War and Technology

In this lab, you will consider the implications of technology on warfare.

On this page, you will consider the importance of pre-computer technologies in warfare.

Brian, what is this "Explain" text? Are we planning to do something with it? --MF, 9/6/18

Please do not use tables for anything other than tablular data. --MF 12/15/16

Water guns used to look like this: Old water gun
Flickr: Dean Hochman, CC-BY-2.0
squirt gun fight with one person standing on a higher surface Because all the water pressure came directly from your trigger finger, you had to be practically on top of the other person.
S.Tezel, CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0
But in 1982 the Super Soaker was invented. It has a pump that you operate with repeated back-and-forth motions, accumulating a much greater water pressure. Super Soaker 100
The Strong, CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0
Crowd of people having Super Soaker water gun fight This invention totally changed the character of water fights. Now you can hide behind things across the yard from your target, and everyone ends up utterly drenched.
Flickr: John Shedrick, CC-BY-2.0
photo of Lonnie Johnson

Super Soaker inventor Lonnie Johnson is a career engineer whose professional activities are mostly in energy production, especially solid-state batteries and solar panels. His earliest professional work was in the U.S. Air Force, and then at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo mission to Jupiter.

(U.S. Government photo in the public domain, downloaded from Wikimedia.)

Technology affects real wars, too. The outcome of individual battles may be decided by numbers of soldiers, the strategies of generals, and other human factors. But, with rare exceptions, if one side has better technology, they win in the long run. For example, in the Seventh Century, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire was militarily weak until its invention of "Greek fire," a flammable chemical that was fired through hoses or in projectiles, with the special property that it would keep burning in water, so it was valuable in naval battles. This weapon was very important to the survival of the empire, which lasted until the 15th Century.

  1. What happens if you have the latest Super Soaker and your friend can only afford an old-fashioned squirt gun?
  2. See how many important military technologies you can list in two minutes. (Don't neglect defensive technologies such as thick castle walls.)
  3. With a partner, pick one of these examples to research online, then share your results with the class.
    • Why were metal-clad ships important in the (U.S.) Civil War?
    • Why did armies generally have bright-colored uniforms through the 19th Century but dull-colored uniforms after that?
    • How did airplanes change the rules of war for civilians?