One may wonder at what points do these three things, technology, war and humanity, coincide as one. My path to this discovery is as follows.
Across Canada, April 9th marked the 100th anniversary of an identifying moment in Canadian history, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Since learning about this historical event, it has been my favourite moment along Canada’s journey to reach the present day, as it was one of the greatest battles led by Canada during World War I. Beginning on April 19, 1997, the Battle of Vimy Ridge lasted three days of heavy combat before the Canadian troops were the only ones to emerge victorious. Though many people had been lost over the course of the previous three days, this battle left such a great impact on the Canada as a whole. In the end, while Canadians from across the country together delivered an unprecedented victory, they also proved to themselves and everyone else that they were their own united people, spreading feelings of nationalism across the country. Today, the Vimy Memorial, located at the sight of the battle, stands to honour all Canadians who served in the Great War of 1914 – 1918.
While I spent much of April 9th reflecting on all things Vimy Ridge, it also happened to get me thinking about greater aspects of war and tactics. Thus I came up with my first topic of research:
“How did the nature of warfare and technology contribute to World War I?”
The Great War commenced on the 28th day of July 1914, and though many believed that the fighting would cease by Christmas of that year, the war continued to be a reality for people across the globe well into 1918. The types of warfare used in World War I can often be identified by the military strategies that developed around the technological advances of that time.
For the first three years of the World War I, the military generals involved their troops in a war of attrition; a military strategy based on exhausting the enemy’s manpower and resources before their own were depleted. This strategy proved to result in heavy casualties on both sides as a result of the new war technologies that were being developed. These advancements in war technologies could be found on land, in the air and at sea.
Technology such as machine guns, artillery, war tanks and poisonous gases was developed for use on land. Rifles that required soldiers to manually insert gunpowder were replaced by machine guns and artillery that were crafted to fire 400 to 500 rounds per minute, or send explosive shells 130 kilometres away. This resulted in casualties followed by a stalemate that fostered the war of attrition as men were ordered “over the top,” only to be immediately mowed down by snipers or blown up by shells. War tanks were finally able to withstand the force of machine guns, artillery and barbed wire, which allowed soldiers to advance in no man’s land and declare the trench warfare system obsolete. On the battlefield, the Germans were the first to use chlorine gas, originally outlawed by international agreement, to suffocate soldiers to death.
In the air, technology such as dirigibles and biplanes were essentials of warfare. Though they were not invented during the course of the war, they were originally used in reconnaissance missions (i.e., to scout the position of enemy troops). Later on, they were enhanced to be equipped with top-mounted guns and grenades, which lead to aerial dogfights. During World War I, life as a pilot was treacherous; thousands were killed in training and the length of the average career of a pilot could be measured in weeks. Thus, where a pilot could prove he had shot down five enemy aircraft, he was named an air ace.
At sea, technology such as heavily armoured battleships and U-boats (i.e., submarines) were employed, distinctive of the British and Germans. While the British HMS Dreadnought was respected as one of the largest and fastest battleships in the world, German U-boats could travel underwater without detection, carrying torpedoes that were used to attack merchant marine ships and freighters. These merchant marine ships were transporting civilians, food, weapons and munitions, and were attacked by the Germans as an attempt to starve the British into submission. In fact, in 1917, Germany announced that its U-boats would sink any ship within the British war zone, such as the Lusitania that was sunk along with 1200 Americans and Canadians on board, hoping to put pressure on Britain and help end the war. However, the only thing that came of this threat was the entry of the United States into the war in 1917 on the side of the Allies, after American ships had become targets of the Germans. Further, to combat the deadly repercussions of the German U-boats, eventually the convoy system was developed to provide merchant marine ships with armed destroyers as defense, and with underwater listening devices to locate German U-boats early.
Overall, the new types of warfare that had developed as a result of the advancements in war technologies could not prevent stubborn military generals from engaging in a war of attrition, and thus only served to contribute to the millions of deaths in the Great War.
Now, after having done research on the technology of World War I, I became curious about technology’s influence on humanity in drastic ways. Thus I came up with my second topic of research:
“What is a significant technological development that has changed humanity?”
The first time I learned of the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 6th and 9th, 1945, I was led to firmly believe that no method of destruction could be more morally wrong than the technological development of the nuclear weapon that had been derived in Japan. However, I can now fathom that humanity would be left in a far worse scenario, had nuclear weapons never been developed in the first place. While this may seem contradictory, I believe that the technological development of nuclear weaponry has changed humanity for the better because the world today may coincidentally be a much more violent place had nuclear arsenal never existed. Firstly, it was nuclear weaponry that brought an end to the Second World War, forcing Japan to surrender to the Allies. Had the atomic bombs not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the World War would have only continued to play out, costing many more lives in the detrimental process. Secondly, despite nuclear arsenals being tools of mass destruction, they have also purposefully served as peacekeepers on various occasions since the Second World War. Thus, nuclear deterrents can be attributed as a reason that we do not currently find ourselves in the midst of Word War Three. Finally, nuclear weapons served to prevent the proliferation of other chemically and biologically hazardous materials that today are restricted by stronger regulations for their safety perils. At the same time, the technological development of nuclear arsenal has allowed for a greater understanding of the atom itself and nuclear pulse propulsion, which in turn has allowed for further technological developments of spacecraft and space travel. To these extents, though nuclear weapons have inflicted their fair share of damage on our world, I resolutely believe that the technological development of nuclear weaponry has, and continues to, change the course of humanity in our favour by providing civilization with a safer place to exist.
One may wonder at what points do these three things, technology, war and humanity, coincide as one. In my research, I came to discover that one, simply put, cannot exist without the other.