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WWI Analogies


My latest at the Diplomat thinks about experience, war, and learning:

How do we know how the next war will be fought, and why does it matter?  As the centenary of World War I approaches, several commentators have argued that the emerging multipolar power structure of East Asia is coming to resemble that of Europe prior to 1914.  Setting aside the wisdom of the political comparison for a moment, there is one way in which the comparison is apt. Just as real knowledge of modern, high intensity warfare was limited in 1914, the emerging great powers of Asia have little experience with the forms of warfare they are planning to use.

Although most of the European powers had experience with colonial wars, they did not have the space or time to work out the implications of the technologies that would eventually characterize World War I (the machine gun, the dreadnought, the submarine, and the airplane).  The degree to which military commanders of 1914 were surprised by these technologies has been wildly overstated, but the armies and navies had not developed the tactic, hands-get-dirty experience of how to fight in a new technological environment.


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