Whole Cities, Even Nations, Would Be Speedily Annihilated
What Future Wars Would be Like
Whole Cities, Even Nations, Would Be Speedily Annihilated
A STRONG plea for the League of Nations is contained in the course of an article by Will Irwin in the Saturday Evening Post. His argument is along somewhat similar lines to that used a year ago by H. G. Wells, which was published first in MacLean’s Magazine and later in Mr. Wells’ book, “In the Fourth Year.” It is, in brief, that man dare not go along in the old way, that he cannot face the possibility of future wars, because future wars would be sheer annihilation. Mr. Irwin develops this thought at considerable length, showing just what the next war would be like.
In the war so happily perfected, between ten and eleven million people, including perhaps three-quarters of a million women—the Armenian massacres are included in this score—died by the sword. At least as many died of epidemic diseases engendered by the conditions of war. When the score is finished—alas, it is not finished yet— we shall find that still more than this have died from starvation.
Everyone appreciates that. But probably not everyone in America, which saw the war only with the eyes of others, appreciates what the next war may be—almost, I might say, must be—provided we go on as we were going before 1914. Applied science has hitherto paid little attention to perfecting methods for killing human beings. But the laboratories have been at work for four years, and they have done wonders. The chlorine gas cloud of Second Ypres tvas a mild affair compared to the gases used in the attacks of last summer. These gases are mild compared to the possibilities in the method. The problem of invisible, instantaneously deadly gas was solved by at least two nations before the end of the war; in the campaign of 1919, had such occurred, these gases would have been used in enormous quantity.
Aircraft bombing was working from uncertainty to certainty. Only to-day the newspapers record the testimony before our Senate Committee of John Hays Hammond. Jr. He declares that by his invention of wireless control a tornedo can be launched from an aeroplane soaring many miles away from a town and guided to the target with the certainty of a pilot steering a boat. The offensive power of aircraft is at this moment immeasurably superior to the defences against them. They have three dimensions in which to manoeuvre instead of two, and they work in the dark. The answer to the night raid has never been found. I am not so bold as to say, in this age of invention, that it will not be found, but it looks as unlikely as anything in military science.
The Possibilities of Air Attacks
Let us stop for a moment and consider this point. In a new war between France and Germany the sudden destruction of Paris at the beginning of hostilities would just about win the war for Germany. The entire confusion of the greatest national railway centre; the destruction of the seat oi' Government, finance and commerce: the general panic—would so delay and confuse mobilization that the French army would be easy prey. Mobilizing aircraft fleets and torpedoes behind the Rhine would be no very difficult task as compared with that of mobilizing any army. From there the fleets could be above Paris, at present speeds, within two or three hours. An advanced squadron of skirmishers would drop noon the roofs of Paris a multitude of small, nonextinguishable phosphorus bombs to set the roofs on fire and give the main fleets sight of their target. In fact the Germans, when the
armistice came, were planning to use this method in their next air raids on Paris. It is not at all unlikely that by the time for the next war aircraft attack will be so perfected that a week of such raiding would finish off a city like Paris—or New York. Of course the old, hampering, chivalrous rule that a city about to be bombarded must be notified in order that noncombatants may be removed went by the board long ago. Such notice would ruin the element of surprise, which is half the battle in such an attack. Be • sides, in modern warfare there are practically no noncombatants. In a new general European war the dsetruction of nearly all the great European cities, with the wealth and beauty which they have been accumulating for two thousand years, stands well within the limits of possibility. In case of an armed peace such as Europe had for forty years before this war, men might have to rebuild their cities with the valuable, the “living” part underground.
However, these soeculations deal with the perfection of those means of killin'1and of destruction already tested. There are other methods possible —methods which will make explosives look primitive. Though nightmare fictionists have imagined killing by rays, science has never taken enough interest in destruction of life to find and apnly the method. It holds great possibilities. Science has spent fifty years of research in fighting the killing power of bacilli. It has never studied to increase or to use that power. But now that whole populations, instead of mere armies, have become the legitimate objects of killing in war someone doubtless will perfect that method. The conservative mind has raised certain practical objections, just as the conservative mind said that aircraft attack could not be made accurate, and that the shells failin'1into Paris could not possiblv come from a gun. But onlv recently an authority on bacteriolo"v expounded to me the horrible nossibilitv or ravaging a whole population, military and civilian alike, with swiftly killing incurable diseases, while guarding your own army and your own population. I believe that with a little patient research it ecu Id be done. And given the perpetuation of war as an institution s°me race of Bernhardis is certain to arise which wfcl justify this method—and use it.
Such, briefly, are some possibilities of the future if the new warfare follows the oaths ooened up by the struggle of 1914-18. In the long peace of Euroue books were written to prove that actual warfare was impossible because men would no longer face its horrors. We have learned now that men will face anything. This war uncovered reservoirs of human courage whose existence we never susoected. Whatever horrors the new warfare may bring, it will not fail because men and women are afraid. But what of armed peace ?
If the Peace Conference should effect the settlement on old principles, leaving the structure of international society exactly where it was, all the nations of the world would have for a time to limit the race of armaments. They need the money for restoring the processes of life. But in five, ten, fifteen years, danger would begin to grow again from some quarter; and again they would speed up munitions making, increase the active armies, multiply conscription.
Now the general tendency of this war was to more and more complex, cumbersome and expensive machinery. Artillery became the kingof battles. Even the Germans, who entered this war better prepared than the others, had to multiply by ten or twenty times their equipment of heavy artillery. The British at the First Battle of Ypres had only one gun that could be listed in the catalogue of heavy artillery. By 1918 they had several thousand. Leaving the natives aside, it became necessary to equip the armies with great quantities of machines, each of which cost more than the equipment of an infantry battalion under the old warfare in which the rifle was king—tanks, for example, and aeroplanes, When the world works out of its bankruptcy and begins to accumulate a margin the weapons piled up for this war will be out of date, just as the weapons of the Franco-Prussian war could not be used in the Boer War, nor those of the Boer War in this war. Some nation or other will improve heavy artillery, the tank, the gas shell; the rest must follow. The civilian use of the aeroplane, just now beginning intensively, will improve that device so that just as we now laugh at the slow, weak old buses of 1914 we shall in 1928 laugh at the primitive machines of 1918.
I thoroughly enjoy the publication as a whole and especially wish to compliment you on some of the articles which deal with the vital welfare of our land and the fearless and truthful manner in which they are presented.
E. A. L.
For thirty years before 1914 Europe groaned and grubbed under the burden of armaments. The great prosperity of Belgium among the small nations and of the United States among the large ones was mainly due to the fact that they were not in the race for armaments. But now the pace will increase. Its tendency will be to increase to such a point that only the barest necessities of life will be left to the common people—of Europe at least, and eventually perhaps of all the world.
This, mind you, is not the invention of a nightmare fictionist. It is a sober estimate of the future, based very largely on the opinions of hundreds of men who in civilian or military capacities have helped direct this war. The conclusion, of course, should be obvious to the single-track but all-daring American mind. It has got to be stopped. Even if we are no longer willing to take a philanthropic interest in the affairs of Europe it has got to be stopped for our own interests. We are rich, we are tempting; we were next after France and England on Germany’s list. These modern devices are rendering distances as naught. Our isolation is no longer our protection. If it is not stopped we must ourselves take up a burden of armament suoh as even the last generation knew not; and when, as probably will always happen, defensive armament becomes useless to prevent war, we must kill and be killed with an intensity and with an incidental slaughter of the innocent which even the great war of 191418 knew not.
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