Changes in Society: Generations of Modern War II

Fast advances and maneuvering allowed Allied cavalry forces to quickly penetrate deep into Iraq during the Gulf War.

Warfare is coming to parallel this model. The knowledge of how to conduct an attack is developed in one country, then that knowledge is combined with the raw materials, personnel, and training available in other countries, which can include the target country, to create a weapon in the target country. Both the 9/11 and Madrid attacks were conducted using this approach. Further, “ownership” of the action may belong to contributors who are distributed around the world but provide funding to the terror networks planning the attack.

In the past, it has been possible to at least intercept terrorist weapons at our borders. Now, the modern concept of manufacturing weapons in the target country means there are no materials to intercept. No longer can we as a nation recognize and intercept a weapon before it reaches our shores. Only the knowledge of the attack and the weapons cross our borders—all other materials can be purchased within our borders. Just as some elements of a knowledge-based economy move only knowledge and personnel across international boundaries, so do some practitioners of 4GW.

Socially, prior to World War II, citizens of developed nations dealt almost exclusively with people from within their own country, and often just locally, within their own city or county. Although a limited number of businessmen had regular communication with foreigners, the vast majority of the citizens of even well-developed nations had little or no contact with foreigners. Communication was expensive; travel was time-consuming and very expensive. Only the wealthy few could travel abroad. The middle class relied on local newspapers, national newsmagazines, and radio for their information. Nation-states, like their economies, were hierarchical. Internally, information moved up and down but internationally, information moved only at the top levels of society.

In the undeveloped nations, citizens—or, more commonly, peasants—rarely traveled more than a day’s journey from their place of birth. Their view of the world came almost exclusively from oral tradition and family beliefs.

In contrast, today’s communications revolution has completely changed how people get information. In the same way governments, businesses, and trade associations are becoming networks rather than hierarchies, so are relations between people of different states. Citizens of today’s developed nations have virtually unlimited access to the people and ideas of other cultures. With the advent of cheap communications and transportation, international connections have multiplied exponentially. For the first time in history, it is easy for average residents of one state to develop strong interests and common bonds with those of other states.

For instance, a member of Greenpeace in the American northwest may have more in common with another Greenpeace member in Germany than with the logger who lives next door. Using email, web sites, and inexpensive long distance, they may communicate more often with each other than with their neighbors.

This has major implications for all government, but particularly for democracies. Although this free association may seem powerless, it was a purely volunteer effort by the International Committee to Ban Land Mines, organized primarily over the Internet, that drove the treaty to ban land mines. Another purely volunteer effort created Linux as an alternate operating system to Microsoft. A volunteer effort organized over the Internet built the coalition of anti-globalization activists that shut down the WTO meeting in Seattle during the summer of 2001.

The same technology that enables Greenpeace and the International Committee to Ban Land Mines also facilitates organizations such as the Islamic fundamentalist groups. Even more challenging from a security point of view is that the people do not have to go out to establish these networks. They do not have to be in the same country or even be on line at the same time. The old police technique of tracking illegal activity by watching certain places and certain people does not work when communication is carried out on line. Although police agencies around the world are beginning to track some activity in cyberspace, the sheer volume makes it daunting. Later we will explore how much of the new technology favors the terrorist rather than the government.

In short, citizens of developed nations are no longer limited to living in a hierarchical nation-state. They can now live in a networked international community.

At the other end of the spectrum, citizens of even the poorest nations have access to television and magazines that portray the riches of the developed world. Although a generation ago the most they could hope to see was the next village, now they can see Park Avenue. This creates a much greater sense of relative deprivation and unrest in those nations. Along with the Internet, it also eliminates the government’s monopoly on information. No longer can any state assume its citizens will believe only what the government tells them.

This unrest, combined with the artificial nature of the boundaries of many states, has resulted in the severe breakdown of order within many of these postcolonial “nations.” Often it has led to the effective, if not the official, dissolution of many of these creations of the colonial powers. The result has been the reversion to much earlier social organizations—tribal, clan, or gang. The result is a major change in whom we might fight and how they see a fight. In the last hundred years or so, Western nations have become accustomed to fighting disciplined, uniformed soldiers of another nation. Now we are faced with fighting warrior or clan societies. The difference between a soldier and a warrior is essential.

Soldiers are disciplined members of a specific profession. As such, they are under the control of a political entity and do not have specific financial or social benefits from continuing to fight. Although there is increased prestige and opportunity for promotion during war, most professional soldiers will at least pay lip service to a preference for peace.

In contrast, a warrior society thrives on and exists for war. Often, the young warrior has everything to lose (except his life) if he stops fighting. Consider the young clansman in Somalia. As a member of a fighting clan, he has prestige and income. They combine to give him access to money, food, property, and women. If he puts his weapons down, he loses that prestige and the income—and with them everything else. Although the risk of death from fighting is always present, it is actually less than the risk of death from starvation if he stops fighting.

Unfortunately, most of these warrior societies’ mechanisms for keeping violence to a manageable level are based on traditional systems. For instance, in Somalia, clan elders would meet and determine fines imposed on an individual or family who killed another during a camel raid. However, the advent of powerful new weapons has escalated the killing beyond the control of the old social systems. The young warriors have learned new techniques to employ the new weapons. Like all human organizations, they have adapted.

This creates a major problem for Western soldiers facing such a warrior society. These societies have learned that pushing women and children to the front, even in close combat, will often neutralize the superior firepower of Western soldiers. Sometimes the women and children are armed, sometimes not. Further, women and children at the front shows that the entire society has mobilized against a perceived threat to its livelihood, territory, or customs. Even when the confrontation does not include weapons, warrior societies have learned that Western soldiers have trouble dealing with large numbers of women and children—and have added them as a tactical tool when it creates an advantage.

In sum, there has been an enormous social change from what Western forces faced at the beginning of World War II. The societies of rich nations have fragmented and are beginning to align by interests rather than nationality. Many poor nations have failed completely, with their populations breaking up into the tribes or clans that preceded the nation-state imposed by the colonial powers. Unfortunately, the tribal organizations were never designed to deal with the challenges inherent in a failed nation. Thus, many of the poor face little hope. In short, social changes since World War II have been extensive and wide-ranging.

The cumulative changes in political, economic, and social arenas since World War II are clear and distinct. The changes in the technical area are overwhelming. Frankly, they are much too extensive, and too familiar to the reader, to explore in depth here. Still, consider the following examples. In 1940, the first computer had not even been developed. The first satellite was almost twenty years away. Television did not exist. Commercial aviation was in its infancy—transpacific flights took days. The total capacity of all transoceanic cable and phone lines was less than one of today’s fiber optic cables.

Further, as technology continues to evolve, it is just as rapidly reordering every aspect of our lives. The entirely new fields of complexity and network theory are changing how we see the world. Our understanding of biology is increasing at an ever faster pace. In each of these areas, the world has leapt ahead since World War II.

It is intuitively obvious to any observer that almost unimaginable change has occurred in the last sixty years. Although not all sectors of a society evolve at the same rate, all are moving in the same direction. As we evolved into the industrial era, governments, business, and social organizations moved to a hierarchical structure that was often national in scale. In the same way, as we move into the Information Age, all sectors of society are becoming networked on an international scale. What is less obvious is that the rate of change has been accelerating—and not just over the last sixty years but over recorded history.

Consider world population alone. It took from year 1 until 1800 to grow from three hundred million to one billion. Yet the population doubled in only the next 150 years, reaching two billion by 1950. Then it tripled in a mere fifty years, reaching six billion by 2000.

It took more than 1,700 years for the first democracy to evolve after Rome became an empire, yet the next 200 years saw democracy spread around the world.

It took almost a hundred years from the invention of the steam locomotive for it to become a central element of national economies. It took less than twenty-five years for the personal computer to do the same. It took less than five years for instant messaging to penetrate most societies.

In warfare, change is also accelerating. It took hundreds of years from the development of the musket and cannon for first-generation warfare to evolve. Second-generation warfare evolved and peaked in the hundred years between Waterloo and Verdun. Third-generation warfare came to maturity in less than twenty-five years. Clearly, third-generation warfare cannot be the leading edge of war more than sixty years later.

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