Armies Are Now Obsolete

On March 12, 2011 by admin

The 19 th century history of the Internal Wars of the New Zealanders is fascinating and gruesome. Tens of thousands of Maori died in the intertribal Musket Wars of the opening decades of the 19th century. On a per capita basis the estimated casualty figures for these wars is equivalent to around 200,000 New Zealand deaths in the First World War (instead of the 18,000 lives actually lost). As expected, these events remain shadowy, as if they were almost exclusively the concern of Maori with European participation largely confined to the supply of weapons. Ron Crosby’s The Musket Wars (1999) and Angela Ballara’s Taua (2003) are two significant works that have attempted to shed more light on the causes and consequences of these devastating campaigns. HUG has been looking systematically into the history of these wars and especially tracking the international debates on the very idea of muskets during  the period of 1839-1945. We reproduce two short articles and a letter to the editor from three leading newspapers of New Zealand.


Evening Post, Volume CX, Issue 53, 30 August 1930, Page 24

“Future wars will be fought and decided by civilians, not by soldiers. Present-day armies will be superfluous— useless.” That is the sensational prophecy of Lieut. Colonel Mayer, one of Frances’s leading military experts, expressed in a forthcoming book, advance excerpts of which, appear, in ‘ the Neues Wiener Journal. 

Chemistry, and aircraft will fight future wars, and; both these elements will be directed, chiefly by civilian experts, not by soldiers, asserts the French military expert., Four, thousand aircraft, high explosives, and gas-bombing ,’ planes, will represent a greater offensive arid: destructive power than an army of a million soldiers, according to Lieut.-Colonel Mayer. Organic chemistry has produced more than five thousand different gases, with many new ones being discovered or invented every year, he  says.

The  world conflict swept away the alleged eternal truth and principles of classical, strategy, and at the close of the way, convinced of this, and that Germany would not be able to attack for at least fifteen years, Lieut.-Colonel Mayer’ suggested that the French army be completely demobilised and disbanded for ten years. He was told that his suggestion could not be taken seriously. “Notwithstanding that it is clear that a handful of civilian experts can, with combined gas and air attacks, destroy the largest and best-trained army in the world,” he says.

 In support of this theory, the French military expert cites Napoleon; who wrote during his last year on St. Helena: “Every victory of my troops was the triumph of new ideas. The time will come when neither cannon nor bayonets will be necessary for victory.” He declares that H. G. Wells is right when he says that the wars of the future will be fought by civilians. War operations of to-morrow will be sudden surprise attacks, unexpected in time and place. They will demoralise and intimidate the enemy. Forts, barracks, and present-day armies arc as irrevocably doomed to pass away as were tho bow, arrow and spear at the first shot from a musket.

It is quite natural that the heads of the armies to-day are interested in seeing that no radical change takes place in the present system and order of things, declares Lieut.-Colonel Mayer, adding: “That Governments and General Staffs close their eyes to the truth does not alter the might and power of the facts.”


Colonist, Volume XII, Issue 1222, 11 June 1869, Page 2

Often than once we have noticed the fact, or probable fact, that outside white men, men of our own civilised Caucasian race, have supplied the rebels with ammunition. An incident has occurred in the North which gives conviction to the charge. We learn by the Hawke’s Bay Herald that Ensign Witty, in marching to join the force, found, near Putere, in Napier Province, a keg which had contained powder, with a maker’s name in Boston on it.

American whalers have frequently been suspected of engaging in this disreputable traffic, by means of which cannibal savages are enabled to destroy peaceable and law loving white men. We hope, if there is any possible clue by which to trace the mercenary men who can thus trade in the blood of peaceful settlers, that the Colonial Government will prosecute the search for evidence to the utmost, and appeal to the American Government to take measures to stop such iniquity.  

There is no civilised Government in the world which knows better than the Government of the United States, the evil effects of such doings; for their frontier wars with the Indians are replete with parallels of the Poverty Bay massacres of helpless settlers, and the cruel use of the tomahawk and musket on the bodies of men, women, and children, who, indiscriminately, have been the victims of the savage. It may be difficult to trace the real culprits, but the maker’s name in sanctimonious Boston, may aid the Government of President Grant in discovering the wicked dealers, who thus at once Bets the laws of war and of civilised humanity at defiance. Treat this as a definite lesson to the settlers in New Zealand.

The Musket. To the Editor of the Times.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume VIII, Issue 522, 29 June 1852, Page 3

 Sir, — Every military man will concur in the justice of your remarks on the subjects of the inefficiency of our regulation musket, thank you for making them. But we needed not this miserable “little war” in South Africa to demonstrate the inefficiency of which you so justly complain. “It is necessary, “as you say, ”that our soldiers should hit the enemy with their musketballs,” and that “this one thing they unfortunately -cannot do,” was too often proved in the course of the unhappy war in Afghanistan. The British musket was no match for the Affghan jezail. Even in fair open fight, when the enemy were not sheltered behind their precipitous rocks, the Affghans, untouched by our musketballs, mowed down our fighting men like grass. A notable example of this was furnished by the action (during the Cabul outbreak) on the 23rd of November, 1841, when Brigadier Shelton, with a strong British force, gave the enemy battle at Behmern. A recent writer has thus described the incident, and I think you will consider it worth quoting in exemplification of your excellent remarks: ‘The one gun was nobly worked, and, for a time, with terrible effect told upon the Affghan multitudes, who had only matchlock fire to give back in return.’ But, thus nobly worked, round after round poured in as quickly as the piece could be loaded, it soon became unserviceable. The vent was so heated by the incessant firing, that the gunners were no longer able to serve it.

Ammunition, too, was becoming scarce. What’ would not those resolute artillery have given for another gun? The firing ceased, and the British musketeers were then left to do their work alone. Little could they do at such a time against the far-reaching Affghan matchlocks. The enemy poured a destructive fire into our squares, but the muskets of our infantry could not reach their assailants. The two forces were at a distance from each other which gave all the advantage to the Affghan who shot down our men with ease and laughed at the musketballs, which never reached their position.’![Kayes’ History of the War in Afghanistan], And again, on the same day, says the historian — “The enemy returned to the field recruited by new hordes whom they met emerging from the city; and soon ‘ the swelling multitude poured itself on our battalions. The General had sent out new supplies of ammunition with another limber and horses for the gun; and it was soon again in full operation, playing with murderous effects upon the masses of the enemy. But again the British muskets were found no match for the Affghan jezails. There were truer eyes and steadier hands too in i the ranks of the enemy than in our own, and now with unerring aim the Affghan marksmen mowed down our men like grass.” Cabul is a long way off; and the East India Company paid the expenses of this disastrous war. So it happened that the lessons which it taught (and many were they both military and political) were utterly thrown away. It is to be hoped that the Caffre War will be turned to better account. It is not enough that examples should be furnished. They must be commented upon. The press must play the part of the telescope, and bring distant events beneath the eyes of governing bodies. Modern instances are of little use, if the press is chary of its wise saws,

We shall continue to spend millions of money and to waste thousands of lives on unprofitable wars, if the sacrifice of both in our distant colonies and dependencies be without such an exponent as yourself.

I am, Sir your obedient servant,

An Old Indian Officer.

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