In the most recent lecture, Professor O’Toole talked of something that really piqued my interest. She spoke of the “myth” of superior technology and how it was almost irrelevant to the Spanish’s success in conquering the Native Americans. At first, I simply disagreed with her, believing that the Spanish had guns that could end a life in a blink of an eye, cannons that could disrupt enemy formations and provide military support from afar, and the superior metals that made their weapons.
But one by one, each of my assumptions was shot down by Professor’s O’Toole’s points. I recognized how right she was. Guns had to be reloaded meticulously, cannons were no use in a mountainous area, and the sheer numbers of the Incas would easily overpower superior metal. I quickly came to the realization that superior technology didn’t necessarily win wars and create empires even in our time period where nuclear weapons could lead to the end of the world.
But I decided to think of other cases in history where this myth of superior technology was also prevalent. Without realizing it, I found several scenarios in which this was true. Tactics and numbers I found changed the course of a war much more.
One of the first cases that I found was the American Revolution that pitted Great Britain against it’s own colonies: what would later be known as America. The British were much better supplied and carried higher quality weapons to that of their American counterparts. They had a strong navy that blockaded American ports and was nearly unstoppable. Prior to the war, the Americans had no need to defend themselves, as the British simply did it for them, so there was little need for state of the art rifles, swords or ships. Thus Americans found themselves equipped with the old matchlock musket, which had been used for almost 100 years, much more inefficient when compared to the British flintlock muskets.
To even the odds, American soldiers soon found themselves taking the weapons of their dead adversaries and thus becoming better equipped, very similar to how the Inca nobility gained access to steel swords later on. But one of the things that truly changed the course of the war was how the Americans fought. Similar to the Inca, they utilized guerrilla tactics. Instead of fighting traditionally, standing in a straight line formation in front of your enemy and firing, the Americans used cover, hit and run tactics, and the landscape to claim their victories.
One of the most important instances of this was the Battle of Saratoga, in which the Americans secured one of their most important victories. A battle meant to split America in two and thus more easily suppress American rebels, quickly turned into the British’s worst nightmare. Breaking what were seen as the ‘rules of warfare’, American colonel Daniel Morgan used guerrilla warfare in the heavily forested area to his advantage. Trees were chopped down to create roadblocks, generals were targeted, and American fighters hid in deep forest to the chagrin of the British forces. All of these quickly wore down British forces and eventually evoking their surrender, changing the course of history.
Perhaps another more recent example is needed. The Vietnam War, a devastating and costly war for both sides of the war. A war formerly between the North and South parts of Vietnam, quickly saw the inclusion of America on the South’s side, fearing the spread of communism. Despite having superior air technology, weapons, and much more funding, the US were unable to actually end the war. The North saw many airstrikes and bombing runs, but their morale and resolve to fight remained undeterred. Though the North was equipped with some weapons from China and the Soviet Union, many were using weapons handmade weapons such as crossbows, spears, or weapons taken from the French and Japanese in earlier wars, which in many ways were inferior to the Americans’. Yet despite this, the North held out using guerrilla warfare and the landscape to their advantage, often catching American soldiers by surprise and taking out platoons with ease. Thus with better knowledge of terrain and tactics, North Vietnam was able to evoke a ‘draw’ of sorts with America, thus ending the war.
Superior weapons may win battles, but it doesn’t necessarily win wars. The Vietnam War and the American Revolution are just some of the many wars that were won even without the advantage of superior technology. This is even applicable in our world today, where even if a country has superior nuclear weapons, they cannot necessarily ‘win’ as with nuclear warfare, which comes detrimental consequences. As Bernard Loo put it in Today, “do not weapons [alone] per say to get the job [war] done”