ethnic harmony, progress, and Christian proselytization under Portuguese leadership are the key themes. Attractive, misleading, but convenient for Portugal which, in fact, in 1962, was confronting the outbreak the previous year in its major colony, Angola, of a revolutionary war for independence from colonial rule. One-time imperial powers have to respond to a loss of empire, as Portugal did from 1975. The mosaic is now a curious decoration, one that possibly would have been swept aside were it not fixed in position.

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3 The Long Eighteenth Century

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

AS A REMINDER OF THE NON-CONTINUOUS NATURE OF THE historical imagination and historical writings, the ideological theme, while still present, both changed in character and became less significant in Christian Europe from the mid-seventeenth century, and this remained the case until the French Revolution led to a reconceptualization of the role of history. In the intervening period, conventionally from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to 1789, there was still, however, a major commitment to both religion and the Church’s role in framing history and identity,1 as well as a strong interest in the past. Such an interest served a range of interests and drives, notably, as before and as also outside the West, dynastic prestige and the protection of local interests. Ruling houses sought status and legitimation from the past. Thus, in 1701 a medal was struck at the request of Electress Sophia of Hanover to mark her being named heiress to the Crown of England. The reverse depicted “Matilda [c. 1156–1189], daughter of Henry II, King of England, wife of Henry the Lion . . . mother of Emperor Otto IV . . . progenitor of the House of Brunswick.” The medal grounded the claim on the succession in primogeniture and the history of the House of Guelph, and not on the Act of Settlement passed by the English Parliament in 1701. History thereby served to establish and strengthen an alternative claim.2

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2 A Selective Narrative to 1650

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

Historiography began as foundation myths, the myths of peoples, dynasties, and religions, and this theme is still powerfully present today. Indeed, there is a parallel between the origin-myths of the nations and states of two and three millennia ago, and those propounded for the new or revived states established from 1945 to the present. One major difference, however, is the role of religion, which played a key part in early origin-myths, but has been conspicuously absent – or negligible – in most recent ones (although with important Muslim exceptions, as well as Israel), or has been presented in secular guises. Indeed, to a degree, nationalism is a modern form of religion, one in which the state worships itself and its community, with the nation encouraged to think in terms of a continuous mission. The weakness of some states, for example Iraq and Syria, is linked not only to very bad government, but also to a failure of nationalism to overcome other allegiances, allegiances that in part reflect, and are reflected in, the nature of this government. Religions themselves have origin-myths,2 and some religions are aspects of the development of nations, notably in the case of Jews and the Japanese.

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7 Into the Future

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

The year 2000 will be “now” soon, if we ever make it. . . . But maybe the planet will have exploded by then, or been devastated by uranium fires and throw-outs, and a little napalm and laser beams gone wild, on the side.

Janwillem van de Wetering, The Japanese Corpse, 1977

The future recedes continually, at least for humans, unless it is ended for us by destroying the Earth or human life on it. The elusive character of the future means that modernity, the condition of the present seen as looking toward the future and making it possible, also changes. Thus, any discussion of current warfare in terms of modernity and modernization risks rapid anachronism.

This indeterminacy and unpredictability at the present time is linked to another characteristic: the manner in which views of future circumstances so often prove mistaken. That, however, is not simply a case of assuming technological capabilities that do not in the event arise. Instead, there is the abiding need to relate these capabilities to world developments that may provide opportunities, needs, and resources for such capabilities or, conversely, may thwart their development or application. As a result, we are returned anew to the issue of context. Any discussion of future warfare involves consideration of the wars to come, and the latter entails an understanding of possible variations in tasking. This is a matter both of tasking from and for civil society and also tasking by and for the military.

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