Weapons that had an Influence on the Course of History
Over the centuries, there have been many weapons that have come and gone. Many have been rendered useless after millennia of use by new and more destructive tools of obliteration. While these weapons have all been significant, there have been a few that have shaped history irrevocably. Among these are the longbow, gunpowder, and the nuclear bomb. These weapons of annihilation have wrought history into what it is today and have eternally changed our world.
First was the use of the longbow by the English. Longbows had been around before the English began using them, but never as efficiently as the English from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth century. Most bows in use at the time had short ranges and were almost useless against the French crossbow. With their crossbows, the French defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings. Learning from their mistakes, the English then employed the relatively new longbow. This new weapon had a considerably longer range and displayed the ability to shoot a large number of arrows at a time. The amount of force required to pull the bow was increased to about 100-120 lbs, which required extensive training in shooting the bow and massive strength to actually operate the bow at long range. Experienced archers could manage about 8 to 10 arrows a minute, while masters could handle up to 15, or 20 with a reduction in accuracy. With this firing rate, 5,000 archers could launch 40,000-50,000 arrows a minute, or 700 arrows a second. Infantry and cavalry alike were decimated under the barrage of missiles. With this new weapon, the English routed the French at the Battle of Crecy, where less than 200 British fell and French deaths numbered 5,000-10,000.
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This new strategy was nearly invincible against the crossbows and short bows of the French; their bows had nowhere near the range of the English longbow. No one could get near the English archers without being filled with projectiles from the longbows. However, it was possible for the French to overcome the English. They could have exploited the weariness of the English army by putting to use their superior numbers and mobility to attack from the rear of the flank. While the English eventually lost the war, the longbow aided in the prolongation of the war. Without this potent weapon, the English would have been at a decided disadvantage. The longbow remained a powerful weapon until about the sixteenth century, when two technological advances caused the end of the longbow’s reign: plate armor, and part of our next influential weapon, the gun.
Gunpowder had been around for some time, but had recently become useful in cannons of great power. Immense walls no longer offered protection against siege weapons. Only monarchs could afford cannons and great quantities of handguns, which forced their vassals to obey their every command. Monarchs became very powerful. Castles walls became thick and short as opposed to being tall and thin. Handguns became increasingly popular as they became smaller and more accurate. They were still not as accurate as the harquebus or the matchlock, but they were steadily becoming more accurate. Their inaccuracy hindered their great destructive power, but was made up for by shooting large volleys of bullets from many soldiers. This barrage of bullets was unavoidable and would decimate large quantities of men in little time. Its popularity partly came from the lack of training and skill needed to operate it. Several pistols could now be carried and ready to fire at a moments notice. Cavalry could now be both short and long range, with light cavalry carrying swords or sabers and one or more pistols. They were now effective against both light and heavy infantry. Unfortunately, when dismounted, these reiters, as they were known, became virtually defenseless.
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With their swords, they became swordsman without the traditional partner to the sword, the shield. The pistol’s inferiority to harquebus and matchlock cause them to be ineffective for light infantrymen. The harquebus and matchlock’s superior accuracy had the advantage over pistols. Faced with this disadvantage in accuracy, the reiters would rush the light infantry and cut them down with their swords, as the light infantry was defenseless in short range. Muskets remained in this state until the eighteenth century, when the flintlock was invented. This new mechanism allowed for the firing rate to triple. They also became more accurate as the barrels and balls fit more snugly together. A line of men with matchlocks equipped with socket bayonets completely turned the tables on the cavalry. The muskets had a distinct advantage over the pistols that the cavalry carried, and the bayonets gave them the advantage over the sabers. Instances of cavalry charging bayonet lines caused massive losses of lives. The current strategies of the time, to attack head on with the other army, caused many to be decimated by the barrage of bullets from the opposing side. The culmination of these technologies in the American Civil War with old approaches to war led to death tolls higher than any other war for America. Guns and cannons continued to advance technologically while strategies stayed the same. The gun became the most widely used weapon and is today’s primary hand weapon.
Finally, we come to arguably the most influential and destructive weapon of all time. The nuclear bomb has only been used twice, yet has had the greatest effect on history of any weapon ever. The dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki shocked the world and opened their eyes to the destructive power of nuclear energy. 205 thousand people were killed with many others killed by the nuclear fallout. Many consider the dropping of the bombs a ploy to show the world the superiority of America. A rapid arms race began to acquire nuclear technology in first world countries. This weapon of destruction gives even small countries with small armies the ability to annihilate whole cities with one bomb. Distrust between the Soviet Union and the U.S. gave way to the Cold War that lasted until the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Cold War became a period of uncertainty with the ever-present threat of a bombing looming in everyone’s mind. Fortunately, the Cold War ended with only two major confrontations that were solved without loss of life. With the end of the Cold War, the menace of the nuclear bomb ended.
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In conclusion, there have been many weapons in the course of history, but none so influential as the longbow, gunpowder, and the nuclear bomb. All three of these weapons have changed the course of history irrevocably and shaped the world into what it is today. We would be living a completely different world if not for these weapons.