Armed for a Fight
By C. J. Chivers.
Simon & Schuster.
481 pp. $28
The real use of gunpowder, essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote, is “that it makes all men tall.” As far as inventions go, none have had as democratizing an effect as the rifle. While the battlefield before the advent of firearms was marked by a class system as rigid as the one that ruled the larger society—with armored knights on horseback directing the masses (quite literally beneath them)—rifles and muskets meant that a well-trained peasant could as easily kill a nobleman as vice versa.
The development of small arms is one of the most important evolutionary processes in warfare, though it does not receive nearly as much attention as the periodic introduction of larger weapons systems—tanks, submarines, atomic bombs—from both academics and casual students of military history. Following World War II, entire fields of scholarly inquiry were devoted to how nuclear weaponry might affect the behavior of states and shape the world in which we live. Small arms are more or less assumed to occupy a static place on the battlefield, only driving change, if ever, along the margins.
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Andrew Exum is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he grew up in East Tennessee and learned how to shoot with a Winchester Model 68 when he was about 10 years old.more from this author >>