A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

sarajevo postcard

Assassination in Sarajevo

There is something horrifically appropriate in the fact that the trigger for the First World War exactly one hundred years ago today was an act of terrorism. By the end of the twentieth century terrorism would again be a trigger for global events, but in the meantime the largest wars in planetary history were fought as symmetrical contests between peer or near-peer nation-states, and then the non-war, non-peace of the Cold War involved an ongoing contest between two power blocs that dominated the international system. Terrorism kicked off global industrialized war, and now since peer-to-peer global conflict has all but disappeared, terrorism is once again a power in the world, after being submerged by much larger and more systematic forms of violence. Terrorism has come into its own again, so that the assassination in Sarajevo appears not only as the momentous trigger of the first global industrialized war, but also has a foreshadowing of the world that would follow the long sequence of global wars of the twentieth century. We could, with some justification, call the twentieth century the Second Hundred Years’ War.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, with an elephant he shot in Ceylon. The Archduke was an avid hunter, so there is something of poetic justice in himself becoming the hunted.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, with an elephant he shot in Ceylon. The Archduke was an avid hunter, so there is something of poetic justice in himself becoming the hunted.

Before the First World War there had been smaller, regional industrialized wars. The American Civil War, with its use of rifled guns and artillery, the Gatling gun, and ironclads was an early glimpse of what was to come. The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) was another prescient conflict, as it may be thought of as the first “resource” war — it was also called the “Saltpetre War,” and demonstrated that nation-states would go to war to secure essential resources for their industries. Most demonstrative of all was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Its use of machine guns (the Maxim gun was invented in 1884) and the Battle of Tsushima between steel battleships, in which wireless telegraphy played an important role, foreshadowed the kind of warfare that would typify the twentieth century. (American President Teddy Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which brought the war to an end.)

Gavrilo Princip postcard or dopisna karta published by Jakob Kappon in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, post-World War I, circa late 1920s, early 1930s. Printed by SHS Jugoslavija Zagreb. P. B. 4.

Gavrilo Princip postcard or dopisna karta published by Jakob Kappon in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, post-World War I, circa late 1920s, early 1930s. Printed by SHS Jugoslavija Zagreb. P. B. 4.

Despite these earlier intimations of industrialized warfare, the First World War was unprecedented in scope, scale, and catastrophic consequences. Millions died; empires fell; and a new way of war became inescapable. Any belligerent who persisted with outdated weaponry or tactics was not merely defeated in battle, but his social and political institutions were likely to be annihilated. Imperial Germany, Tsarist Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were all annihilated in a war they made possible. Global colonial empires were activated both to open new and distant fronts, as well as to bring colonial troops to Europe to witness the civilized Europeans at their most savage. After a long period of relative stability, the world was rapidly turned upside down, and in four years’ time the decisive break with the past had been made. Everyone knew that there was no going back. How could the assassination of one marginal man by another marginal man in a marginal provincial city be the trigger for the first global industrialized war?

Minutes before the assassination...

Minutes before the assassination…

In a relatively stable international system, wars almost by definition erupt only on the margins of the most advanced political institutions, and the more stable these institutions, and the longer lived, the further outward the margins are pushed, until the margins of the most advanced political powers are pushed into a region that has never benefited from the stability. The Balkans, always on the periphery of Europe but never one of the great centers of European civilization (at least, not since Periclean Athens), met this condition almost perfectly. Still largely rural, poor, and undeveloped, the peoples of the Balkans were nevertheless exposed to the most advanced ideas of Europe, and nationalism was one of the most powerful of these ideas. The idea of nationalism, and of a nation-state as the political expression of nationalism, was inflammatory in the ethnic mixture of the Balkans. The quotes that can be cited in relation to the Balkans are all so perfect that it is difficult to choose among them. Otto von Bismarck predicted, “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” And, in explanation of why this should be so, Winston Churchill is supposed to have said, “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” Sarajevo was, in a sense, at the center of this periphery, and we should, like Bismarck, expect an incident in such a place to be the source of instability in an otherwise stable international system.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in state

Aged Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph had already lost his son and heir to a spectacular and scandalous suicide, and had to turn to the unpromising Franz Ferdinand as his heir. Though not the first choice in the succession to the throne of Austria-Hungary, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand took to the role as well as anyone might be expected to step into such a role. Although often described as something of a dullard (similar things were said of the last Russian Tsar, also soon to be shot), Franz Ferdinand was in fact a reformer, and it is impossible to imagine how different the twentieth century would have been if there had been no First World War, if Franz Ferdinand has ascended to the Dual Monarchy, and had been in a position to put his reforms into practice, dragging the reluctant Hapsburg Empire into the modern world without requiring the sacrifice of millions (starting with the heir to the throne himself) for this to happen. Precisely because Franz Ferdinand was in a position to influence the fate of the Hapsburg Empire, a strike at the Archduke was an existential threat to everything that empire represented — as it turned out, a successful existential threat, which, by striking the monarchy itself, decapitated the empire. Thus while authors have competed with each other to describe Franz Ferdinand in unflattering terms, he was the crucial man in the Hapsburg Empire, and not the marginal figure he is sometimes made out to be.

The 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding at the time of their assassination on 28 June 1914.

The 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding at the time of their assassination on 28 June 1914.

Gavrilo Princip was a committed terrorist, i.e., a man who was prepared to kill and to die for ideological reasons. In other words, Gavrilo Princip was the prototype, the progenitor, and the model of a type of figure that would become increasingly common in the twentieth century, and who is still common in our time. Ideologically motivated terrorism requires an inscrutable synthesis of individualism and self-sacrifice that could not have been produced before the industrial revolution, and the conditions for producing the type in any number only came to full fruition in the twentieth century, with its mass societies of millions and its rising living standards that encouraged even the lowliest to think that they could leave their mark upon history. History was no longer beyond the reach of the ordinary man: history had become personal. A similar sentiment was expressed by a very different spirit, Rupert Brooke, in his poem Peace: “Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour.” Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand, and Gavrilo Princip were all together matched to their hour, and the confluence of these three meant that the global industrial-technological civilization taking shape at that time should be crucially shaped by global industrialized warfare.

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1914 to 2014

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A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

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Grand Strategy Annex

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In a world as technologically complex and sophisticated as ours, the political uses of science are legion. Science both gives us technology and analyzes how these technologies function. Technology is, in a sense, older than science, since technology pre-dates the emergence of civilization itself, a fortiori also the emergence of science in its modern form. Moreover, a rudimentary technology existed side-by-side with non-scientific civilizations for thousands of years.

What is different now is that the conscious application of science to technical problems was one of the factors that made the Industrial Revolution what it was, and continues to make the Industrial Revolution a reality in our ever-changing daily lives. We have come to expect rapid technological and scientific change, and to expect that as we grow older we become progressively more out of date. Whereas before the Industrial Revolution patterns of life had been relatively stable since the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, now it is often said that change is the only constant.

I haven’t yet thought systematically about the political uses and abuses of science, but what follows is a sort of first impression, an off-the-cuff account of how the ideals of scientific objectivity become prey to human, all-too-human interests in a scientific society.

Feudal Science

Feudal science is science pursued in the interests of established power structures. This is nothing other than the science favored by the powers that be and the economic and military infrastructure that supports them and which gives them their raison d’être. In other words, feudal science is the ideological infrastructure of quasi-feudal, ossified societies, and as such is a species of ideological science (see below), but it deserves special mention because of its relation to power structures.

Foucault’s illustrious career was more of less devoted to exposing feudal science in its many forms in psychiatry, penology, natural science, political economy, and a variety of fields. Though Foucault disdained to identify himself with any intellectual “movement” (and for good reason, presumably similar reasons to those of Sartre in warning intellectuals of allowing themselves to become an institution), his focus on history is redolent of the Annales historians with their concern for the longue durée. The virtue of Foucault’s approach is to see science in the context of the longue durée, and this is fatal to any effort to set up any society and its institutions as permanent and unchanging, which is a typical feature of feudalism.

Here is Foucault’s formulation from a well-known interview:

Each of my works is a part of my own biography. For one or another reason I had the occasion to feel and live those things. To take a simple example, I used to work in a psychiatric hospital in the 1950s. After having studied philosophy, I wanted to see what madness was: I had been mad enough to study reason; I was reasonable enough to study madness. I was free to move from the patients to the attendants, for I had no precise role. It was the time of the blooming of neurosurgery, the beginning of psychopharmacology, the reign of the traditional institution. At first I accepted things as necessary, but then after three months (I am slow-minded!), I asked, “What is the necessity of these things?” After three years I left the job and went to Sweden in great personal discomfort and started to write a history of these practices. Madness and Civilization was intended to be a first volume. I like to write first volumes, and I hate to write second ones. It was perceived as a psychiatricide, but it was a description from history. You know the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience? A real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked. When you tell a psychiatrist his mental institution came from the lazar house, he becomes infuriated.

Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault — October 25th, 1982, Martin, L. H. et al (1988) Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, London: Tavistock. pp.9-15

If “a real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked,” then a feudal science either denies that history or constructs a fictitious history that gives no reason for even the most reactionary elements within a scientific institution to feel attacked.

Baroque Science

In his idiosyncratic Dictionary of Philosophy, Mario Bunge defines baroque philosophy as, “Rhetorical (empty and convoluted) form of philosophizing that specializes in miniproblems and pseudoproblems.” This definition can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to what we may call baroque science. Baroque science focuses its effort, intensified by its very narrowness, upon the miniproblems and pseudoproblems of science. The conceptual miniaturist, if he has no ambitions for anything greater, can find endless fascination in the smallest possible objects of the scientific interest. As this fascination builds momentum with its focus refined to a pinpoint, this method contains itself as it comes to see scientific problem as the smaller the better.

It should be immediately obvious that baroque science is nothing but a subspecies of feudal science; baroque science is feudal science at its most precious and self-conscious. Taking Bunge’s architectural metaphor further, it might even be better to call it rococo science, and to reserve the term “baroque science” for what I have above called “feudal science,” for rococo science has all the delicacy, intimacy, and mannered good taste as is to be found in any rococo interior. One can scarcely think in such terms without imagining chamber music by candlelight, and only a very civilized science indeed would inspire such a thought.

Revolutionary Science

Human nature being what it is, no class of intelligent, resourceful, and ambitious men could ever be content with dubious pleasures of feudal science or baroque science, and so they rebel. In rebelling they contribute to the speciation of the science and create a new, revolutionary science. Now, revolutionary science is none other than that science made famous by Thomas Kuhn’s efforts to analyze the nature of scientific revolutions. I have many times had occasion to mention Kuhn’s work (for example, in Scientific Progress) so I will not spend much time on it here. Kuhn’s fame nearly singles him out among twentieth century philosophers, comparable perhaps to Foucault, whose critique of the history of science is very different from that of Kuhn, but in no sense mutually exclusive. Kuhn, like Foucault, sees science in historical context, but draws different lessons from his historical inquiry.

Revolutionary science is scientific novelty at the vanguard of social change — i.e., a scientific movement often co-opted by a political movement, and therefore a species of ideological science (see below).

Potemkin Science

Potemkin science is the science of a Potemkin Village; it is fake science, false science, unreal science, science based upon unscientific principles and assumptions. What we are here calling “Potemkin science” is also known as “cargo cult science,” so called by Richard Feynman, or more commonly known as pseudo-science. Feynman put it like this:

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

A Potemkin science can have all the trappings of a genuine science, and as science matures and stabilizes within industrialized civilization, becoming less and less frequently revolutionary science, it builds up socio-political forms that are easily mimicked and imitated by epistemic efforts that are flagrantly unscientific. A Potemkin science can have journals, awards, scientific societies, university chairs, institutions, and the respect and approbation of the public. But, as Feynman said, Potemkin sciences lack something essential.

Feynman had his own examples of Potemkin science, but my favorite current example is the so-called technological singularity.

Revisionary Science

Revisionary science I understand to be the scientific equivalent to what Strawson called revisionary metaphysics, which he contrasted to descriptive metaphysics. Whereas the latter seeks only to describe the world as accurately as possible according to a received conceptual scheme, the former seeks to revise the conceptual scheme itself and improve upon metaphysics. Thus revisionary science tries to improve upon science itself, and not merely to produce further examples of familiar science.

Revisionary science thus occupies a place between openly revolutionary science, with its ambition to overturn established scientific conventions and knowledge, and feudal science with its pretense to understanding the world in terms of unchanging ideas, categories, and concepts. A great deal of science is revisionary science, and much of the best science is revisionary science. We save what is of value in the tradition, but we cast away what is no longer of value and supplement what remains with novel science.

Any such endeavors involve dangers; the attempt to formulate a better set of background assumptions for science is more likely to simply reflect the prejudices of present investigators than to introduce any new objectivity in place of former cant and subjectivity, but this danger is no less than the danger of feudal science, which bends every effort to admit not change at all. Revisionary science attempts to find the truth between these opposite dangers, and when it succeeds it advances our knowledge.

Perverted Science

Perverted science is none other than that species of science made famous in the peroration of Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

I can imagine a journalist would tell us that perverted science is science that has lost its “moral compass,” but we are not journalists, so we must hold ourselves to certain standards. We must, for example, acknowledge the complexity of the world, and the fact that what is a perversion for one person is a pleasure for another.

Perverted science is that science pursued according to a morality distinct from that which we recognize as our own. This is important on two points. Firstly, it is an open admission that science depends upon a moral vision of the world, and therefore that science conceived apart from such a moral vision is itself a kind of perverted science, and secondly that if we can attain to a morality of sufficient generality and egalitarian representation, we can approach a science that reflects what is best in us, and we can also identify more clearly a perverted science for what it is.

Ideological Science

Ideological science, like perverted science, is a science pursued according to a morality distinct from that which we recognize as our own, or, rather, science pursued according to a political ideology distinct from our own. Here I am being a bit idealistic and allowing us to assume that we have attempted to formulate a science (as mentioned above) that exemplifies all that is best in us, and that other sciences fall far short of this mark.

Outright ideological science is less common that science co-opted by ideology. Powerful political ideologies have relentless representatives who are always on the lookout for science that seems to support a view of things that the political ideologue already believed independently of any scientific investigation. Once discovered, few scientists can resist the Siren song of funding and recognition that comes with political support. And so what might otherwise be legitimate science becomes seduced by ideology and gradually allows itself to be transformed into ideological science.

Big Science

Big Science is the science is in part the science of the military-industrial complex, but it is moreover simply the science that emerges from mature and stable industrialized civilization, with its mature and stable institutions that evolve and develop gradually but which are formulated with an eye toward excluding any revolutionary change that would “rock the boat.” (Big science may at times appear to be revolutionary science, but the two are usually radically distinct.) It is also, more specifically, the science that emerges from institutionalized scholarship (of which I have written at some length).

Big Science is known for its big university departments, its big research programs, its big endowments, and especially its big hardware. Enormous science projects that draw in expertise, funding, and entire departments become self-sustaining and indeed expanding social movements in miniature. No one can afford to be left out of the big ambitions of big science (as no news outlet can afford to not cover the big story that every other news outlet is covering) so that big science creates a growing cluster of scientific activity.

With big science, scientists becomes players in a game that has little or nothing to do with science. In order to keep the research dollars flowing in, they must compete with others also seeking money and attention, and so they become bureaucrats, accountants, politicians, and even showmen as they pursue yet another magazine cover to showcase their work. There is no reason that one cannot be both scientist and showman at the same time, but few have the aptitude or the ability to do both really well; one function or the other must suffer, and if the show is to go on, it won’t be the show that suffers.

Science and Knowledge

In our contemporary world of industrialized civilization, science is perhaps the primary source of the generation of new knowledge (we might even coin a term and say that it is epistemogenic). Science is not only the primary source of knowledge today, but also the primary guarantor of the legitimacy of knowledge. Thus “science” has come to serve a rhetorical function in our vocabulary, as we express our admiration of certain epistemic efforts by calling them “science” while we express our disapproval of other epistemic efforts by denying that such efforts are science. This habit has been formalized in Popper’s criterion of scientificity in terms of falsifiability.

However, as we have seen, science is not one, but many. There are many species of science, and each species of science produces a species of knowledge. Thus knowledge too is not one, but many. If we don’t look to carefully, we can convince ourselves that all the diverse efforts of the many forms of science are somehow and ultimately in harmony (like ancient and early modern attempts to demonstrate the harmony of Plato and Aristotle). But if we do look carefully, we will have to admit that there are many kinds of science, many kinds of knowledge produced by these many kinds of science, and that the result is a teeming epistemic pluralism with no central theme of unifying idea.

The proper response to this is to sort through the species of scientific knowledge philosophically, and to assess them by a philosophical criterion that is external to all the sciences and internal to none of them, but I don’t expect this to happen any time soon, as the same sociological mechanisms that have enshrined science as a source of knowledge have also virtually made philosophical knowledge disappear. As a result, contemporary culture is almost incapable of exercising philosophical judgment, and we all suffer as a consequence of this conceptual myopia. The eye of the soul has become near-sighted, and we await a change in present sociological formations that will make possible a dispensing optician to address the deficit.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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