Songs and poems celebrating the rewards of peace on earth and goodwill towards our ancestral brothers and sisters have been written since caveman times. As one Stone Age man gasped in pain at the wound his neighbor had inflicted on him in anger, a Stone Age woman wept in the shadows over the loss of her child who died in battle as the conflict escalated. While the never-ending saga of war spread to all corners of the planet, more pleas for harmony were penned but, to this day, fighting over religion, land and power rages on all over the world.
Crude clubs of early mankind relied on the strength and aim of the combatants to win a fight. It was likely some guy who wasn’t very beefy who decided to sharpen a stone and transform his club into a spear. Now he could chuck his weapon from afar and then run away to grab another. When he discovered dousing the spearhead in a deadly natural substance made his weapon more lethal, the stakes got higher.
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, when war was still fought by infantries on foot or on a horse, with swords, lances or muzzle-loading muskets. There were cavalry with swords backing up the infantry. And behind the cavalry, bronze cannons firing round, cast iron balls could finally take out many soldiers at once.
From there, weapon development raced on. Success was measured by how much destruction could be achieved in the shortest time frame. But there were weapon milestones along the way that forever changed the world, for better or worse.
Siege warfare, where the military troops used everything from crude hill forts to commanding natural stone citadels to protect the soldiers from enemy fire, were popular, simple to set up and easy to maintain for months at a time. The trebuchet completely transformed the equilibrium of siege warfare. It was far superior to traditional catapults, and instead of spending weeks or sometimes even months to destroy a barricade, the power and accuracy of the mighty trebuchet, coupled with the size of the weapon’s projectiles, got the job done in several days, at most, making it a hallmark in weaponry history.
10. Mark I “Mother” Tank
Leonardo Da Vinci, an Italian polymath, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer, developed the most renowned tank prototype in 1487 but tanks were not used in war battles until World War I. The Mark I “Mother” tank was cloaked in nearly impenetrable, metal armor, had more firepower than several platoons of soldiers, and was equipped with mammoth caterpillar tracks that could navigate almost any terrain from swamps to lakes, mountains, and deep valleys, destroying anything in its path. The British first utilized them to break through heavily armed German trenches. By WWII, tanks made trench warfare an unviable option.
Nothing puts people all over the world in more of a breakneck panic than the imminent threat of biological warfare. Its sinister properties of being invisible and able to silently kill millions of people in a matter of a few hours make it the scariest weapon of all time. But poisoning the enemy is not a new or modern tactic. Back in 585 BC, hellebore was successfully used to defeat the defenders of Kirrha. The enemy secretly poisoned the water with the poisonous plant, rendering the soldiers sick, weak, disoriented and helpless to fight back once they drank it or used it for cooking.
8. Maxim Machine Gun
Although the rapid firing, automatic Gatling gun was invented in the middle of the 19th century, its performance was highly erratic and unreliable. It was better than military combat with knives and swords but often missed its target due to faulty sights on the barrel, misfiring, or backfiring. During WWI, the new and improved Maxim machine gun changed the game of war forever. The gun’s steady spray of ammunition made cavalry immaterial and picked off infantry like bottles on a fence. The Maxim is hailed as the major stepping stone into wholly mechanized warfare and massive loss of lives previously unimaginable.
7. Fokker Airplane
Although aircraft such as zeppelins, hot air balloons and small planes were frequently used to facilitate warfare through an occasional bomb drop on easy, poorly protected targets, covert surveillance, and exploration of enemy territory, up until WWI, most battles were fought at sea by warships utilizing battleships, cruisers and submarines. The Fokker Airplane changed all that. Considered the prima donna of the first surge of military fighter planes, the Fokker’s groundbreaking built-in machine guns could easily fire at the enemy through its propeller blades, leaving them unscathed. Naval warfare was quickly superseded since controlling the skies made sea rule extraneous.
6. Chlorine Gas
Long before the deadly white powder called anthrax became a global threat that could be simply sent through the mail in a letter-size envelope and sicken or kill whoever opened the mail, chlorine gas was developed in part by scientist Fritz Haber, a Nobel Prize winning German scientist who first synthesized Ammonia from Nitrogen and Hydrogen gasses. This achievement spawned more deadly chemicals of war including phosgene, mustard gas and nerve agents. The Geneva Convention found these lethal concoctions so reprehensible, it banned them from use. However, the fear of them being used in the future can’t be extinguished.
5. Predator Drone
Mankind may not be able to evolve enough in our lifetimes to develop alternatives to killing each other in the name of peace and equality. But the powers that be may be willing to significantly reduce physical casualties with drones, which allegedly were never meant to seek out individuals and target them for assassination but rather reduce mortality rates in war. Predator drones are remotely controlled at great distances from their enemy targets and are designed and ideally used to gather intelligence to develop battle strategies. Although they sometimes fire hellfire missiles, these modern arms were originally designed to decimate non-human targets.
Nothing changed the face of wars fought throughout the world more than guns. But the road to a reliable, mass produced gun that could shoot straight, not explode, and be light enough to carry for long periods and aim was long and rough. Harquebus was the first gun able to be fired from the shoulder of a soldier and was first widely used in the battles of the 15th and 16th centuries. The gun’s best feature was that it could pierce armor close up, impossibility in the past, which launched the decline of soldiers counting on their metal suits of armor to protect them.
3. Atomic Bomb
Hands down, the atomic bomb is the most horrific and destructive weapon on the planet. Before its development in the mid 1940s, killing more than a few hundred people at once was unheard of. With only two outings in history, two slightly different versions of the bomb killed an estimated 200,000 people. In retaliation for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Japan was bombed on August 6, 1945, followed by a devastating attack on Nagasaki 3 days later. Those attacks were nearly 70 years ago and even though it hasn’t been used since, it remains a trump card in today’s development of military and political strategies.
2. Bow and Arrow
Even though the lowly bow and arrow is rarely considered a key player in the world of weaponry, this primitive weapon played a major part in a multitude of wars that shaped the countries of the world. Many historical accounts cite bows and arrows as the most prominent battle weapons as far back as 12,000 years, and they were still popular weapons as late as the 16th century. Ancient Egyptians, Huns, Avars, Magyars, and Mongols all relied on the mighty bow and arrow to successfully conquer adversaries all over the world. Today bows and arrows are typically used in sports competitions and game hunting.
1. The Greek Phalanx
Definitely one of the most visually impressive weapons of all time, the Greek Phalanx was actually a team effort of battalions of soldiers, meticulously planned and executed. Greek soldiers in 750 BCE first armed themselves with long spears called Sarissa and each had a shield protecting their bodies from the neck to the knees. The soldiers lined up side by side in tight formation and interlocked their shields to one another to form the Phalanx. Moving in unison, the Phalanx were akin to a human tank, a virtually inexorable armored unit that patiently conquered the Mediterranean through exemplary teamwork, patience and determination.
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