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27.1 Introduction

27.2 Conceptualizing Modern War

27.3 Mobilizing Military Manpower

27.4 The Marriage between Technology and War

27.5 Modern War in the Colonies

27.6 Weaknesses of Modern Warfare

27.7 Summary

27.8 Exercises


War is the father of all things.


The clash between Napoleon’s infantry armed with muskets and the Mamelukes on horses in the sandy plain of Egypt was a classic case of modernity confronting tradition. Mobile artillery of Napoleon blasted the sabre wielding Mamelukes in the backdrop of the Sphinx. Firepower, an adjunct of modernity resulted in victory over muscle power, the hallmark of traditional warfare. War has always been a catalyst of great change. Modern War not only initiated but also resulted from complex changes in metallurgy, chemistry, ballistics, politics and economics. Continuous encroachment of the military in the non-military sphere is termed as militarization. The emergence of Modern Warfare resulted in military spillover into political, economic, social and cultural spheres. This unit attempts to explain the origin, forms and legacies of Modern War.


Karl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was an untypical Prussian military officer because he was a scholar in uniform. He proved to be a philosopher in his own right. Modern scholars have placed him on the same pedestal as Karl Marx, Adam Smith etc. Clausewitz fought against Napoleonic France and then distilled his experience in writing. His philosophical treatise titled Vom Kriege (On War) was published in
1832 by his widow Maria Von Clausewitz. Clausewitz’s analysis of warfare turned
out to be one of the best if not the best ever produced in history. For Clausewitz, war is organized violence unleashed by the state. He divided war into Limited War and Real or Absolute War. For him, eighteenth century European warfare as practised by Louis XIV and Frederick the Great represented Limited War. In contrast, Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he admiringly called the ‘God of War’, tried to break out of the paradigm of Limited Warfare. For Clausewitz, Napoleonic Warfare exhibited seeds of Absolute War that would reach fruition in near future. Clausewitz’s prophecy proved true but he did not live to witness Absolute Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

So, what we mean by Modern War is Clausewitz’s early forms of Real or Absolute
War. Thus, Modern War is the stage between Limited War of the eighteenth century 5

Violence and
and Total War of the twentieth century. Limited War is also referred to as Dynastic War because the various monarchies fought against each other for making limited gains along the frontiers at the expense of other dynasties. Louis XIV fought for extending the French frontier on the left bank of Rhine. In contrast, Absolute War in Clausewitz’s paradigm means war untrammeled by any obstruction. The objective is to unleash organized violence wholeheartedly for absolute destruction of the enemy. This in turn required mobilization of all available resources of the state for total defeat of the enemy. The aim in such conflict is to annihilate the enemy’s schwerpunkt (centre of gravity). For Clausewitz, schwerpunkt referred to the enemy’s army which could only be destroyed by Kesselschlact (big bloody battles).

The French Revolution ushered in the idea of destruction of the enemy’s government. Hence, the beginning of French Revolution i.e. 1789 could be taken as the beginning of Modern War. This process reached its logical culmination under Adolf Hitler’s der totale krieg (Total War) when the objective was complete destruction of enemy’s society by wholesale mobilization of the volk (common people).


From this moment until our enemies shall have been driven from the territory of the Republic, all Frenchmen are permanently requisitioned for the service of the armies. Young men shall go to battle; married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; women shall make tents and clothing and serve in hospitals.

Decree of the French National Convention authorizing levee en masse, 23 August

God is on the side of heavier battalions.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Increasing size of the armies was a characteristic of Modern War. Between Napoleon Bonaparte and General Schlieffen, the size of the armies registered a linear growth. Under Louis XIV (1643-1715), the French Army numbered 200,000. The opposing British Army under Marlborough comprised about 100,000 personnel. In 1786, when Frederick died, the size of the Prussian Army was 160,000 men. Since the objectives of Dynastic Warfare were limited, small armies were adequate. Alternately, small size of the forces under their disposal also prevented the monarchs from conducting lengthy war for unlimited gains. Actually, the monarchs were afraid of arming the landless peasants and the urban proletariat. The monarchical courts feared that mass arming of the lower order might result in revolution against the ancien regime (the old French regime before the revolution in 1789). Hence, the core of the armies was composed of nobility who constituted the officer corps and their armed retainers functioning as soldiers. During emergencies extra men were hired as mercenaries. They were of various nationalities who preferred the trade of soldiering due to pecuniary motives. Most of these soldiers were unenthusiastic to die for the monarchs’ ambitions. However, the French Revolution changed the ‘face of war’.

The French Revolution with its cry of la patrie en danger and the consequent levy en masse in 1793 cleared the path for larger armies. The National Convention decided to conscript all single Frenchmen aged between 18 and 25. This also enabled the Napoleonic government to mobilize manpower on a hitherto unimaginable scale. In 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia with 600,000 men, his Grande Armee
6 numbered one million soldiers. However, for total mobilization of both the males

and the females, the West had to wait till the Third Reich’s clash with USSR during

Modernization of organized violence resulted in the rise in scope, intensity and lethality of warfare. Dynastic conflicts occurred within a confined geographical space. But, under Napoleon, thanks to greater number of soldiers available, war acquired a continental character. The theatre of Napoleonic warfare embraced whole Europe: from Moscow in the east upto Lisbon in the west; and from Denmark in the north till Sicily in the south. Thus, in terms of geographical spread, Napoleonic Warfare was the prelude to Total War of 1939-45 which occurred on a truly global scale.

Increasing sizes of the armies and their deployment on a continental scale also resulted in the battles becoming more bloody and lengthier. Battles in the age of Limited War lasted for a maximum of about twelve hours. Combat in case of Dynastic War stopped during night and campaigning ceased during winter. But, under Napoleon, fighting continued throughout the year. In 1813, the Battle of Leipzig was fought between Napoleonic France versus Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary. The fighting lasted for three days. Battling continued even during the night. In this single battle, Napoleon deployed 190,000 soldiers while the anti-Napoleon block responded with 300,000 men. The point to be noted is that the strength of the army deployed for a single battle during the age of Modern War was bigger than the total size of the army maintained by a country during the age of Limited War. One consequence of the rising size of the armies was increasing casualties. In 1809, at the Battle of Wagram against Austria-Hungary, Napoleon concentrated 160,000 soldiers. Though victorious, Napoleon suffered 40,000 casualties. Due to Napoleon’s policy of sacrificing 30,000 men every month, France between 1789 and 1815 lost 1.7 million men. During the American Civil War, the Confederates mobilized half a million warriors. About 622,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War. Since, the
‘Butcher’s Bill’ continued to increase with the passage of time, the percentage of national population dying in war went up. In France during the eighteenth century, 27 people out of 1000 died due to warfare. The number for nineteenth century was 30.

Ironically, militarization of the society also accelerated democratization. Frederick the Great of Prussia even conscripted enemy prisoners for meeting manpower shortage in the army. In the pre-modern era, the armies were cosmopolitan organizations. Changing sides did not offend national identities. National identities, however, became rigid in the nineteenth century, during the course of the Modern Wars. The causative factor behind nationalization of war was conscription of the nation’s males, as it was necessary for mass mobilization. Thus, national armies replaced mercenary militias. The notion of ‘every citizen a soldier’ was first introduced in the 1790s by the revolutionary dictatorship of France. In continuation of this policy, during 1883, the German military theorist Colmar Von der Goltz coined the term ‘Das Volk in Waffen’ (nation in arms). While the French Revolution resorted to mobilization on a large scale for meeting the rising demand of Modern Warfare, this process also increased the political consciousness of the common mass. Thus the slogans of ‘Liberty, Fraternity and Equality’, not only generated the cannon fodder for mass warfare but also created ‘homo politicus’. When the states conscripted citizens, they were told to fight in order to maintain the sovereignty of their fatherland cum motherland. While citizens were under the obligation to give their lives for the state, the citizen soldiers in return also demanded political rights. For survival, Napoleonic France’s opponents were forced to increase their armies by recruiting serfs who were given civic rights. Thus, the nineteenth century witnessed continuous expansion of adult franchise in West Europe. However, the West had to wait for the two World Wars for total franchise.
Modern Warfare


Violence and

Mass mobilization also opened the gates to talents. Modern War witnessed the replacement of the landed gentry with the educated middle class in the officer cadre. Till 1798, entry into the officer corps was a birthright for the younger sons of the declining landed gentry. They used to purchase the officers’ commissions from the monarchs. However, the French Revolution opened the officer cadre to merit. In Napoleon’s Army, even common soldiers with exceptional talents were promoted to officer ranks. Many Marshals of Napoleon were of common origin. Marshal Ney and Murat were sons of barrel maker and innkeeper respectively. Hence, the cliché, that in Napoleon’s Army every common soldier carried a Marshal’s baton in his knapsack. The possibility of upward mobility motivated the French soldiers to fight better. In response, the opponents of Napoleon like the Prussians, Austrians and the Russians were forced to plebianize their officer cadre. By 1910, about
40 per cent of the officers below the rank of Colonel in the Russian Army were
drawn from the peasantry and lower middle class. A contradiction developed between these non-noble modernizers who wanted a high tech army and the traditional aristocratic elements who emphasized the role of cavalry. However, history put its weight behind the modernizers. Waging Modern War required increasing technical knowledge. Engineering techniques, bridge construction and scientific knowledge for gun laying, etc forced the Western armies to enlist University educated sons of the urban bourgeoisie in place of the polo playing aristocratic scions in the officer corps. Militarism could be categorized as excessive veneration for the army among the middle class. Officers’ commissions became the badges of most prestigious occupation in nineteenth century Europe.


One aspect of modernization of war was also industrialization of war. A dialectical relationship existed between the growth of modern war and industrialization of West Europe. Modern warfare in a way meant more killing in a shorter time. This in turn necessitated newer technology especially by the bourgeois officer corps. Continuous technological advancements made the acquisition of a lethal arsenal possible. This in turn facilitated Modern War. The history of Krupps (a German military firm) exhibited that innovation in technology was accelerated due to the soldiers’ demands for more guns of better quality. And these big firms invested lot of human resources and capital for research and development. The complex credit network emerging in the West aided these firms. Besides Krupp, the Remington Gun Factory in New York also made possible production of weapons in mass for arming large armies. Remington developed assembly line techniques of production based on the principle of interchangeable parts introduced early in the century by Eli Whitney. This marked the beginning of the military-industrial complex.

The 19th century witnessed continuous improvement in weapons of mass murder. Matchlocks were fired with the aid of lighted matches. Hence, they could not be fired during rainfall. The use of flints removed this defect. However, flintlocks used to misfire at every seventh shot. The introduction of percussion caps reduced misfires to fewer than one in two hundred rounds. Again, the introduction of the cylindro- conoidal bullet made practicable the replacement of the inaccurate short-ranged smoothbore musket carried by Napoleonic infantry by the highly accurate longer- ranged rifle. This transition occurred between 1850 and 1860. The grooved barrel of the rifle imparted a spin to the bullet which enabled the latter to achieve accuracy, range and penetrative power greater than the ball fired from a smoothbore musket. The rifle first emerged among the huntsmen of Rhineland. From there it spread

among the huntsmen of North America. The rifle could hit target even at 1000 yards and it remained the basic infantry weapon till World War I. Then the smokeless powder of the 1860s allowed clear vision for repeated firing.

While cavalry was the decisive arm in pre-modern warfare, artillery became the definitive arm in Napoleonic warfare. Napoleon concentrated his guns in grande batterie in order to blast a hole among the line of his opponent. Explosive ammunition (shrapnel and high explosive shell) replaced solid iron balls, which made artillery more lethal. They accounted for 50 per cent of the casualties inflicted on the opponents. This trend continued in the post-Napoleonic Europe. During 1871, the Prussians used rifled steel ordnance like Big Bertha. Such monsters were able to reduce a city like Metz into rubble within a few hours.

Steel cannons became common with the advent of Bessemer process. After 1881, Siemens Martin Open Hearth process raised steel production. Between 1856 to
1870, the price of steel dropped by 50 per cent. In 1863, the first steel ship and locomotive came into existence. Mass production of steel weapons required a huge industrial infrastructure. Military prowess became dependent on economic muscle. This was reflected in the victory of the industrialized north over the agrarian south in the American Civil War. US steel output in 1900 was 10 million tonnes and that of Germany about 8 million. In the same year, British production of steel was only 4.9 million. This reflected British military power falling behind.

The state took up the responsibility of clothing, feeding and arming the citizens. This was the beginning of Hobbes’ Leviathan. For supplying 750,000 soldiers, revolutionary France had introduced price and wage control as well as press censorship all over the country. Compared to the scope of this scheme, Sultan Alauddin Khalji’s attempt in medieval India to regulate market price of Delhi for paying his 120,000 troopers was paltry indeed. Generalfeldmarschal Helmuth Von Moltke of Prussia, the winner of Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars introduced the General Staff system. The General Staff became the nervous system for conducting conflicts. While the Minister of War presented the budget in the Parliament, planning and execution including operational control of war devolved on the General Staff. Instead of the monarch or the Prime Minister, the Chief of the General Staff assisted by staff officers controlled forces in the field. Introduction of electronic communications in the form of telegraph replaced horses as means of command and control. Such advances in long-range communications enabled the Chief of the General Staff in the capital to retain close contact with the distant field commanders. It was a step in the emergence of the centralizing polities.

Special institutions like Ecole Normale in France and Kriegsakademie in Berlin, were set up for training the staff officers. The officers were bound by a code of conduct. In case of any breach of this code, the military personnel unlike the civilians were judged by special military courts. In return the state offered the officers a structured career with requisite pay and privileges. Specialized theoretical knowledge was imparted to them in order to make the officer cadre professional. Officers devoted their lives for understanding and conducting warfare. They became
‘specialists of violence’. The staff officers were specially trained in survey and cartography which in turn were necessary for building roads and railways. Railways were especially required for deployment of mass armies quickly and cheaply. In
1871 extensive railroads enabled Prussia to concentrate more soldiers than France at a quicker notice thus enabling her to defeat Napoleon III.

Modern War in the sea witnessed the replacement of the wooden ships with ironclads. Short recoil carriage and high explosive shell became the chief component of naval
Modern Warfare


Violence and
artillery. The first clash between the ironclads occurred at Lissa in the Adriatic on 20
July 1866 between the Austrian and the Italian fleets. By 1840s the Western navies experimented with steam propulsion which gradually replaced sail driven wooden ships. Steam power enabled the ships to become heavier. Hence, for protection against enemy naval gunnery broadsides, it was possible to cover the body of the ships with armour plates. Britain the biggest colonial power first produced the iron hulled warship with watertight compartments and boilers. Then a Swedish engineer named John Erickson of the US Navy came up with revolving armoured turrets and air ventilation below the decks. This supremacy in ships enabled the Western powers to project power over long distance and to acquire colonies.


Whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun
And they have not.

Hilaire Belloc

Some techniques of Modern Warfare were imported in the non-European World by the colonizing powers. The indigenous polities when faced with modern military techniques of the colonial powers were forced to transform their own states and societies. Thus an action-reaction dialectic set in resulting in spiralling cost and increasing scale of warfare. Britain possessed the largest colonial empire. The British used to remark arrogantly that the sun never set in their empire. And within it, India was the ‘jewel in the crown’. For policing the subcontinent and to defend India from a probable Russian invasion, the British raised a 158,000 strong army from the Indians. Before the advent of the British no other power maintained such a huge standing army in the subcontinent. For instance, Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab perceived threat from the British Indian Army. So, in the 1830s, he attempted to replace the cavalry raised by the jagirdars with a Western modelled infantry force with the help of French military officers. The Khalsa Army was composed of 35,000 permanent soldiers. And the permanent contingent of the Mughal Empire known as the ahadis numbered only10, 000.

The British officered Indian Army also known as the Sepoy Army was not unique to colonial India. For Congo, the Belgian Government maintained Force Publique of
20,000 men. The Army of Netherlands’ East Indies numbered 25,000 men. The functions of the colonial armies were internal security, guarding the frontiers of the colonies and also to acquire new colonies. All the colonial powers used indigenous military manpower because each ‘native’ soldier was four times cheaper than a white soldier. In the tropical climate, a European fell sick quickly due to heat and sun. During emergencies importing white soldiers from the metrople (mother country) to the colonies was not only costly but also time consuming. Also, the local soldiers were more adaptable to the terrain for deployment. The Dutch found out that the European soldiers were unable to adapt successfully for jungle warfare in the Indonesian archipelago. Finally, the policy of integrating some colonial manpower in the colonial military machines, argued the imperialist administrators, also prevented the locally ambitious elements from rebelling against the colonial administration.

Besides the maintenance of a permanent army, another characteristic of Modern Warfare was rising cost of warfare. The Khalsa Kingdom extracted 50 per cent of the gross produce from the agriculturists. And 80 per cent of the durbar’s income was used for maintaining the Westernized Sikh Army. The principal expenditure of
10 the British Government in India was maintenance of the army. About 42 per cent of

the government’s income was spent on the army. Again, increasing interaction between warfare and society was a cardinal feature of Modern Warfare. The Sepoy Army was composed of long service Indian volunteers. Every year about 15000 Indian peasants were recruited in this force. Thus, the Sepoy Army constituted the biggest government employer in colonial India. In independent India, railways have overtaken the army as the biggest government employer.

Recruitment of the sepoys (infantry) and sowars (cavalry) had massive impact on the fabric of colonial society. From the Classical antiquity, European political and military thinkers like Vegetius, Niccolao Machiavelli believed that farmers were the best soldiering material. And in nineteenth century Europe, the modernizing regimes depended on the semi-literate peasants for filling the vacancies in the armies. This was because the farmers compared to the urban under employed and the unemployed were regarded as ‘sterile’ and ‘docile’. This stream of thought also influenced the British in India. However, the British refused to recruit landless labourers, sharecroppers, etc. This was because being malnourished they possessed inferior physique. Moreover, the army officers assumed that it was better to collaborate with men of property who would have a stake in the continuation of the colonial regime unlike the property less persons. However, the rich farmers were not eager to join the army as they earned more from farming compared to the soldiers’ pay. But, military service became very popular with the small farmers. Especially younger sons of farmers with about 60 acres of land and four bullocks preferred to join the army. Their military income supplemented the ancestral income from the land. Moreover during litigations, the families of the soldiers got extra protection from the sarkar. For popularizing military service further, the army introduced the system of furlough (paid leave). During harvest time, when extra hands were required in the family farms, the soldiers were granted furlough in order to help out their families. Similarly in Indonesia, those groups who were unable to engage in sugarcane and rice cultivation used to join the Dutch colonial forces.

In order to differentiate the colonial collaborators from the colonial society, the imperial powers granted those joining the colonial armies special favours. Both in Africa and in Asia, the soldiers before the advent of the colonial powers were paid either in kind (a share of the crops) or with land grants. The European maritime powers for the first time introduced the scheme of regular pay in cash, gratuity and pension facilities. All these attracted the ‘natives’ towards their white employers. The communities joining the colonial armies were given the status of ‘martial race’. The Dutch colonial authorities marked the Ambonese, a group of Indonesia as a martial race because they were loyal to the House of Orange and had also accepted Christianity. They were granted extra pay, more pensions and better food. Gradually generation after generation, the Ambonese used to join the Dutch colonial army and developed a self-image of being a warrior community. In India, the British ascribed the status of martial race to the Gurkhas and the Sikhs. Over development of Punjab was the byproduct of British dependence on the Sikhs from 1880 onwards. In order to pamper the Sikh farmers of central Punjab, the Raj pumped money to construct canals and railways in Punjab. And these two boons of modern civilization not only enabled Punjab to become the breadbasket of India but also enabled the Sikh farmers to sell their grain to the world market. Grain was transported by rail cars from Punjab to Karachi and Bombay. From these two ports, the grain was taken to Europe in cargo ships. Both in the Sepoy Army and in the British officered Kings African Rifles, for ensuring loyalty of the martial races, their sons were also provided jobs of soldiers, drummers etc. Just like the French Revolution where the army was made a platform for upward mobility, service in the Sepoy Army also offered vertical mobility to selected Indian communities. Military service in colonial
Modern Warfare


Violence and

India not only resulted in pecuniary advantages but also rise in ritual status. The Bhumihars of Bihar by serving in the Sepoy Army got the status of Brahmins. The Dalits of Maharashtra continuously petitioned the British Government in India to allow them to join the Sepoy Army.

In order to prevent any mutiny among the martial races, the imperial powers followed the policy of divide et impera (divide and rule). Segregation of the various martial groups was a cardinal aspect of divide and rule policy. In India, the British planned to use the Gurkha regiments in case of any uprising among the Sikhs and vice versa. In a similar vein the US Army recruited various groups in the Philippines and encouraged their distinctive language and customs to prevent any homogeneity among the military personnel. The most favoured martial races were generally illiterate peasants because of the imperial belief that literacy might encourage rebellious tendencies. Further, to prevent the ‘natives’ from gaining any know how about the higher management of Modern Warfare, the officer corps of all the colonial armies were reserved for white males.

Most of the medical innovations in the nineteenth century were activated by the need to ensure the health of the European soldiers in the extra-European theatre. Compared to the Russians, cholera caused eight times more casualties among the French soldiers during the Crimean War. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, more than 30 per cent of the European soldiers in India were hospitalized at any given moment due to sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea, etc. Besides venereal diseases, drunkenness was another vice of the European soldiery in the colonies. Intense boredom forced the white troops to take recourse to drink. The country spirits like arrack available in the Indian bazars were especially ruinous to the health of the white troops. In India, the army’s medical corps carried out a campaign against cholera, the biggest killer of European soldiery. Invention of quinine gave victory to the white military manpower against the ravages caused by malaria.

During campaigns the African and Asian soldiers of the colonial armies moved with their wives and children. Women were tolerated because they provided essential logistical back ups in the colonial theatres. In the cantonments they looked after the plantations and the gardens which provided vegetables for the soldiers. Again such females also functioned as unpaid nurses. In India, the Madrassi and the Gurkha soldiers were allowed to keep wives because the soldiers’ families were imperial hostages that guaranteed good behaviour on part of the soldiers. The British officers also encouraged the sepoys to bring their families within the lines because it enabled the military to ensure complete isolation of their personnel from disruptive influences of the society. The British officers commanding both African and Indian soldiers found out that soldiers behaved well in presence of their wives. Lashing was common for indiscipline. And the soldiers hated being lashed in front of their women. Again, presence of the families not only kept the soldiers sober but also reduced any risk of desertion. The Western maritime powers realized that if the soldiers’ families were infected with diseases then sooner or later it would also adversely affect the military personnel. To retain their military manpower in good shape, the imperialists were forced to introduce modern medical measures in the colonies. So, the soldiers’ families in the cantonments received free medical care especially against colds, chicken pox, etc. Both the African and Indian women residing within the lines were regularly treated for venereal diseases. Further, the soldiers and their family members were given instructions in personal hygiene.

From the 1880s, the colonial armies acquired firepower superiority in their struggles against the Afro-Asians. This was because the former were equipped with three

elements of Modern War: rifled steel artillery, breech loading rifles and machine guns. Repeating rifles certainly aided British expansion in Africa. During 1874, General Garnet Wolseley defeated the Ashanti tribe, thanks to the firepower generated by the Snider rifles and 7 pounder guns. However, the techniques of Modern War were not omnipotent against all colonial opponents.
Modern Warfare


Afghanistan was a classic case that proved the limitations of Modern War in the non-European world. Afghanistan was not a nation state with a capital but a decentralized tribal structure. Hence, the Clausewitzian notion of victory- capturing the enemy’s capital after the destruction of the enemy’s army in a pitched battle was inapplicable. In Afghan society due to the prevalence of the blood price for murder and the operation of the Pukhtunwali code, every male was armed and a potential soldier. In late nineteenth century, the Pathans could mobilize 400,000 males armed with 230,000 rifles along the northwest frontier of British India. Instead of offering a set-piece battle, the Afghans carried out a grulling guerrilla war. Due to the road less mountainous terrain, heavy artillery could not accompany the British Indian military columns. The Afghan sharpshooters with their jezails (long range home made rifles) perched on the sangars (stone fortifications) at the mountain tops and taking every advantage of the ground, inflicted horrible casualties on the imperial columns. Again, in terms of cross-country mobility, the Pathan lashkars (war bands) were more mobile than the Raj’s soldiers. Similarly in 1904, the Nama people in Southwest Africa conducted guerrilla war against the Germans. Since the Namas were widely dispersed, the German commander Von Trotha was unable to carry out concentric operations and decision by battle. In a way, frontier commitments hampered the colonial armies because of their very modernization. Due to lack of forage for the horses and bullocks, horse artillery and field guns could not be used in Afghanistan and in the jungle clad swampy interiors of Africa. Then mortars did not have much lethal effect against the stone fortifications. Heavy howitzers (used for high angled fire in order to destroy the personnel inside the fortifications) could not be hauled over the ravines and mountain crevices. Rapid deployment of lightly armed mobile units was the only solution. This resulted in close quarter combat with small arms resulting in very heavy human casualties, a fact which the British Empire found costly.

Elimination of the distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants was a feature of Modern War. This was also evident in the pacification operations conducted by the colonizers against the colonized. Both in Africa and Asia, the imperial military formations deliberately destroyed the livestock, grain and villages in order to destroy the colonized’s ‘will to resist’. In East and Southwest Africa, the Germans deliberately starved rebel groups for pacifying them. Von Trotha’s Schutztruppe (German colonial force) carried out scorched earth policy. It was the prelude to what the Nazis would do in Russia between 1943-45. For pacifying Philippines, the US Army not only relocated entire communities but also put them in concentration camps. It was an indication of genocide that in the near future became a crucial component of der totale krieg.


Lazare Carnot’s (Minister of Revolutionary France) guerre a outrance signalled the beginning of Modern War. While the French Revolution initiated Modern Warfare, the Industrial Revolution sustained it. And Modern War albeit in a limited way exhibited
several characteristics of Total War like inclusion of the non-combatants as legitimate 13

Violence and
targets of war, extermination of entire communities, etc. Increasing scope of Modern Wars and management of its rising complexities in turn generated a Managerial Revolution: the emergence of the General Staff System. All these resulted in bureaucratization of violence by the centralizing nation states. Some of the features of modern conflicts like centralizing polities and the General Staff continue in the post-modern age. Again the notion that posts should be filled with men of talent and merit instead of those with wealth and high birth, when first emerged in the last decade of the eighteenth century appeared revolutionary. Today, such idea has become common place. Then, the British construction of martial races with its emphasis on the social and cultural peculiarities of the various groups aided the emergence of sub nationalism among the various ethnic communities in South Asia. Even today the Indian Army like the Sepoy Army remained over dependent on the martial races like the Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Further, the army’s care for the soldiers’ families marked the beginning of a welfare state which probably reached its zenith in the post-Second World War era. Herein lies the legacy of Modern War.


1) What do you understand from limited war, modern war and total war?

2) How did technology revolutionize the modern warfare?

3) Define the distinctive features of the modern armies in the colonies.

4) How did the introduction of modern warfare lead to larger social, political changes?



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