Chapter 7 - Conclusions
The purpose of this volume is to provide the reader with an introductory overview of the history of weapons and warfare from the time of its inception in the fourth millennium B.C. until the present. Given the magnitude of the goal, it is clear on the face of it that this book can hardly have been expected to have achieved its goal in a manner that could lay claim to comprehensiveness. In order to stress the general trends in the development of warfare we have been forced by the press of obvious necessity to omit more material than we have included. Nowhere is this clearer than in the absence of footnotes and other documentary material. Since the goal was as much to entice the reader's interest in military history as to inform, the reader's attention is drawn to the bibliographic essay at the back of the book that provides a list of additional books to which he or she may turn to explore many of the aspects of military history that could only be mentioned in these pages.
But why should anyone, even a military audience, study military history at all? Clearly, the modern world is so vastly different from those that have gone before that there is no real danger that history will truly repeat itself. Perhaps so. Yet, the study of the past offers the researcher the unique opportunity to understand the past within its own terms of reference and, it is worth stressing, that frame of reference is scarcely different from that of modern men. One cannot truly appreciate the value of history unless one first grasps a central truth: that the men and women who lived the past were no different from us in any significant way. They were physically like us and, more important, they were emotionally and psychologically like us and just as mentally facile. Accordingly, they met the challenges, threats, and opportunities of their lives in much the same way as we do. To neglect the study of the past on the grounds that it is irrelevant is to reject this common heritage. It is only possible to know where we are by understanding where we have been.
The study of history has great functional relevance for comprehending the future. Men think in analogies after all, and many of the problems of the past are quite analogously similar to those we face today. What is one to make of the fact that with the exception of the United States and the Western European powers (none of which were in existence at the time), the coalition of powers that defeated the Iraqis in the Gulf War was exactly the same coalition of powers that destroyed the Iraqi (Assyrian) empire in 612 B.C.? Or that the problem of mass migration due to tragic economic circumstances that may be provoked from Eastern Europe in the next decade confronts the Western European states with the same problem encountered by similar migrations from the same area into the Roman empire in the third century? The study of historical situations that are truly analogous to modern problems faced by political actors expands the analyst's frame of reference when attending to the solutions of those problems. Without a deep frame of historical reference the temptation is all too great that policy makers will conclude that they are dealing with an historically unique problem, a condition which increases the probability that they will select options that have already been shown to be unworkable, had the past been known.
Finally, the study of history by military men and women has a unique imperative about it. It is soldiers, after all, who plan and fight wars and are in the unique social position of being the only genuine repository of the horrible and destructive experiences that accompany war. Moreover, in modern politico-military establishments, the soldier is strategically placed to bring his knowledge and experience to bear upon the policy process and, thus, to greatly affect decisions concerning peace and war. Paradoxically, the soldier is in the best position to speak about war and, thus, among the most strategically placed decisionmakers to prevent it. The study of war and its tragic historical consequences for human beings expands the experiential and informational ken of the soldier as decisionmaker in the policy process and provides him with a powerful set of resources to bring to bear upon the process to prevent war.
No doubt the idea that it is possible to banish war from the human experience will be seen by some as a dangerously naive idea. The idea that soldiers in their roles as advisors to political leaders can play an important role in eliminating war might strike some as even more naive. Yet, who better than the soldier is in a position to assess the destructive consequences of a political policy gone awry? Who, if not the soldier, can offer an assessment of the destructive power of modern weapons seen from the perspective of actual experience? And who, if not the soldier, can more accurately assess and express the cost of war in human suffering and pain? If the soldier can be enticed to place his own experience of war within a larger historical context, then he or she, more than any other member of our society, is in a position to restrain the hand of the politician in making war. It was, after all, a great American soldier, Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce Indians, who expressed the great hope of soldiers everywhere and in all times when he said, "I will fight no more...forever."