Trenchard in the Trenches

An earlier post on Trenchardism naturally prompts this early modernist to muse on the early modern art of bombing civilians. Consider it a late Christmas present.

Like many aspects of warfare, the early modern art of bombardment was quite similar to the theory and practice of its modern counterpart, only on a smaller scale. The practice of launching nasty objects over tall walls is as old as catapults, and it has always been easier to hit the broadside of a town than precisely strike a specific point on a wall. Almost as soon as gunpowder weapons made their appearance in 14th century Europe, warmakers envisioned their use against towns. As powder and projectiles increased in performance and availability, gunners targeted the inhabitants of fortified places as well as the walls they sheltered behind. Solid shot could pulverize stone walls, while iron cannonballs heated glowing red over an iron grate (“red-hot shot”) threatened to set buildings ablaze inside the town. In the 16th century, the parabolic trajectory of bombs fired from mortars made bombardment more efficient, particularly after bombardiers (eventually) figured out how to light the bomb fuse from the ignition of the main powder charge in the tube. Ever-growing arsenals, supplemented by yet more technological advances, significantly expanded the use of bombs throughout the 17th century: the French development of the bomb ketch under Louis XIV made coastal bombardments a more practical matter; howitzers’ arcing trajectories could also target the interior of a town; while the development of the man-portable Coehoorn mortar allowed thousands of double-grenades to rain down on a besieged garrison, and any unfortunate inhabitants as well. A few other “inventions” were even more fanciful. As one 1688 periodical reflected on the state of the early modern military art:
But this Age affords more refined Wits, and better fitted for Malice. They have invented Bombs, Balls and Carcasses, full of all nocent [harmful] things, Nails, Knives, Sharp-pointed Contrivances, Grapples, Pistols firing, and several other Diabolical Inventions; which shot up into the Air from the Mouths of the Brass Mortar-pieces, upon their falling burst with such a Violence, as immediately occasions a Total Ruine among the Besieged, and to their Houses; and when the Cities, are of a small Extent, their Havock and Destruction presently forces them to lay down their Arms, and no longer to resist their fury.
But of all Inventions of this Nature, that seems most marvellous of certain Mortar-pieces, which by the force of people and Instruments fill’d with Wind, throw certain great Bombs made of six round and Convex Iron Plates, wherein are contain’d twenty five persons well provided with Arms. These Bombs may be shot into the Enemies Fortresses four times in an hour, and by this means fill them so invisibly with such a vast number of Soldiers, (since twelve Mortar-pieces of the same Bulck will be discharg’d each time) that the Place will be presently taken; for their Sergeants can in an Instant draw them up in good order, and make them seize on the Sentinels and Guards, and by this means obtain a more certain Victory, then ever did the Romans by their Bucklers, or Clypeus Contextus, since they can enter the Towns without any resistance.” Early modern air cavalry, Trojan Horse style.

Bombardment technology developed slowly, but the justifications for the semi-indiscriminate attack on civilian population centers remained constant, and are familiar to us today. Most garrisons were quartered among urban civilian populations, and while mortar fire might have been relatively accurate, the ability to distinguish military from non-military targets within a town was limited. Nor was such discernment a priority, since early moderns believed that the bombardment of towns could achieve positive tactical objectives. First, indiscriminate bombardment was used as a threat – declare your neutrality, deliver up the demanded ransom, and nobody needs to get hurt. If compliance was too long in coming, or perhaps if a message needed to be sent, bombardment might serve as a punishment, witness Louis XIV’s 1684 bombardment of Genoa, an Italian port-state that had dared to assist France’s Spanish enemy. On a narrower tactical level, as our quote above suggests, targeted bombardment of a garrison’s barracks and posts might sap the defenders’ morale. But more widespread destruction could also cause the enemy harm – whether the intent was to burn the fodder magazines and mills within the town, or to create a more general conflagration that damaged the enemy’s ability to continue the war through lower tax revenues and destroyed infrastructure. In wars of attrition, such destruction could be its own objective. But, fortunately for contemporaries, this was not the age of the chevauchée: bombardment was rarely used with wild abandon, likely due only in part to the arguments of the cooler heads, who noted that destroying too many towns made little sense if the attacker intended to occupy them and extract their resources.

Even though early moderns refrained from spreading fire and death across the enemy’s lands as a matter of course (at least after the Thirty Years War), the tactical application of bombardment was standard practice. The need for speed encouraged most besiegers to accelerate their attacks by lobbing exploding carcasses in among the townspeople. Besieged burghers, after all, were just as ‘guilty’ for allowing garrison troops to continue their defense, even if they didn’t actively support the garrison. The suffering of innocents appears to have been a non-issue for most military practitioners well into the 18th century, and for many civilian observers as well. Neither Louis nor his Secretary of War Louvois apparently gave much thought to the civilian casualties caused by the bombardment of Luxembourg, nor did the English overly concern themselves about the citizens of Saint-Malo, Dieppe or Dunkirk – the inhabitants of these ‘pirate nests’ facilitated the war effort, and they further benefited economically from the prizes captured by French privateers.

Not even the Christmas season overrode such military expediency. Towards the end of December 1708 the Duke of Marlborough received a civilian deputation from the besieged town of Ghent (population 51,000) begging him to save their homes from destruction. Grinch that he was, the Duke informed them that “since they had brought this misfortune upon themselves by their own folly or negligence [Ghent had had a small British garrison in its castle that was surprised earlier in the year], they must either assist us against the garrison or expect we should use all manner of extremity to reduce them to their duty.” Red-hot shot pelted the town for several hours until the French garrison beat the chamade and negotiated their surrender. Civilian suffering wasn’t always the primary objective of early modern bombardment, but it often was a supplemental tactic. Humanitarianism rarely provided a check on such methods.

Same as it ever was, just on a smaller scale. Like modern airpower theorists, early moderns sometimes hoped that a massive bombardment of the enemy capital would quickly force them to their knees, and on rare occasions it might actually work (as with Genoa in 1684 and Algiers the same year). More often, however, early modern bombardment was intended to terrorize the civilian population on a city-by-city basis, usually coupled with an attempt to capture the town. As so often happens, military capability slides inevitably into military use, with theoretical limitations on war preempted by immediate military expediency. Whether a Coehoorn mortar, a B-29 or a Predator drone, it’s usually easiest to shoot first, and chalk up ‘collateral damage’ to the vagaries of war.

With my apologies–updates to the blog platform have made it more difficult to deal with images, which Dr. Ostwald has included in this posting on his own site.  They are great visuals that add a great deal to his point, so I respectfully direct your attention thataways.–M.S.

One book

[Cross-posted at Airminded.]

It’s been a good year for reading military history, but then it always is. If I had to recommend one military history book I’ve read this year it would be David Stevenson’s With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 (London: Penguin, 2012). Stevenson’s previous book, 1914-1918 (published as Cataclysm in the United States), was a good survey of the First World War, even an excellent one; but it didn’t hint at the magisterial nature of this book. In fact, I was worried that With Our Backs to the Wall might simply prove to be a padded-out version of the 130-odd pages in 1914-1918 covering the same period. Of course my fears were groundless.

The first third of With Our Backs to the Wall provides the narrative backdrop for the rest of the book. Here, Stevenson explains the events of 1918: in particular the German gamble on the Western Front in the spring, the successful Allied defence and the ultimately even more successful Allied offensive leading to the Armistice. This section by itself is almost worth the cover price (especially if you bought it in paperback like I did): it’s easy to focus on the ‘classic’ period of trench warfare between 1915 and 1917 and forget the return to a war of movement in 1918. But where Stevenson really shines is in the following thematic chapters which explore how the war was fought in 1918, how it had changed since 1914 and why it didn’t continue into 1919, as was widely expected until the autumn. There’s something for everyone here: technology, intelligence, logistics, morale, finance, economics, gender. Of course the approach is necessarily largely synthetic, though Stevenson does often use primary source material to great effect. Each topic is treated in depth to a satisfying degree: even if you are familiar with the scholarship you are likely to find something worthwhile (as I did in the section on airpower), and if you aren’t you’ll learn a lot. But despite the density of the text and its length (nearly 550 pages excluding endnotes), I found With Our Backs to the Wall a compelling and even gripping book. Highly recommended. (But if it’s not to your taste, perhaps try Claudia Baldoli and Andrew Knapp, Forgotten Blitzes: France and Italy Under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945, London and New York: Continuum, 2012.)

So if you had to recommend one military history book you’ve read this year, what would it be? What one book most impressed you, informed you, surprised you, moved you?

Piazza Fontana and Romanzo di una Strage

Major historical events often have to wait for years to receive serious treatment in historical film, especially in the case of controversial episodes that produce sharply opposing narratives of those events.

For the first time, the bombing in Piazza Fontana in 1969 is the subject of a major feature film, Romanzo di una Strage. A large bomb exploded in a bank in Piazza Fontana in Milano on 12 December 1969, killing 17 people and wounding 88. The bombing shocked Italians and produced outrage across the country, a crucial moment in the so-called strategia di tensione campaigns of right-wing and left-wing radicalism and violence in Italy in the late 1960s.

Piazza Fontana launched a period of intensified political and social conflict, known as the Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead) throughout the 1970s.

Romanzo di una Strage (2012) is directed by Marco Tullio Giordana. The film focuses on the competing investigations, political murders, and cover-ups in the immediate aftermath of the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969-1972. Giordana controversially places a sympathetic portrait of police commissioner Luigi Calabresi at the center of his political thriller. The Piazza Fontana case still remains unsolved today, despite several investigations, trials, and overturned convictions. The film posits its own theories on various threads of the complicated story, but hesitates to present its own definitive verdict on the case and the cover-up.

Marco Tullio Giordana explains his perspective in an interview published by Nouvel Observateur. Giordana actually witnessed the Piazza Fontana bombing from a passing tram and was interviewed by Luigi Calabresi as an eyewitness. It seems that Giordana’s personal experience strongly shaped the narrative structure and cinematography of the film.

The film’s interpretation of the Piazza Fontana bombing and its protagonists has provoked much interest and also sharp criticism. Republica TV published a video review of the film in Italian. Nouvel Observateur, Marianne, Libération, and Le Figaro provide reviews in French. For the reactions of Luigi Calabresi’s son, Mario, see a story in Corriere della Sera.

For context on the Piazza Fontana bombing and film representations of political violence in Italy during the Anni di Piombo, see: Alan O’Leary’s Tragedia all’italiana: Italian Cinema and Italian Terrorisms 1970-2010 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011), Alan O’Leary and Pierpaolo Antonello’s Imagining Terrorism: The Rhetoric and Representation of Political Violence in Italy, 1969-2006 (London: Legenda, 2009), and Paul Ginsborg’s A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943-1988 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Romanzo di una Strage is released internationally as Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy.

[Note that this article is cross-posted from my blog.]

OA? Oh no!

[The views stated here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Society for Military History or the Journal of Military History. Cross-posted at Airminded.]

While they only apply to journals published in the UK, the recommendations of the recent Finch Report on open access (OA) have some worrying implications for historians overseas as well as those working in the UK, especially if they are working independently of any institutional base. If adopted, they would mean doing away with the current subscription-based model of access to scholarly articles. Instead, articles published under what is known as Gold OA would be free for anyone to download (ideally, though there will likely be a transition period). The cost of publication would instead be covered by charges paid by the authors themselves, the so-called Article Processing Charge (APC). The Finch Report suggests an APC of £1450, and envisages that this would ultimately be borne by the universities who employ the authors, or by the granting bodies who fund them. The Cameron government has already accepted the recommendations of the Finch Report.

This is fantastic news for libraries, struggling with increasing subscription fees and reduced budgets. It would also make the results of research directly available to the wider public who currently need to pay a not-inconsiderable amount to download a scholarly article, unless they can get access through a public library. These two reasons, which provide much of the impetus for OA, are self-evidently good ones.

Independent historians (like me) will likewise benefit greatly from being able to freely download articles under Gold OA. But they will lose more than they gain. In general they cannot look to their employer to pay the APC for any work that they wish to publish in academic journals. Similarly, they are unlikely to have grant money to draw upon to cover the costs of publication. Most of the time, independent scholars would have to pay the APC out of their own pocket. It’s already difficult enough, and expensive enough, to do academic-level research outside academia; adding a £1450 charge for the privilege of actually publishing that research will make it effectively impossible for many independent historians. Perhaps some funding could be set aside for non-academics to draw upon for APCs, but any such scheme would likely be competitive and would at best mean a lengthy delay in publication; at worst, it would mean that research that has passed (or is capable of passing) peer review would not get published. Or maybe the APC could simply be waived, but somebody would ultimately have to pay it: if it’s the journal itself, that might make it harder for them to accept work from independent historians (though twenty-one leading UK history journals have already stated that ‘all our decisions about publication will be taken regardless of whether an author is able to pay an APC or not’).

There is also the impact on historians working outside the UK (again, like me), including those in academia. Research funding in the UK might be restructured around Gold OA, but it won’t be elsewhere in the world. Historians working outside the UK quite likely wouldn’t be able to draw upon universities or funding bodies to pay the APC. Even if they could, they might find it difficult to justify spending scarce funds to publish in the UK when they could publish somewhere else in the world. This is a problem for historians of Britain (yet again, like me) who naturally wish to publish in British history journals. But it’s also a problem for historians working on other areas who might wish to publish in, for example, War in History, Journal of Strategic Studies, or First World War Studies.

If implemented, the recommendations of the Finch Report would open access to research from the point of view of the consumer, but it would perversely narrow access from the point of view of the producer. In the sciences, where nearly all academic research is fully funded or carried out in universities, Gold OA will work wonders. It may well do so in the humanities too, but the collateral damage will be much greater. What is to be done?

Sceptical responses to the Finch Report from learned societies and scholarly journals include: American Historical Association; British Academy; International Society of First World War Historians; Journal of Victorian Culture; Royal Historical Society; and, as previously noted, the collective response from a number of journals (including First World War Studies). Most heartening is Past & Present‘s position:

We want to state clearly and unequivocally that merit will be the sole determinant of Past & Present’s decisions to publish articles.

Whether an author can pay an APC or not will be irrelevant.

We will accept APCs and will also publish the articles of authors who cannot pay APCs. This means that all authors outside the UK and all within can continue to be published free of charge in Past & Present.


Give us this day our daily Clausewitz

Clausewitz, Carl von. If modern military historians have a deity, Karl would have to be it. His concepts and themes – friction, the fog of war, war as an extension of policy by other means, the tension between rational policy and primordial passions in war – permeate military history and shape contemporary military theory. Like the Bible, his book On War is more often cited than read. If you need further proof of the Prussian oracle’s divine status, he even has his own trinity: not Father, Son and Holy Ghost mind you, but Emotion, Chance and Reason instead. Heck, he was omniscient as well, nonlinear before it was cool to be nonlinear (see Alan Beyerchen, “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War”). People line up to be Clausewitz’s interpreter, not unlike more than a few prophets and modern televangelists. Like God, Clausewitz even has his own webpage. In this monotheistic universe Clausewitz, like the Christian God, has his own arch-rival, Jomini, who, if you ask most military historians, isn’t really that different from Satan.

Relative frequency of Jomini and Clausewitz in sample of English books from Google Books (Ngram viewer). Standard caveats apply.

As the trend from the above chart also suggests, both God and Clausewitz also seem to be fading in this increasingly secular age. We could go on with further parallels, but you get the idea.

Cry ‘Havoc’ And Let Slip The … Pigeons of War?

By Robert Bateman

We all know that being a historian is sometimes a slow way to spend one’s days. Hmmm, well, actually it is always slow.  But that is part of what we love.  At times, however, even the best of us know that it can be a periodically mind-numbing experience to spend day after day among the stacks of a major libraries or deep in the bowels of yet another archive in search of the ever-elusive “smoking gun” which will bring life to your current project. Yet interspersed in those hours spent pouring over the arcane scribblings of obscure War Department clerks long dead and gone, there are moments. One might have the much-treasured experience of finding some long lost letters of T.J. Jackson, or perhaps the luck to stumble upon a previously unsuspected battle plan written by Patton prior to a major training event, before he was famous.  Moments like those are the stuff of legends, repeated by military historians with a hushed tone of awe and passed on into the lore of the profession when ere several or more gather at the local watering holes during the academic conference season.  These moments make a career.

This is not about one of those moments.

The United States Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, is a wondrous place for a historian to lose himself. Housed in their archives are the personal papers of military leaders, famous and obscure, from the late 19th through the 20th Century.  The attached library, as well as that of the Army War College itself (which is the major tenant of Carlisle Barracks), also contains a magnificent collection of works on all aspects of the art and science of war.

So it was that one fine spring day a few years ago that I found myself spending day after day examining the archival files for materials in support of my own quest for knowledge.  As the topic du jour was the interwar (1918-1941) Army of the United States, there was a host of material from which to choose, and the days seemed to fly past. At least that was the case so long as the weather outside was gray and overcast. But with the coming of the spring and the sun breaking through the clouds, even the spirit of a dedicated historian may wander and require a periodic break from the seemingly overwhelming task of synthesis.  Fortunately the USAMHI is blessed not only with a top-notch team of archivists, but ones with a sense of humor and a finely tuned acuity for the absurd.

As any budding academic historian soon learns not long after entering graduate school it is an utterly futile exercise to ever attempt to best an archivist. These people are the Ents of the academic world. Operating without the burden of classes, but with a fine education and sufficient time (often measured in decades) to dedicate to the pursuit of knowledge in their own areas of interest, archivists will always know more than any mere graduate student, no matter how obscure the topic. If their archive has the material, one can rest assured that the archivists know not only who the last person was that came looking for that material but they have at least a rough idea of what is in the files.  Thus, the simplest and most effective research tool in the world is to be very, very, friendly to all archivists. After all, they hold the keys.  At Carlisle Barracks that very intelligent and wonderfully well-balanced (see?) individual that had the ‘keys’ I needed was the Chief Archivist, Mr. David Keough.

Keough also has a well-developed sense of the absurd.

“Dave,” I started, rubbing my eyes as another full day of staring at chicken-scratch took its toll, “bring me something light, huh? I swear, if I have to read another report on the nature and effect of Amplitude Modulation of radio waves in the interwar army I’ll go nuts.”

Dave smiled his somewhat inscrutable smile and disappeared into the stacks. After a few moments he returned and dropped a single thin file onto my desk.  Pushing back slightly from my hunched over position at the desk I opened the file. There was a black-and-white photo of a World War One era flatbed truck in what was obviously a victory parade. The caption indicated that this was 1919, in Poughkeepsie, New York. Standing at the position of “port arms” with their Springfield rifles on each end of the flatbed were two scowling doughboys.  Though they looked about 19, these men wore serious expressions befitting the nature of their guard duty.  This was serious duty.  Between them was a large cage made of chickenwire.  Hanging down the side from the bed of the truck was a massive sign, at least six feet long and several feet high, explaining to all in capital letters just what was in the cage.


In seconds I was rolling with laughter.  All I could think about was the title of this blog entry (bellowed in a fine Shakespearean voice), or alternately, the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knights confront the dreaded beast guarding the cave of doom.  (“Yes, but he’s a vicious bunny, with teeth like this!”)  Like I said, Dave had a finely tuned sense of the absurd. The rest of the file contained similar artifacts.

One rarely hears a serious belly laugh booming through an archive.

So, am I alone here? Who else has found themselves, when deep in the halls of an academic shrine, be it a library or an archives, laughing uncontrollably about some artifact of history you’ve uncovered?  (And a note to my non-historian friends, feel free to contribute as well.) Leave your comments below.






Social war, now and then

[Cross-posted at Airminded.] The current conflict in Gaza has attracted much media attention for the so-called Twitter war being fought between the IDF and Hamas, or, more precisely, between the @IDFSpokesperson and @AlqassamBrigade accounts and their respective followers. Insults are traded back and forth, photos and videos of rocket attacks and air strikes and their purported results (sometimes quite horrific, be warned) shared and retweeted many times over, bloggers take up virtual arms on behalf of one side or the other. @IDFSpokesperson tweets a graphic claiming that ‘Hamas’ goal is to kill civilians’; @AlqassamBrigade one claiming ‘In Children’s Day: Israel killed 26 Palestinian children!’ This present form of propaganda war is sometimes (not always) presented as something new. Certainly the speed of communication and the ease by which it can be accessed by anyone who is interested is remarkable, but nothing ever looks completely new to a historian.

During the Blitz, for example, British newspapers and magazines were the medium by which both British and German propaganda messages regarding the mutual bombing war were passed to readers so that they could judge for themselves. In September 1940, The Listener noted that ‘German broadcasts continue to claim that only military objectives are being attacked’ by the Luftwaffe.1 By contrast, the Zeesen radio station was reported to have claimed that:

British pilots have received instructions to avoid carefully any kind of military objective and to concentrate instead on terrorising the German civilian population.2

As it was broadcast in English, this message was clearly directed at the British people themselves. Normally only those who owned a radio and were listening in on the right frequency at the right time would have received it, perhaps along with a few others by word of mouth. By reprinting it, The Listener was sharing it with a much larger audience (circulation was around 50,000 in 1939 but had risen to 129,000 by 1945). By reprinting it without editorial comment, it was trusting its readers to draw the right conclusions.
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Armistice Day in France

This past Sunday was Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War in 1918. France celebrates 11 November each year with a series of ceremonies commemorating the dead of La Grande Guerre, as the First World War is often known. This commemoration is arguably much more important in France than it has ever been in the United States, where it is now celebrated as Veteran’s Day, since France suffered many more deaths, in addition to the occupation of parts of northern France and the devastation of the Western Front.

This year’s celebration of 11 November is different, however. Last year, the Nicolas Sarkozy government decided to expand the celebrations « en hommage à tous les morts pour la France ». So, the ceremonies will now commemorate all French veterans killed in any wars, not just the fallen of La Grand Guerre. The new François Hollande government has chosen to continue with this new model and celebrated 11 November with the expanded symbolic format more similar to the American Veteran’s Day.

Libération and Le Monde report on the 11 November ceremonies.  Some commentators and politicians have criticized the new ceremonies as obscuring the importance of the First World War and its horrifying legacy of trench combat and attrition warfare.

In addition to the controversy surrounding this year’s ceremonies, questions have been raised about amnesties for French soldiers who were executed during the war, especially during the army mutinies of 1917. Some individual soldiers’ cases have been reviewed, leading to rehabilitations, but some want a general amnesty for all French soldiers. Le Monde reports on one of the soldiers.

The French Armistice Day commemoration reminds us how important it is for historians of war and society to look beyond the history of American involvement in warfare. European and global perspectives often offer strikingly different understandings of the experience of war.

Armistice Day also highlights an important scholarly debate over the historical memory of the First World War has been raging for over a decade, since the publication of Jay Winter’s Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). The current controversies over 11 November in France will certainly add to this expanding debate, which has been dominated by historians using cultural methods. Historians of war and society could be more active in contributing to our understanding of the historical memory of the First World War and other past wars that continue to be commemorated.

What’s This “Early Modern” of Which You Speak?

So where does someone who self-identifies as an “early modern European military historian” start? Ah yes, “early modern.” (Don’t you worry, Clausewitz and Trenchard, you’ll get yours eventually.)

How to define “early modern”? Not easy. Historians necessarily divide up the past into discrete-ish periods for convenience, and hopefully we have some reason behind our madness. But historians can’t agree on what’s the best kind of madness, which means there are competing interpretations of what ‘early modern’ means. Heck, historians have been arguing over periodization since at least the Renaissance and Petrarch’s “Dark Ages” As it turns out, in a recent ‘open peer-review’ online article Newton Key points out that the very term “early modern” really only caught on c. 1970, and then primarily among English-speaking historians. Despite its subsequent recognition in the U.S., few can agree on when exactly it was.

It doesn’t help that the sub-periods which “early modern” is supposedly composed of themselves overlap in confusing ways: Italy’s artistic Renaissance might have begun in the mid-14th century, England’s Renaissance is said to extend well into the 17th century, while women may not have had a Renaissance at all. Reformation historians, for their part, feel comfortable looking back into the 15th century and some argue the Counter-Reformation continued well into the 18th. The forlorn 17th century generally lacks any kind of modern designation whatsoever, other than the vague appellation of “Baroque,” or a generalized period of “crisis.”

How far back the Ancien Régime (or Old Regime) extends is up for debate; the extent to which it coincides with the Enlightenment is yet another question I’ll bring up only to ignore. Fortunately, there’s a bit more consensus as to when the early modern period ends, with the dawn of the French Revolution. But historians are an argumentative lot, which means that they frequently ignore these artificial boundaries: some scholars insist on the early modern parallels with the ‘modern’ era of revolutions, while other scholars talk about the long 18th century (c. 1688 to 1815/1830). With so many countries and so many subjects of study, feel free to draw your own boundaries. Somebody will undoubtedly disagree with you.

So I hope I will be forgiven for not insisting on too strict of a time frame when describing early modern European military history. Anyone familiar with the standard narrative presented in History of War 101 (and the wars of the period 1450-1800 in particular) already knows the traditional time frame: from Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy in 1494 to the eve of 1789 and the momentous changes ushered in by the French Revolution. Inevitably, recent historians have sought to breach the walls between the periods, insisting that neither Charles VIII nor Napoleon were all that revolutionary. We can leave that discussion for a later day – for now it’s just worth remembering that there are many different understandings of when ‘early modern’ was.

The result, as I see it, is a field of early modern European military history segmented into three broad eras, usually grouped around the constellation of wars at their center:
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The Hydroairplane-Supersubmarine Threat to New York

[Cross-posted at Airminded.] Washington Post, 2 June 1918, SM1

New York waited for an air raid in June 1918. For thirteen nights from 4 June, much of the city was blacked out to avoid giving German pilots any assistance in locating targets to bomb. The New York Times reported the following day that:

Electric signs and all lights, except street lamps and lights in dwellings, were out in this city last night in compliance with orders issued by Police Commissioner Enright at the suggestion of the War Department, as a precaution against a possible attack by aircraft from a German submarine. A system for signalling by sirens in case the approach of aircraft should be detected was devised by the police and signal officers yesterday to warn persons to get under cover.1

While coastal and anti-aircraft batteries readied their guns, aviators went up to check the effectiveness of the blackout, resulting in its extension. After the third night, it was reported that

The lower part of the city was in almost complete darkness, the number of street lights being reduced and those that burned being dimmer. Every downtown skyscraper was almost entirely dark, the shades in the rooms which were lighted being drawn.2

City officials met to discuss other civil defence measures, including air raid sirens and shelters. A particular concern was the evacuation of skyscrapers during business hours:

It was pointed out that in case of such a raid in the daytime the danger of loss of life from panic in swarming down the stairs and into elevators would be greater than the danger of bomb explosions.3

It was decided that the best thing to do would be to designate certain floors as evacuation points. These plans were probably not put into effect, however, as the last night of blackout was 16 June; on 17 June all police precincts were ordered to ‘Resume normal lighting throughout the city until further orders’.4 There was evidently some embarrassment now, as the War Department and the New York Police Department each claimed that the blackout was the other’s idea. In any event, the exercise doesn’t seem to have been repeated.
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