historical ‘case study’ of the American Civil War

History Discussion Questions (4)
Okay this week we move from the historical ‘case study’ of the American Civil War (which many historians have argued was the first ‘modern’ war) to a more
technological case-study approach: specifically, the role of modern sea and air power.

Many of us tend to focus on the ‘kit’, on the tools of war. The machines. Who is more high-tech…

But as we’ve been discussing in this history course, classic war theorists such as Carl von Clausewitz emphasized the political if not also ‘social’ elements of
warfare. It was the French Revolution and wars of ‘nations’ which tended to change the rules of modern war by radicalizing the political ends.

But what about the technical means?

Take seapower for instance. Today a SSBN/nuclear ballistic missile submarine carries enough firepower to practically destroy an entire nation in one salvo (an Ohio-
class sub can launch 24 Trident missiles with up to eight 100-kiloton warheads each: 192 target cities destroyed, nevermind the radiation/fallout…)

That’s insane.

And think of the pre-eminence associated with ‘command of the air’. Whenever a modern conflict is in the works, the media focuses on the use–or not–of airstrikes,

So how do these modern technological marvels–these nightmares of destructive capacity and sophistication–affect our understanding and appreciation of the ‘principles
of war’?


This week let’s focus a bit more on what Buckley states about the decisive impact of air superiority in World War II; that “the failure to contest control of air space
over an industrial state resulted in disaster” (ch. 9, p. 221). In particular home populations were subjected to intense bombardment.

His emphasis is more upon the fate of Nazi Germany by 1944-5, but the obvious climax of this trend was the dropping of the A-Bombs upon Imperial Japan in August 1945.
Ever since then historians have argued whether or not this application of air power finally compelled the Japanese to surrender, and end the war.

So let’s push our questions for this week a bit further in this regard:

Did the ‘Bomb’ end WWII, or was there more at work? (after all, the destruction of the Germany Army on the Eastern Front is often cited by historians as the single
greatest factor in the downfall of the Third Reich, for example)

Is modern technology in warfare more about destroying enemy populations in an attempt to ‘break their political will’, and if so, does this violate classic ‘principles
of war’? (or does the technology tend to perfect the classic principles?)

What about the COSTS of war, even in terms of just money (not blood or destruction): does spending more indicate our willingness to win more–or is it more about
spending more on weapons to reduce blood and destruction conventionally?

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