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The Social History of the Machine Gun por…
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The Social History of the Machine Gun (edição 1975)

por John Ellis (Autor)

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"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
Membro:SPARLIB
Título:The Social History of the Machine Gun
Autores:John Ellis (Autor)
Informação:New York : Pantheon Books, c1975.
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Etiquetas:Machine Guns General

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The Social History of the Machine Gun por John Ellis

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From the machine gun reading program; compare with Bullets and Bureaucrats, Machine Gun, and Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel. In The Social History of the Machine Gun, author John Ellis has a couple of basic arguments:

1) The machine gun was a tool of imperialists to use against less “civilized” people and of capitalists to use against the proletariat; and
2) European militaries, while accepting the efficiency of the machine gun when used to shoot down African natives never realized it would be equally efficient against European troops, leading to the ghastly carnage of World War One.

Interestingly enough, Ellis points out that once indigenous people, in Africa or elsewhere, got their own machine guns – usually the ubiquitous AK-47 – the colonial powers were defeated. I’ve read an interesting argument (forgive me for not being able to remember where) that bears on that; as long as African natives had an item to trade for European weapons – slaves – imperialists were unable to make any headway against native armies; it was only when the slave trade ended and the natives were left with increasing obsolete and worn-out firearms that colonization took place. I don’t know if I fully buy that but it’s worth investigation.

As far as European military bureaucracy goes, Ellis seems on pretty solid ground. The English and French armies were committed to the infantry charge, with the belief that elan and fighting spirit would overwhelm the enemy and allow the cavalry to break through. It didn’t. The dominance of cavalry on military thinking is emphasized; European observers of the American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese war should have noted that cavalry charges just weren’t effective in the face of rifle fire, but like their horses they had their blinders on.

There seem to be a couple of errors of fact here and there; Ellis gives the impression that the mining town of Ludlow in in West Virginia (it’s in Colorado) and claims that the German army had equipped troops with an automatic rifle in the First World War (I can’t think of anything meeting that description; the closest is some Imperial German Flying Corps observers were briefly equipped with Mexican Mondragón semiautomatic rifles).

Well referenced with endnotes for each chapter, good bibliography, illustrations of machine guns in action. ( )
3 vote setnahkt | Dec 10, 2019 |
If you mention "ultimate weapons" in this day in age you will most likely find yourself in a discussion about nuclear tipped missiles. It is easy to forget that almost every age has had an "ultimate weapon" of some kind - the horse mounted armored knight, the longbow, the fortified castle, the cannon, etc. There was a time between the U.S. Civil War and World War I when the ultimate weapon was the machine gun. How the machine gun affected the ways in which the countries of that time behaved towards one another is the focus of The Social History of the Machine Gun.

That nineteenth century world was largely defined by the imperialist movement in Europe and whenever those imperialist aims were threatened (the Zulu's at Rorke's Drift and later at Ulundi, Rhodesia, Omdurman, Tibet, etc.) a group of soldiers, backed up with machine guns were often sent in to settle the issue. Ellis notes that this mechanization of war was downplayed and almost ignored by those sending the troops into settle a "dispute" but he also notes that contemporary observers of the period recognized this new form of industrialized war for what it was and what it might portend (Belloc's poem The Modern Traveler captures this understanding in a two line couplet - Thank God that we have got, the Maxim gun and they have not).

The book is an excellent overview of the impact of a given technology on world affairs. It provides a concise summary of the rise and fall of the status of the machine gun as an ultimate weapon, it highlights the use of the weapon in numerous 19th and early 20th century confrontations that are almost all but forgotten today, and it illustrates how the failure to acknowledge the mechanization of war in the higher levels of European government contributed to the slaughter in the trenches on the Western Front during World War I. ( )
2 vote alco261 | Oct 10, 2010 |
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The climax of the wars in Egypt and the Sudan came in 1898 when the British government decided to finish the matter once and for all. But by this time their forces had the Maxim gun whose reliability was beyond question, at their disposal. The final showdown of the campaign came at the Battle of Omdurman where the bulk of the Dervish forces repeatedly hurled themselves against the British lines, and were repeatedly beaten back by the deadly small-arms fire. The Maxims were the most deadly component of this massed firepower. A German war correspondent with the British wrote: "The gunners did not get the range at once, but as soon as they found it, the enemy went down in heaps, and it was evident that the six Maxim guns were doing a large share of the work in repelling the Dervish rush." Another eye-witness wrote of the effects of these weapons when he described the battlefield at the end of the day: "It was the last day of Mahdism and the greatest. They could never get near and they refused to hold back...It was not a battle but an execution ... The bodies were not in heaps - bodies hardly ever are; but they spread evenly over acres and acres. Some lay very composedly with their slippers placed under their heads for a last pillow; some knelt, cut short in the middle of a last prayer. Others were torn to pieces..." Because Winston Churchill was a participant in this battle, contemporary mythology has retained nothing of it except the futile charge of the 21st Lancers, in which Churchill took part. But at this time a much more accurate assessment of the significance of Omdurman was made by Sir Edward Arnold. Maxim proudly quotes the following remark in his autobiography: "In most of our wars it has been the dash, the skill, and the bravery of our officers and men that have won the day, but in this case the battle was won by a quiet scientific gentleman living in Kent." When one looks at the casualty figures for Omdurman, 28 British and 20 others killed against 11,000 Dervish dead , one can hardly ascribe to Sir Edward any particularly outstanding powers of analysis.
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