I’m in the process of reading the book Ride the Red Horse. The title comes from the Book of Revelation, about the four horsemen. War rides the red horse. And the essays and short stories in the book, which have all been quite good, and thought-provoking, deal with what is called 4th Generation War. Except as I read the book, I’m seeing it as 0th Generation war, and everything old is new again.Warfare in Europe, and the New World, began changing after 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 30 Years War. In many, many ways, that conflict established patterns and practices that continued right through, oh, 2001, perhaps later in Europe. The military-industrial complex was a general named Wallenstein, who made supply, looting, and destruction of property into an organized business enterprise, complete with specialist contractors and paperwork. International law and limits on warfare stem from Hugo Groetius and his experiences during the conflict. And States claimed a monopoly on armed conflict. No longer could Florence go after Milan, or one count attack another. Now the State claimed the sole right to wage war. This is the pattern most of us grew up learning as “war,” in part because the US and Canada arrived on the scene after this had been codified and expanded upon.
The second and third generation wars were of massed armies (WWI) and maneuver (WWII). The Fourth Generation is non-state actors that blend into the general population (much of the time) and who are fighting for individual causes as opposed to for a nation-state. It is the wars of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, but with social media and suicide bombers and dirty bombs. It is the kind of warfare I’ve been reading about with the Habsburgs against the Ottomans, where you have an official truce between governments and non-stop raiding by individuals. It is the Comanches, Cheyennes, Apaches, and Shawnee against their neighbors and some-times trade partners. And it is flipping hard, if not impossible, to fight the Comanche or Tartar raiders with an armored battalion or carrier air group. Which is what the US military is currently conditioned for (with some exceptions).
So I’m reading about the future of warfare and get the feeling that I’m hearing the chorus to an old, familiar song. Because history does not repeat, that is true. But cultural patterns can linger, and those condition responses. And people learn what they want to learn, which is why men who dream of returning the world to how it was in AD 680, or 610 for some of them, happily use social media and glossy English-language magazines, smart phones and YouTube (or as some of us used to call it, JihadTube), computers and advanced biochemistry to assist them in returning the world to the year 610. The Comanche and Mongols would look at the Janjaweed in Sudan and shrug, and probably do whatever they could to get those rapid-firing weapons for their own use.
The parallels are not exact, of course. Nothing ever is a perfect repetition, aside from human folly. But I’ve seen people riding the Red Horse before. And the results were not pleasant, even though we (humans and Western Civilization) survived.