Man or Machine: War in the 20th Century

World War I changed many facets of warfare, particularly where technology was concerned. The automobile, chemical weapons, and tanks stand out, but also do the airplanes, submarines, and machine guns. Some of these weapons were developed during the war and some were simply advanced beyond their pre-war status. The prevalence of the machine in World War I marked a dramatic shift in how the wars of the twentieth century would differ from the wars in previous centuries. These new machines created mass casualty beyond anything that Europe had ever experienced.

By the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, nations would wonder if machines could be used to replace the soldier, or at least reduce the cost of human life. President Truman considered nuclear technology as a means to reduce ally casualties. After two devastating world wars, the notion of technology carrying the brunt of the work was appealing. The second half of the twentieth century provided opportunities for the theory to be tested. Air power became a key component in strategic planning. Bombardments from the air, whether from aircraft or from missiles located many miles from the conflict zone, devastated communities. All indications seemed to point to a day when machines would replace boots on the ground. However machines did not rout the enemy regardless of the devastation they created. As the twenty-first century dawned, warfare seemed to depart from the oceans and grand battlefields where the machine dominated and instead entered the villages and city streets where man could maneuver more adeptly. Despite all the technological development to the machines of war, man with natural adaptability time-and-time-again remained supreme.

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