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Warfare Then and Now

Original post date: November 2014, Update: November 2015

Lately I was watching current stream of war related news and Syrian migrant crisis and I thought of what would I say on the blog about actual, continuous and devastating warfare in Europe, Africa and Middle East and stupidity of literally inexplicable background of who is fighting whom in all those conflicts and their aftermaths in form of devastated cities and long refugee-columns ... Or how, on Earth, to mannerly comment all those literal or figurative walls EU countries are building on their borders ... Or even what words should I use to describe foolishness of the new cold war between nuclear powered "super countries" and what that will mean for our children and theirs in the future...

Then I realized that reacting to meaningless affairs and worldwide political absurdity in a world so divided by racial, structural, governmental and religious diversity is also meaningless. I also realized that I said enough in the past. There is nothing new to be added or said. What I concluded in this post 12 months ago is the same: 'There will always be people who will think that rifle is not a rifle if it never fires a bullet".

And to use a rifle you need war, right?

I have to admit that I have mixed fillings when it comes to military, soldiers, wars, battles, tactics, military gadgets and stuff. On the 'interesting' side of the medal, warfare, if placed in history, good stories or movies are simply extraordinary tales and I love them. Perhaps, in a way it was also based on my experience as a soldier - I served the army more than two decades ago within the mandatory military service and I was situated in the surface-to-surface missile unit and trained for operating small rockets designed for targeting tanks and other heavy machinery. I couldn't say I enjoyed all the time spent in the service but I wouldn't be telling the true if I'd say that it wasn't interesting and educational, at least from the technical point of view.

The cannon from the Hill of Čegar

Speaking of history and tales, this summer, I mentioned one of the most famous last stands in the history of wars in post "Fishermen and Pirates of Evia" when king Leonidas of Sparta confronted large army of Persian Empire and stood to the very end guarding narrow pass in the battle of Thermopylae almost 2500 years ago. Anyhow, here, in Serbia, in our own history, we also have one of those suicide missions, conveniently called "last stands" by military vocabulary and it happened only couple of kilometers on the north from our house on the nearby hill called Čegar. Just like Leonidas, Serbian general Stevan Sindjelić, during the First Serbian Uprising against Ottoman Empire in the year of 1809, confronted huge Ottoman offensive after Serbian army failed to capture main Turkish fortress in the city. Outnumbered by 1 to 10 Serbian trench only managed to reject several attacks and after almost all day long of fighting the battle turned to be one of the best known last stands in long history of Ottoman occupation of Serbian lands. Ultimately, when battle turned to be hand-to-hand combat in the trench, Stevan fired his flintlock pistol into a pile of gunpowder kegs in the moment when ottoman soldiers swarmed the trench from all sides and headed for him personally. Explosion was tremendous and the fall of Stevan's trench created time for other Serbian troops in remaining 5 trenches to retreat on time and, in the aftermath, Turks took all the Serbian soldiers' heads off and used the skulls to build a tower along the road to Constantinople, as a warning to anyone rising against the Ottoman Empire.

Yesterday, we decided to visit the hill where it all happened and took some photos with two remaining cannons from the battle and from the monumental tower standing in the middle of the field. It was one of the kind experience that leaves distressed filling, especially after the glimpse from the top of the narrow tower toward the planes and the city.

Stevan Sindjelić & Remains of the Skull Tower in Niš

But there is another side of my mixed fillings regarding this topic. Simply put, if you place the warfare outside the history or fiction, and experience it live, for me, all the magic from movies and books is evaporating into thin air almost immediately. While I wasn't participating any warfare in the army, I have witnessed real air strikes performed by NATO aircraft, dropping cluster bombs just hundred's of meters away from my house. I saw them explode*. I saw real damage in neighboring houses and streets and saw people injured from the impacts. Real people. Not soldiers. Collateral victims. Civilians. It wasn't fun. It seems that warfare two centuries before were more dignified, to say the least. The battles before were "organized" outside settlements and most of them took place in the fields where no civilian casualties could be possible, Today, if you look the aftermath of any wars happening everywhere on the globe, first thing you will notice are devastated cities, villages, houses, schools, hospitals even... Murdered innocent people and children. Ruins in all directions. It is easy today to pull the trigger. From the distance. There are no real heroes or knights today like before.

Modern times and technological advances perhaps ruined the very essence of war, but deeply in it's core, the war was, is and will always stay our darkest invention. Yes, it looks amazing with special effects in movies and written in our history books full of heroes and heroic events but in the nutshell it represents the worst genes we kept from our animal ancestors, evolutionary speaking.

View from Čegar's monumental tower with Viktor's plastic AK-47 toy gun

And the armies... They are big part of it. Following words, said couple of years before the battle of Čegar, on a different continent, are still fresh and valid, just like if they were said yesterday. Almost certainly, the famous James Madison's quote will stay accurate for many more centuries. After all, as a species, humans are not really capable of learning from their own mistakes:

"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." - James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

I am sure proving his point is as easy as glimpsing the yearly statistics for the Global Firepower, aka GFP. Following numbers I acquired from "Business Insider" and "The Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation". They are collected for the latest year and I summarized the data for only top 5 armies in the world - US, Russia, China, India and UK (and you can freely double these numbers for accounts of all other countries).

Anyway, more or less, give or take, believe it or not, in the nutshell, GFP numbers are:

6.000.000+ soldiers (human beings, men in the uniform)
35.000+ tanks (the iron amfibia combat vehicles with a heavy guns on the top)
22.000+ aircraft (fighters, bombers, logistic planes, all kinds of military flying machines)
16.000+ nuclear warheads (only couple of them needed to cease all life on earth)
1000+ warships (cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, etc.)
15+ aircraft carriers (monster nuclear powered ships)
230+ combat submarines (with large nuclear engines under the sea)
900.000.000.000+ dollars spent for military budgets (per year)

And don't forget to add uncountable and I really mean devastating large number of missiles and rockets, all kind of ballistics, regular weapons, drones, rifles, pistols, cold weapons, military based factories, scientific research facilities, spy satellites and military space programs, state of the art uniforms etc. Indeed we don't have name for that big number in mathematics. Even the number of zeros in that count would be probably longer than the letters in this very sentence.

The 11 Most Powerful Militaries In The World**

Now, only by comparing these numbers with James Madison's words, it seems that after 200+ years, perhaps armies are not children of war anymore. In the dawn of third millennium it seems now that they are perfectly capable of creating wars just to justify their own existence. If only war could stay in history and fairy tales... But we all know that's not going to happen. With all those weaponry in existence there will always be people who will think that rifle is not a rifle if it never fires a bullet.

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