The Social History of the Machine Gun

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9780801833588: The Social History of the Machine Gun
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The introduction of the machine gun in the late 19th century revolutionized the conduct of war - gone were the days of leisurely tactics and "civilized" warfare. Though the traditional officer class were at first slow to grasp its potential, it wasn't long before the powerful new weapon made its mark. This study shows how influential the machine gun was in the American Civil War, in creating the European Colonies in Africa, and, above all, in World War I. Beyond this, he shows the equally revolutionary social and moral impact of a weapon that could kill so many, so fast.

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A classic study of the cultural implications of a lethal technology. Reissued with a foreword and an excellent bibliographic essay on automatic weapons by Edward Ezell, it remains provocative and persuasive. * Isis * Arguing that the history of technology is inseparable from social history in general, Mr. Ellis weighs the machine gun's impact on weaponry, warfare, and society. * New York Times *

Synopsis:

On its original publication in 1975 this book was instantly recognised as a classic, an unique and wholly original work that showed how social and economic forces interacted with technological developments to, first, produce, then largely ignore, and finally to deploy with murderous effect, a new and devastating weapon. It was no accident that the pioneering machine-gun makers - Gatling, Maxim, Lewis and Browning - were American: the manufacture of the new weapons relied upon a use of machine tools that was alien to the craft traditions of European gunmaking. What was surprising was that both the European and American military establishment largely ignored the machine gun - to the military elite inventors and industrialists represented an inferior and threatening class whose inventions could well destroy their cherished traditions. The Europeans, however, did accept that machine guns had a role in colonial warfare, which could now be conducted much more economically.

But the fact that the guns proved highly effective in massacring rebellious native populations from Matebeleland to the Sudan was not taken as evidence that it could be effective in a European context - until, of course, 1914, when it became clear that the machine gun had made existing methods of warfare obsolete. The result was a new callousness that led generals and politicians to accept that modern war would require casualties to be counted by the hundred thousand and that morale and individual gallantry counted for very little when automatic fire swept the battlefield. Today, of course, the machine gun - in the form of the automatic assault rifle - is ubiquitous, but its history still has much to teach us about how easy it becomes for people to kill each other en masse when the process is impersonalised and automated.

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