I'm writing an essay, and one of the elements of it has to do with the development of military technology throughout history. I've noticed that there is a rapidly increasing and disturbing trend in terms of the ratio between destructive power and the manpower required to utilize it. Essentially, despite the labor required to build and maintain modern weapons, it does not appear to make up for the necessary manpower required in the past. For example, the Napoleonic era where combat mostly relied on massed musket and rifle fire. This allows for a greater consolidation of power ultimately making it more difficult to resist centralized authorities.

Anyway, I am interested if there are any sources that specifically detail the destructive potential of military technology over the last few centuries. Possibly an infographic showing the explosive yield of bombs, shells and rockets over a few centuries. Any assistance would be appreciated.

  • This question is difficult if not impossible to answer, due to the difficulties of acquiring long term statistical series. Moreover, raw ordinance equivalence doesn't account for changes in deployment, tactics and training. I would suggest looking at the early modern conception of the "military revolution," where Tercios suddenly destroyed the centrality of heavy cavalry, and star forts replaced curtain walls. – Samuel Russell May 15 '12 at 1:57
  • If you have access to Netflix they have a number of good shows on this topic like Lock N' Load with R. Lee Ermey and Weaponology. Of course, they're on a general, entertainment, level but can give you some basic info. – jfrankcarr May 15 '12 at 2:02
  • It's quite easy to obtain lots of weaponry which would permit you to slaughter your population. What is difficult is to suffer the consequences of such massacres. Weaponry doesn't help you when your Swiss bank accounts get frozen. – quant_dev May 15 '12 at 20:56
  • Wow, I never though of this before. But I'm not entirely sure that this is true; Guerrilla warfare originates from the napoleonic period, and was ultimately successful. Of corse, this could just be an outlier. – Russell May 17 '12 at 10:13
  • Could you please clarify your question? Are you asking about the yield of explosive devices over time, or the effectiveness of firearms in controlling crowds throughout time? Explosive ordnance would not be used for crowd control (normally), so the two seem to be at odds with one another. Please clean it up to be more specific or break it out into two separate questions. – Steven Drennon Jun 6 '12 at 14:50

This isn't an answer to your question, so much as an attack on your thesis.

It is perhaps true that these days no popular uprising can hope to deal with a well equipped military on its own terms. However, I think recent history (since about 1985 or so) shows that military power isn't all a despot needs to hold power. After all, a big military is made up of people, and all those people have brothers and sisters and cousins living in your country. If you lose all the brothers and sisters and cousins, you will lose the army too.

So after a certian point, the increase in weaponry payload doesn't help a despot at all. However, it becomes a huge help for anyone looking to carry out asymetric warfare from the weak end. So if you are looking for social implications, that's where I'd look.

  • It would be lovely if what you said was true, but I'm unconvinced. Military are often clustered in families, and the non-military members of such a family will be anyway likely be very pro-military, having most of their relatives in the army. – o0'. May 15 '12 at 20:47
  • I can't really agree with this. You don't need many men on the ground to launch a ballistic missile or machine gun down protesters. As for the social aspects, we can look at Bahrain. It's police force, are not from Bahrain, but Jordan and other outlying states. (You could also argue this is irrelevant as its Saudi Arabia and the US that are supporting them. :D ) – Russell May 17 '12 at 10:18
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    @Russell - Actually, I'd argue that's perfectly relevent, and my argument shows why despots from small countries like to do what Bahrain has done. A force pulled up from locals may have other loyalties than to you personally. – T.E.D. May 17 '12 at 12:43
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    @T.E.D. I reread your answer, and saw that you were correct. +1 – Russell May 19 '12 at 1:21

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