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Knights. In 1350 the heavily armored cavalryman known as the knight still dominated the battlefields of central and western Europe, as he had since the Battle of Hastings (1066). He was identified by his horse, armor, and weapons. Although it was not a violation of the knightly code to fight on foot, to be a true knight was to be on horseback, wear armor, and engage in hand-to-hand combat using couched lance, broadsword, and other shock weapons such as maces. By 1350 the knights had adopted plate armor replacing the chain mail of earlier centuries because of improvements in infantry weapons. It doubled the thirty-pound weight of chain mail and was more than twice as expensive. After 1350, armor was often placed on horses. The increased protection given by plate armor required that the knight’s weapons be made stronger.

Lance. The lance was wooden with a metal point, nine or ten feet in length and held under the armpit in the right hand, which was used to direct the point against a foe. It was fitted with a conical device at the butt end fitted against the user’s body to prevent it from sliding under the arm when it struck the foe. A lance, when properly wielded, combined the weight of man,

horse, and armor to drive its point through shield and armor and into the enemy.

Broadsword and Mace. The broadsword was about three feet long. It had been a one-handed weapon previously, but plate armor required an increase in weight, which made some swords two-handed after 1400. A knight usually carried a dagger and some sort of club such as a mace or a morning star, a ball-like device with sharp points attached to a chain.

Cavalry Tactics. The usual knightly tactic was the frontal charge. The horsemen formed a line and rode toward the enemy with their lances pointed outward, reaching a full gallop some thirty to forty yards before colliding with the foe’s line. They used their lances to try to kill or at least unseat their opponents. If a foe was badly inferior in numbers or morale, allowing his line to be broken, hand-to-hand combat ensued in the melee after the two lines collided, in which swords and clubs were used. The individual combatants were usually identical in equipment, strength, and training. However, after 1350 the cost of the steadily increasing amount of plate armor resulted in the wealthier knights having an advantage in the quality and amount of armor.

Crossbow. For centuries, the knights had held an enormous advantage over ordinary infantry or foot soldiers, who usually lacked no armor and had mediocre weapons, often simply sharpened farm tools. By 1350, however, some infantrymen were carrying weapons that significantly reduced knightly superiority. One was the crossbow, which had been in use for more than two centuries but had reached its final, most powerful form by the period under consideration. A bow was attached at the end of a stock, which had a trough in it where the bolt, usually a foot long with a quadrangular iron head, was placed. A cord was attached to the bow and pulled back to catch on a nut at the opposite end of the stock. When the trigger was pulled, the nut turned and released the cord, which propelled the bolt forward with great force. The strength of the bow had steadily been increased, some being made of steel, so that a mechanical device rather than the hand had to be used to pull the cord back. A bolt from such a crossbow had tremendous impact at a distance of twenty or thirty yards, capable of piercing even plate armor, but it was not accu-rate at a greater range. The principal shortcoming of the crossbow was the length of time it took to get off a second shot, over a minute for the more powerful ones. Charging enemy cavalry would reach the bowmen before they could get off a second shot, so they had to have other fighting men around them to protect them against a charge. The crossbow’s principal advantages were that it was cheap and easy to make and it did not require much training to use effectively. These factors made the crossbow the favorite weapon for urban militiamen, who defended the walls of their cities, where the slow reloading time was far less a problem than it was in the field.

Longbow. The longbow, which was over five feet long (about twelve inches longer than typical bows of the era), appeared later than the crossbow. The Welsh had used it in the course of their long struggle against the English in the thirteenth century. The most powerful type had a draw of up to 150 pounds, and it could kill an unarmored person at a range of 250 yards, although its penetration range for plate armor was far less. Longbowmen, who could be amazingly accurate when competing in contests, did not take the time to aim in battle but depended upon their experience and rate of fire to put a large number of arrows into a small space in a short period of time. A good archer could fire up to ten arrows a minute for several minutes until he tired. A company of archers truly could create a rain of arrows. A longbow required much skill to make, including the ability to identify the right piece of wood, the best being from yew trees. The effective use of the longbow also took years to develop. Only those who had been training since childhood were likely to become capable archers. England and Wales alone had the necessary social structure to encourage commoner boys to become good archers. Attempts to create archer companies on the Continent failed, because they tried to train adult men into longbow users. The longbow in the hands of a skilled English archer remained an effective weapon for a long time after firearms were developed, and the English army did not make the official changeover to muskets until the late sixteenth century.

Pike. A third infantry weapon that significantly reduced the cavalry’s advantage over the infantry was the pike. The pike was a shaft of wood fifteen to twenty feet long with an iron tip. When enemy cavalrymen charged pikemen, the latter placed the butt end of their pikes in the ground and braced them with their right feet. The pike was held at an angle to the ground so that its point would be at a horse’s chest level, placing the point of contact perhaps fifteen feet away from the pikeman. The goal was to have the horse impale itself on the pike as the knight charged, throwing the rider. The pikeman or another infantryman attached to the company then stepped forward with a sword or another weapon to kill the knight floundering on the ground. Against other infantry the pike was held overhand and driven down at an angle into the chest of the foe. An ageold weapon used so effectively by Alexander the Great’s infantry, the pike required highly disciplined soldiers, especially when they had to face armored horsemen charging at them. That kind of discipline had disappeared in the Middle Ages and was only beginning to reappear as of 1350. The Swiss, who established their reputation as the best infantrymen of the late Middle Ages in using the pike, combined it with the halberd, a battle-ax on an eight-foot pole. After a pikeman had knocked a knight to the ground, another infantryman could dispatch him with a powerful swing of the halberd.

Gunpowder. The late Middle Ages are known in military history primarily as the era of the development of gun-powder weapons. Gunpowder is a Chinese invention that dates to before 1000 C.E. Gunpowder weapons were in widespread use in China by 1280. They apparently had the three essential elements of true gunpowder weapons: a metal barrel, an explosive substance such as black powder, and a projectile that filled the barrel in order to take full advantage of the propellant blast. The consensus among historians is that the Mongols carried gunpowder westward from China in the thirteenth century, but there is no agreement whether gunpowder weapons also came to Europe with the powder.

Early European Use. The first European mention of gunpowder has been dated to 1267. A reference to the making of gunpowder artillery found in a 1326 document from Florence is widely accepted as the first reliable mention, but an illustrated English manuscript from the next year provides more information. It shows a large potbellied vessel lying on its side on a table with a bolt projecting from its mouth, which is aimed at the gate of a walled place. Behind the device stands an armored man with a heated poker, which he is about to put to its touchhole. As the illustration reveals, these early gunpowder weapons were largely associated with sieges. The first definitive mention of them in action came from a siege in 1340.

Handcannon and Bombards. In field warfare these early gunpowder weapons lacked the technical quality to allow them to compete effectively with the other weapons in use. The weight, unreliability, inaccuracy, and slow rate of fire made early gunpowder firearms, called handcannon, inferior to traditional weapons until the early fifteenth century. In sieges, however, these defects were far less a problem, and early cannon soon became an effective weapon for attacking fortified places. The flat trajectory of the cannon-ball meant that the projectile would strike low against the high walls of medieval fortifications and open a breach. The first known instance of gunpowder artillery bringing a siege to a successful end occurred in 1371. Soon the size of gunpowder artillery increased greatly. Bombards, so called because the stone balls they used buzzed like bumblebees when fired, were short-barreled with large muzzles and could reach up to twenty tons in weight. At the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks used a bombard that fired a one-thousand-pound cannonball. Nevertheless, bombards were extremely difficult to move, and the amount of gunpowder they required was expensive and difficult to find.

Handguns. Several innovations were necessary before the first effective handguns could be developed. Corned powder, which provided greater explosive power than earlier serpentine powder, appeared about 1420. Corned powder produced higher muzzle velocities, which meant that it could fire balls that were capable of penetrating the plate armor of knights. Higher muzzle velocity, however, required a longer barrel than the handcannon had. By 1450 gunsmiths had found the right compromise between ballistic performance and weight for handcannon by fitting them with barrels about forty inches in length. The first known illustration of a long-barreled firearm shows it being used for duck hunting. Another innovation that was necessary to create an effective firearm was the match—a piece of string soaked in saltpeter that burned slowly but hot enough to touch off gunpowder. The match was developed around 1420 and replaced the clumsy and unreliable burning stick. The match, however, created the same problem for its users as did the burning stick: It had to be held in a hand and touched down into the chamber to fire the powder. That meant only one hand could be used to hold the weapon, which was butted up against the chest, not the shoulder. Too large a charge of powder could result in a broken breastbone. The solution was the matchlock.

Matchlock. As it evolved in Germany, the matchlock brought together springs, a trigger, and a clamp for holding a smoldering match so that when the trigger was pulled, its burning tip was thrust into the powder and touched it off. After the shoulder stock, borrowed from the crossbow, was added to reduce the impact of the recoil from the greater muzzle velocity, the firearm was made up of the proverbial lock, stock, and barrel.

Flash in the Pan. Another innovation was the pan. The users of the matchlock device found that the match often failed to touch off the powder if the powder was too coarse, yet the use of fine powder to fire the ball created too much recoil. The problem was solved by placing a small pan

behind the chamber of the barrel into which fine powder was placed, while coarse powder was put in the chamber. The match touched off the fine powder in the pan, blowing flame through a small hole into the chamber, igniting the coarser powder there, and firing off the ball. Often, however, the powder in the pan ignited without touching off the powder in the chamber, leading to another proverbial saying: “A flash in the pan.”

Arquebus. The arquebus, as the first matchlock firearm was called, was developed by 1460, but its impact on the battlefield was slow to appear. As a smoothbore weapon it was inherently inaccurate. As the ball tumbles down a smoothbore barrel, what spin it has as it leaves the muzzle is imparted by the last point on the barrel it touches. The user has no idea of what direction the spin will cause the ball to take. Balls fired from smoothbore weapons will never follow the same trajectory. Consequently, the arquebus was accurate for only a short distance, before the uncontrolled spin took over. The impact of the ball on the foe, even an armored cavalryman, was deadly at close range, but that advantage was largely negated by the long time it took to reload an arquebus. If the arquebusier missed a charging foe with his first shot or if he had a misfire, common with the arquebus, the enemy would reach him before he could reload. Before the seventeenth-century invention of the paper cartridge that combined a ball and measured amount of powder, reloading an arquebus under the best conditions took over a minute. In the confusion and disorder of a battlefield, especially with knights with their lances and swords bearing down, it is easy to see why many arquebusiers never reloaded and fired a second time. Compared to longbows, the early arquebus performed poorly in respect to reliability, rate of fire, and accuracy, but it was competitive with the crossbow. The arquebus found its first niche as a siege weapon, where it replaced the crossbow as the favored weapon for urban militiamen. They did not require much training to learn to use effectively on walls, and although they were more expensive than crossbows, the artisans and merchants who comprised the urban militia could afford them.

Advancements. While the arquebus first served as a useful weapon for defending fortifications, improvements in gunpowder artillery quickly overwhelmed what advantage it gave the defenses. Because late medieval iron casting produced a poor product, barrels made of cast iron frequently burst, killing the gun crews. Better quality pieces were made through forging iron rods formed into circles, which were banded by hot metal hoops that tightened down as they cooled. These hooped bombards were the weapons first associated with the name cannon, which came from a Latin word for tube. Small cannon often were equipped with breech pans, which were loaded in advance and set in the piece for firing in rapid succession.

Bronze Cannon. Another solution to the poor quality of cast iron pieces was the use of bronze. Europeans were familiar with casting bronze bells, and the technology was easily transferred to making weapons. Using bronze allowed the gunmakers to manufacture long-barreled pieces with small muzzles, called culverins from a French word for serpent, which were capable of using iron or lead balls.

Cannon Shot. Metal balls caused far more damage to the masonry of a fortification than did the stone balls, which often splintered when they hit their target, reducing their impact. Cannon shot remained solid until the nineteenth century because of the lack until then of a reliable fuse to explode shells packed with explosives.

French Innovations. The French led in developing high quality culverins along with the gun carriage with the high wheels and long tail that defined artillery pieces until the nineteenth century. The culverins had loops cast on to the barrels by which they were attached to the gun carriage. The guns could be freely swung up or down, allowing for their proper elevation to provide the right trajectory for the ball. The gunners used a device called the gunner’s quadrant to determine the correct elevation. Using an artillery train of some eighty bronze culverins on mobile carriages, French king Charles VIII had great success in reducing Italian fortifications during the initial phase of the French invasions of Italy (1494-1525). In the Battle of Fornovo (1495) the French artillery also played a significant role as an effective field weapon against the forces of the League of Venice.

Spanish Square. During the wars in Italy after 1494, field armies also began to include handgunners with arquebuses. The slow rate of fire, however, continued to retard their use, until the Spanish fighting the French for control of Italy developed a combination of pikemen and arquebusiers in which they provided mutual support for each other. Called the Spanish Square, it remained the dominant infantry system until the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Using the arquebus as a field weapon resulted in a reduction in its weight to make it easier for the handgunner to carry, but it then fired a lighter ball that reduced its ability to penetrate armor. A heavier weapon, called the Spanish musket, appeared about 1520 and used a larger ball. It was so heavy that soldiers often dropped the barrel down before they fired, hitting the ground in front of the enemy. The solution was the introduction of the fork on which the end of the barrel rested. Although putting the fork in place added another step to the process of reloading, it improved accuracy enough that the fork became used for the arquebus as well. By the end of the sixteenth century the differences between the two weapons had disappeared, and any firearm was called a musket.

Drilling. During the Dutch Revolt against Spain (1565-1648), the Dutch commander Maurice of Nassau made his musketmen more effective by extensive drilling, which had great success in improving their rate of fire. He broke down the process of loading and firing a matchlock firearm into forty-two steps; each step had a word of command shouted by the sergeant. Drill books showing the steps and providing the words of command spread across Europe, resulting in a significant increase in the effectiveness of firearms in battle.

Pistol. Another new weapon that also was developed by 1520 was the pistol. The first datable illustration of the wheel-lock mechanism used for it appeared in a German manuscript of 1505. The wheel-lock mechanism involved pieces of iron pyrite placed on a small wheel that was attached to a spring. When it was cocked and the trigger pulled, the spring spun the pyrite against steel, dropping sparks into the gunpowder in the pan. It was a delicate device, yet it still had to be sturdy enough to be used in the field. The wheel-lock pistol was far more expensive to make than the arquebus, and its expense restricted its use to those who could afford it—the nobles. The pistol was well out of the price range of the common soldier, for whom the arquebus was better anyway, being more reliable and firing a larger ball more accurately. For cavalrymen, the absence of the glowing match, which frightened their horses, was an important advantage. Earlier armies had mounted handgunners, but they were ineffective from horseback, so they usually dismounted to fire. The arquebus required two hands to use, whereas the pistol left one hand free for the reins. By allowing the pistol-carrying cavalryman to ride a smaller and cheaper horse and wear less armor, the several pistols a pistoleer carried reduced the financial burden on the users.

Battlefield Use. With a loaded pistol in his right hand and others in his boots and saddles, a pistoleer would approach his foe and fire his pistols at close range, around ten yards. This distance put him just short of the point of an infantryman’s pike or a cavalryman’s lance. He would fire as he wheeled about to the left, return to the rear of his company, and wait his turn to come forward again. A smoothbore pistol fired off a moving horse is an inaccurate weapon, but at close range it hit its target often enough and generated enough muzzle velocity to penetrate armor. The first mention of pistols on the battlefield dates to 1544 during the war between Charles V and the French.

The speed of the pistoliers was a major factor in their use; they were especially good for pursuing a fleeing enemy. During the French Wars of Religion (1561-1598), pistoleers came to make up most of the French mounted troops, and the knights disappeared.

Naval Changes. Gunpowder weapons also dramatically changed the nature of war at sea. In the fifteenth century, cannon and firearms began to replace catapults and bows on board ship. Combining improvements in sails, ship design, navigation, and the placement of cannon on the decks, the Portuguese were the first to develop a ship that was capable of making voyages across the oceans and effectively defend itself. Around 1500 the French came up with gun ports, which placed the heavy guns on a ship’s lower decks and increased its stability. By 1540 the Spanish were using the galleon to protect its treasure ships returning from the newly conquered Americas. With as many as forty heavy guns firing through gun ports and soldiers with firearms posted on high castles built on the main deck, the galleon was capable of projecting naval power a long distance from its home waters. English pirates adopted the galleon to prey on Spanish shipping, but they found that the high castles reduced their speed and maneuverability, crucial elements for a successful pirate. They cut down the castle and created the “race-built galleon.” The pirates also preferred not to close with a well-defended Spanish treasure ship and fight handto-hand on its decks to seize control of it, but to stand off and fire cannon at it, raking it with broadsides from their medium-weight cannon, until they forced it to stop and surrender. By the time of the voyage of the Spanish Armada (1588), the essential elements of the standard warship as it would last until the nineteenth century were in place.


Larry H. Addington, The Patterns of War through the Eighteenth Century (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990).

Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

Jaroslav Lugs, Firearms Past and Present: A Complete Review of Firearm Systems and Their Histories, 2 volumes (London: Grenville, 1973).

Richard A. Preston, and others, Men in Arms: A History of Warfare and Its Interrelationships with Western Society (Fort Worth, Tex.: Holt, 1991).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Weapon development was fast and furious in the nineteenth century, resulting in technological innovations that would profoundly shape the cultural, social, and political growth of the rapidly expanding nation. In nineteenth-century American literature, weapons were often mirrors of the subject and could be seen as a badge of both an individual's character and social status. In his ambitious The Winning of the West (1894), Teddy Roosevelt credits firearms with part of the formation of the national character. The Colt revolver and bowie knife became almost synonymous with American ingenuity, rugged individualism, and masculine power, while military innovations such as the Gatling gun set the stage for even greater social and political upheaval in the coming century as weapons began to outstrip their users' ability to imagine warfare.


Samuel Colt designed the first repeater that used a rotating cylinder with a fixed barrel; it was immediately popular, especially among the Texas Rangers on the western frontier. Although powerful, it was unwieldy, and a smaller version was designed and issued to dragoon regiments. It was this type of revolver that Hank Morgan, himself a Colt employee, carries in Mark Twain's (1835–1910) A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). It is through the combined effects of Yankee ingenuity and gumption that five hundred knights are bested by only one man with two revolvers, and Twain's commentary on the value of firepower to civilization is obvious, if not also a little ambivalent. In a later chapter titled "The Battle of the Sand-Belt," his protagonist uses gunpowder and electricity to ward off the entirety of English nobility and assume control of the entire nation, once again illustrating the power of Yankee ingenuity and technology to win battles. The macabre scene in the aftermath of this battle almost prefigures the coming devastation of the First World War.

But weapons represent more than the technological advantage of civilization and often symbolize regional or individualistic identifiers within a text. In Roughing It (1872), Twain comments on the ubiquity of weapons on the frontier to offer his readers a sense of moving into a different world, one in which virtually everyone, including women, carries arms. As he prepares for his journey from the frontier of Missouri into the wilds of Nevada Territory, he and all his fellows aboard the stage are dressed for a rough journey into a wild land. The "heavy suit of clothing" necessarily includes armament, and Twain chronicles the firearms of each in turn. He carries "a pitiful little Smith and Wesson's seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homoeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult" (p. 543). His brother has a "small-sized Colt's revolver" to use against the Indians, and "to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped" (pp. 543–544). This is particularly ironic when one considers that such pieces were not quickly capped, and such carry, while safe, would be almost as useless as if it were entirely unloaded. This small detail hints at his brother's social position as a frontiersman; he is savvy enough to own a sufficiently powerful gun but remains relatively unschooled in its tactical use. Another fellow traveler carries an "old original 'Allen' revolver, such as irreverent people called a 'pepper-box'" (p. 544).

In these pages Twain spends much time detailing the armament of the travelers as a mode of dress, signaling one's firearm as not simply a necessary tool in a wild land but also as a mark of social status. His brother carries the best and most expensive pistol of the bunch, whereas Mr. Bemis carries an old and outdated model.

Another important function of guns in literature, especially the literature of the West, is as a symbol of masculine authority and power. As many critics have remarked, the genre western is particularly masculine, and in it a man's weapons operate as his ethos and are explicitly gendered—in a genre western one would not frequently encounter a woman firing a gun for sport, as Twain does in Roughing It. Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) set the benchmark for the genre, conflating violence, particularly gun violence, with masculine authority and privilege and setting it in contrast to feminine domesticity and civilized behavior. Critics such as Peter French, Richard Slotkin, and Jane Tompkins have noted the gender conflict in westerns. In Cowboy Metaphysics (1997), French suggests that women see "the gun as a phallic symbol, a powerful and deadly icon of the masculine" (p. 16). This gendered understanding of weapons and the conflict it creates is perhaps best exemplified in Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), in which the main female protagonist, Jane Withersteen, spends much of the novel trying to persuade Lassiter to surrender his guns and seek a peaceful solution to the conflict in the valley. When he finally does offer them to her, she has recognized the impotence of civilized negotiations and refuses to allow him to disarm. In the frontier world Grey (1872–1939) creates, a man simply is not a man if he cannot fight.

The roles of firearms as both protectors and predators are given a different twist in "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" (1898) by Stephen Crane (1871–1900). In this story, a small town is beset with the drunken raging of Scratchy Wilson, who is "a perfect wonder" with his six-guns (p. 388). Scratchy goes on regular binges, and when he is in his cups he is the terror of the town. Those in the local watering hole can only bar the door and wait for Sheriff Jack Potter to intercept Scratchy, but in this instance Potter is gone. The saloon customers have no one to rely upon except the bartender, who carries a Winchester as added insurance against Wilson's entry. When Sheriff Jack Potter returns from his wedding in San Antonio with a wife in tow, Scratchy is eager for a fight. But Sheriff Potter is unarmed and unprepared to return fire, so the entire scenario is defused when Scratchy simply calls it off.

A man of the gun receives justice from unexpected quarters in Frank Norris's "The Passing of Cock-Eye Blacklock" (1902). Cock-Eye Blacklock is a rogue gambler and shooter who seems to have a habit of getting into shootings that place him just on the right side of the law, such as a dispute with a young tenderfoot who draws a meager .22 on him. The boy's "parlour ornament" explodes in his hand, leaving Blacklock to fire his pistols and leisurely kill the boy, then claim self defense in the eyes of the law. Blacklock finally gets his comeuppance while "shooting" fish with dynamite in the company of a stray dog named Sloppy Weather, whose habit of fetching sticks thrown into the creeks proves to be the downfall of them both.

A gun is used suicidally in Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" (1919). Cory represents "a gentleman from sole to crown" (p. 1106) and is the person everyone else in this fictional community aspires to be until "one calm summer night / [he] went home and put a bullet through his head" (p. 1107).

Frederic Remington (1861–1909) traveled widely throughout the West and Southwest. He not only submitted his drawings for publication but also wrote articles about his exploits that appeared in periodicals such as Harper's Weekly and Collier's. Guns quite naturally appear frequently among the accoutrements of his subjects and are periodically the subject of considerable interest. In "Sioux Outbreak in South Dakota" (1891), Remington interviews soldiers after the massacre at Wounded Knee and details the injuries, attitudes, and exposition of the events. An unnamed officer reports with evident admiration that "the way those Sioux worked those Winchesters was beautiful" (p. 67). Another concedes the valiance of their foes while tapping his own Winchester appreciatively. An armed encounter with the Sioux also plays a role in Remington's novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone (1902). In "Squadron A's Games" (1896), he shares with readers the competitive drills the cavalry uses to hone its combative skills. The most challenging is "tent pegging," in which a tent peg is placed in the dirt and troopers ride at it full tilt, attempting to dislodge it was their sabers. A shotgun plays a central role in "A Shotgun Episode" (1900). A Captain Jack recalls an incident in which he used a sporting arm to secure the arrest of Chief Winnemucca. But Remington did not spend all his time with the military, and in "Winter Shooting on the Gulf Coast of Florida" (1895), he recommends the sporting use of the twelve bore for quail and jack-snipe.

In The Six-Gun Mystique (1984), John Cawelti remarks that "knives and clubs suggest a more aggressive uncontrolled kind of violence which seems instinctively wrong for the character of the cowboy hero" (p. 88). The knife was not nearly as widely favored in literature as the pistol, but it has made regular appearances.


The bowie knife is closely allied to the character of Injun Joe in Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), which maintains the integrity of Cawelti's thesis. The big knife represents Injun Joe's threat to Tom and Huck, and in the final scene, in which Injun Joe has died of starvation in the cave, his broken bowie stands in mute testimony to his desperate, violent attempts to free himself of his captivity and finally even to survive. The bowie for Twain represents the savagism of the mixed-breed character and his unsuitability in a modern, civilized society.

The knife was one of the stereotypical weapons of the professional gambler, as seen in Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel" (1898). In this story, the strange Swede begins the tale inexcusably paranoid of those around him and only becomes more and more volatile and caustic to his fellows as the story progresses. It is a tale of violent escalation that ends finally with the Swede accosting and being stabbed to death by the gambler.


Richard Jordan Gatling designed the first machine gun in 1862 but could not generate wide interest in his "army in six feet square" until well after the Civil War (Ellis, p. 25). In the following century, the machine gun was to become one of the quintessential symbols of the modern era; its inventors and owners advertised the gun's potential to stop conflicts early and decisively and advised armies and legislatures about the gun's cost-effectiveness as an economical method of warfare. But both angles focus on the machine gun's unique ability to replace people with a machine. This common denominator, it was hoped, would allow men to rise above their former limitations, yet it frequently only exacerbated the horrors of war by increasing, and further dehumanizing, the scale on which warfare became possible.

With the advent of the mechanized battlefield, the terrible machines of killing appear to have usurped the daring masculinity of the soldiers who wield them. Friedman notes that "military gear . . . often did the opposite of the expected: it unmanned and emasculated" (p. 166). It would not be until World War I that all the implications of this type of warfare would be fully realized, but even before then authors such as Stephen Crane, who was a war correspondent in the Spanish-American War and most famously wrote The Red Badge of Courage (1895), were already formulating a commentary on the effects of mass warfare in the individual soul. Mark Twain joined the commentary in his The Mysterious Stranger (1916). This novella is set in Austria during 1590 and features Satan, who calls himself the nephew of the famed fallen angel. He foretells a future in which "all the competent killers are Christians" (p. 371), and he shows Theodor Fischer and his friend Seppi the "mighty procession" of armies through the centuries, the "raging, struggling, wallowing through seas of blood, smothered in battle-smoke through which the flags glinted and the red jets from the cannon darted; and always [there was] the thunder of the guns and the cries of the dying" (p. 371). In this, one of the last works of Twain, which was published posthumously, he seems to fully anticipate the horrors of the world wars that were just around the corner.

See alsoPhilippine-American War; Science and Technology; Spanish-American War; Violence; The Western; World War I


Primary Works

Crane, Stephen. The Complete Short Stories and Sketches of Stephen Crane. Edited by Thomas A. Gullason. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963.

Norris, Frank. A Deal in Wheat: And Other Stories of the New and Old West. New York: Doubleday, 1903.

Remington, Frederic. "John Ermine of the Yellowstone." In The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington, edited by Harold Samuels and Peggy Samuels. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.

Remington, Frederic. "A Shotgun Episode." In The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington, edited by Harold Samuels and Peggy Samuels. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.

Remington, Frederic. "Sioux Outbreak in South Dakota." In The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington, edited by Harold Samuels and Peggy Samuels. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.

Remington, Frederic. "Squadron A's Games." In The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington, edited by Harold Samuels and Peggy Samuels. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.

Robinson, Edwin Arlington. "Richard Cory." In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, vol. D, 6th ed., edited by Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2003.

Twain, Mark. The Mysterious Stranger. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

Twain, Mark. "Roughing It" and "The Innocents Abroad." New York: Library of America, 1984.

Secondary Works

Cawelti, John G. The Six-Gun Mystique. 2nd ed. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984.

Ellis, John. The Social History of the Machine Gun. London: Croom Helm, 1975.

French, Peter A. Cowboy Metaphysics: Ethics and Death in Westerns. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997.

Friedman, Alan Warren. Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Virgil Mathes

Weapons Industry

views updated May 17 2018

Weapons Industry




The fusion of militarism and industrialism was made possible by the Industrial Revolution. In the early industrializing nations of Europe and North America, military leaders harnessed new sources of energy to facilitate transportation (e.g., steam-powered trains and ships) and new means of communication (e.g., the telegraph). This did not require a distinctly militarized industrial sector, only the ability to commandeer commercial goods to feed, clothe, and transport significantly larger military forces. Industrialism also gave rise to the invention of uniquely military end-items and the emergence of large industrial concerns, including defense firms and state-owned armories and shipyards, to produce them. In the twentieth century, this refinement of military goods would give rise to defense firms and the military-industrial complexes (van Creveld 1989).

The fusion of industrialism and militarism facilitated colonialism and conquest. European empires expanded dramatically in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and settler nations such as the United States, Australia, and South Africa completed the conquest of entire continents. Even as they conquered and displaced indigenous peoples, nations such as the United States did not become warrior societies. Rather, based on technological advantages afforded by industrialism, European powers and settler nations enjoyed distinct military advantages, often against much larger military forces. To compete on the international stage, military and political leaders in Germany, Japan, and Russia induced industrial development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These top-down industrialization programs, driven by military priorities, were among the least democratic totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.

During World Wars I (19141918) and II (1939 1945), the industrial capacity of leading economic powers was harnessed to perpetrate an unprecedented slaughter of soldiers and civilians. This industrialization of warfare transformed the battlefield and military organization. Equally important was the social transformation. The mass industrial wars of the twentieth century demanded total mobilization of the armed forces and the economy. In the United States, the iconic Rosie the Riveter called attention to the large number of women contributing to the war effort during World War II, many of whom had not previously worked outside the home. A similar trend unfolded among the industrialized nations fighting industrialized wars. Although the World War II mobilization temporarily redefined the roles of men and women in factories and offices, gender segregation persisted during the war and was reasserted at the wars end (on the U.S. case, see Milkman 1987). These mass industrial wars also transformed the risks and casualties among civilians. Improved record keeping and social control allowed states to identify, transport, incarcerate, and in some cases, slaughter millions of civilians (the Holocaust being a spectacular example). For these wars, industrial targets in densely populated areas became prominent targets. World War II was especially lethal (Kolko 1994): Large portions of London and several Soviet cities were decimated by German attacks; Dresden and Tokyo were consumed in firestorms and Berlin reduced to rubble; and two Japanese cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) were destroyed by atomic bombs.


In the course of the cold war (19481989), the United States and the Soviet Union built and maintained large weapons industries. The sustained fusion of industrialism and militarism in the postwar United States prompted President Eisenhower to warn the nation and the world about the dangers of the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower 1961). As Eisenhower had warned, the weapons industry distorted technological development and diverted scarce human and physical resources.

During the cold war, a wall of separation grew between the defense and civilian sectors of the economy (Markusen and Yudken 1992). Defense-oriented firms and diversified corporations that garnered defense contracts were among the fastest growing and most profitable firms. For the Soviet Union, overinvestment in the military was exacerbated by the war in Afghanistan and costly military and diplomatic commitments around the globe. These chronic fiscal strains contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Unionand with this collapse a dramatic reduction in the size and the scope of the military-industrial complex in successor states. In the twenty-first century, the U.S. arsenal is increasingly reliant on state-of-the-art science and technology. In addition to nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons are also produced through sophisticated scientific processes. Even conventional forces are being transformed by new sensing, computing, and communication devices being assembled to create an electronic battlefield. Space may become militarized as well. If satellites capable of destroying moving missiles or stationary targets are deployed, highly automated weapons far removed from earth would be at the center of the war and would pose the greatest threat to human life.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war raised hopes that the military-industrial complex would be dismantled. In the early 1990s, global military expenditures and arms sales fell as expected. But a resurgence in military spending began in the late 1990s, with the nations of the Middle East figuring prominently. The United States has also increased defense spending since the mid-1990s, to $475 billion in 2005 ($30 billion higher than in 1988). In 2005, the United States accounted for 48 percent of all military spending in the world, an unprecedented level of concentration (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2006a).

The resurgence of the military-industrial complex goes beyond the spike in arms production and sales. The changing organizational structure of the military-industrial complex is an equally importantperhaps more importantaspect of this resurgence. When defense spending declined in the 1990s, leading defense firms did not beat swords into ploughshares. They redoubled efforts in the shrinking defense market. A round of mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations occurred: The number of firms declined because of these mergers, and the surviving firms were much larger (see Markusen and Costigan 1999). Whereas the top five firms accounted for 22 percent of the worlds arms sales in 1990, their share doubled (44%) by 2003. With the top five firms accounting for most of the increase, the top twenty firms commanded 57 percent in 1990, and their share of arm sales jumped to 74 percent by 2003 (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2006b). Not only are arms sales concentrated in fewer firms, but these firms are concentrated in the United States and a handful of nations.

The increased privatization of national security is also a cause for concern. Private firms have provided construction, logistics support, and so forth to military organizations for centuries. But the growth in the size and range of activities has been notable. The concentration of arms sales in a handful of enormous transnational corporations also concentrates scientific and technical expertise. Governments are growing reliant on corporations (often distant corporations) to plan and coordinate essential national security functions. In addition, corporate mercenaries have played a direct role in toppling governments and in the prisoner abuse committed by the United States during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Isenberg 2004). These mercenaries and the corporations employing them rarely face criminal charges. They not only operate with impunity but also shield the government employing them from democratic scrutiny. In a world in which five firms control more than 40 percent of all arms sales and the top twenty firms account for nearly 75 percent, many governments have lost a measure of control over defense policies. The increased reliance on mercenaries further reduces democratic control and oversight.

Citizens forced to make sacrifices, serve in mass armies, and experience directly the horror of war often question the necessity of fighting. But citizens insulated from the horrors of war often cheer on technological marvels that kill thousands of people and destroy distant cities. Citizens of powerful nations often fail to empathize with the suffering caused by the highly scientific and distant slaughter perpetrated in their name. This callousness is reinforced by the role of major arms-producing corporations. These corporations sell military goods and defense planning to governments around the globe; they also supply mercenaries to fight on the battlefield and interrogate prisoners. By ceding so much control to the insulated corporations of the weapons industry, governments are more distant from their own people and contribute to removing military policies from public scrutiny and democratic oversight. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, our challenge is to restore democratic oversight in a realm dominated by enormous corporations and government bureaucracies.

SEE ALSO Cold War; Deterrence, Mutual; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Holocaust, The; Industrialization; Industry; Militarism; Military; Military Regimes; Military-Industrial Complex; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; War; Weaponry, Nuclear; Weapons of Mass Destruction


Eisenhower, Dwight. [1961] 1992. President Eisenhowers Farewell Address to the Nation. In The Military-Industrial Complex: Eisenhowers Warning Three Decades Later, eds. Gregg Walker, David Bella, and Steven Sprecher, 361368. New York: Peter Lang.

Hooks, Gregory. 1991. Forging the Military-Industrial Complex: World War IIs Battle of the Potomac. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Isenberg, David. 2004. Profit Comes with a Price. Asia Times On-line, May 19. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FE19Ak01.html

Kolko, Gabriel. 1994. Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society Since 1914. New York: New Press.

Markusen, Ann, and Sean Costigan, eds. 1999. Arming the Future: A Defense Industry for the 21st Century. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Markusen, Ann, and Joel Yudken. 1992. Dismantling the Cold War Economy. New York: Basic Books.

Milkman, Ruth. 1987. Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex During World War II. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 2006a. SIPRI Yearbook 2006: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 2006b. Concentration Ratios. http://www.sipri.org/contents/milap/milex/aprod/concentration_ratios.html.

Van Creveld, Martin. 1989. Technology and War: From 2000 b.c. to the Present. New York: Free Press.

Gregory Hooks


views updated May 17 2018


A comprehensive term for all instruments of offensive or defensive combat, including items used in injuring a person.

The term weapons includes numerous items that can cause death or injury, including firearms, explosives, chemicals, and nuclear material. Because weapons pose a danger to the safety and well-being of individuals and communities, federal, state, and local statutes regulate the possession and use of weapons.

A dangerous or deadly weapon is one that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm. A handgun, a hand grenade, or a long knife are examples of deadly weapons. A weapon capable of causing death is, however, not necessarily a weapon likely to produce death. For example, an ordinary penknife is capable of causing death, but it is not considered a deadly weapon.

The regulation of firearms in the United States has proved controversial. Opponents of gun control argue that the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes the right to bear arms an inherent and inalienable right. Nevertheless, federal and state laws regulate who may own firearms and impose other conditions on their use. The passage in 1993 of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 921 et seq.) was the first major federal gun control law. The Brady Act bars felons and selected others from buying handguns, establishes a five-day waiting period for purchase, requires the local police to run background checks on handgun buyers, and mandates the development of a federal computer database for instant background checks.

The 1994 federal crime bill addressed deadly weapons used by criminals. The law (108 Stat. 1796) banned nineteen assault-type firearms and other firearms with similar characteristics. It limited the magazine capacity of guns and rifles to ten rounds, but exempted firearms, guns, and magazines that were legally owned when the law went into effect.

The deadliness of chemical explosives was demonstrated by the April 1995 bombing of the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In response, Congress passed the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. (P.L. 104-132). The act increases the penalties for conspiracies involving explosives and for the possession of nuclear materials, criminalizes the use of chemical weapons, and requires plastic explosives to contain "tagging" elements in the explosive materials for detection and identification purposes.

Unless proscribed by statute, possessing or carrying a weapon is not a crime, nor does it constitute a breach of the peace. However, most states make it a crime to carry a prohibited or concealed weapon. The term concealed means hidden, screened, or covered. The usual test for determining whether a weapon is concealed is whether the weapon is hidden from the general view of individuals who are in full view of the accused and close enough to see the weapon if it were not hidden. If the surface of a weapon is covered, the fact that its outline is distinguishable and recognizable as a weapon does not prevent it from being illegally concealed. In addition, most states have enacted laws mandating longer prison terms if a firearm was used in the commission of the crime.

Law enforcement officers who must carry weapons in order to perform their official duties ordinarily are exempted from statutes governing weapons. Private citizens may apply to the local police department for a permit to carry a firearm. Permits are generally granted if the person carries large sums of money or valuables in his or her business, or can demonstrate a particular need for personal protection.


Deadly Force; Self-Defense.


views updated May 18 2018



Athens v. Sparta . In his speech to the Athenians commemorating the dead who had fallen in the first year of the Second Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.e.), Pericles contrasted the Athenians with the Spartans, whose courage, he said, resulted from their “laborious training.” Pericles passed over the fact that his own strategy dictated that the Athenians should avoid set battles with the Spartans, whom he considered to be nearly invincible. Nevertheless, the equipment that the two armies brought to the fight was similar, and quite costly, so that only those of comparatively high economic status could fight as hoplite infantry. These soldiers dominated the fighting, and thus also the politics, of the Greek world until the fourth century.

Hoplites . The hoplite wore a helmet, breastplate, greaves, and sometimes arm guards. Each hoplite fought with his shield overlapping that of his neighbor’s in the phalanx, a large rectangular formation. The shield, about thirty inches in diameter, was held on the left arm by one strap around the upper forearm and the other, at the rim, held in the left hand. In his right hand the hoplite carried a spear, eight to ten feet long. It was used not for throwing but for thrusting at the enemy phalanx. The hoplite also had a short sword. The helmet,

breastplate, greaves, and shield were generally made of bronze, or with leather and wood covered in bronze; the sword and spear points were made of iron.

Transition . In the fourth century, with the shift from citizen to mercenary armies, the more lightly armed peltasts became more prevalent. Named for their small, light shield, the peltê, they fought with javelins rather than thrusting spears. They could not hope to defeat hoplites in open battle, but they were effective both as an advance guard and at harassing the phalanx from a distance.

Horsemen . Cavalry played only a small role in the fighting forces of the Greek poleis. Athens did not create a cavalry force

until after the end of the Persian Wars in 479, and the Spartans had none until 424. Horses were extremely costly, and against the hoplite phalanx they were ineffective. Only the Macedonians were able to use them effectively by employing cavalry in greater numbers and arming the riders with lances rather than javelins.


Jan G. P. Best, Thracian Peltasts and Their Influence on Greek Warfare (Groningen, Netherlands: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1969).

Anthony M. Snodgrass, Arms and Armour of the Greeks (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967).

I. G. Spence, The Cavalry of Classical Greece: A Social and Military History with Particular Reference to Athens (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).


views updated May 29 2018

416. Weaponry

See also 22. ARROWS ; 274. MISSILES ; 413. WAR .

the science of ballistics combined with or from the special viewpoint of aerodynamics, particularly with regard to rockets, guided missiles, etc. aeroballistic , adj.
1. the science of the manufacture and use of large guns.
2. the guns themselves. artillerist, artilleryman , n.
a form of divination involving examination of a shield.
an extreme interest in bullets.
1. cannon collectively.
2. cannon flre.
engines or machines collectively, especially engines of war. See also 369. SKILL and CRAFT .
1. the science of the design and manufacture of heavy artillery.
2. the skill or practice of using heavy artillery.
missilery, missilry
1. the science of the design, construction, and launching of guided missiles.
2. guided missiles collectively.
the art or skill of using muskets.
the art or practice of shooting with a rifle, especially at targets as a match of skill.
1. the design and manufacture of weapons.
2. weapons collectively, especially a nations storehouse of armaments.


views updated May 09 2018

weap·on / ˈwepən/ • n. a thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage: nuclear weapons. ∎ fig. a means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest: resignation threats had long been a weapon in his armory.DERIVATIVES: weap·oned adj.weap·on·less adj.


views updated May 29 2018

weap·on·ry / ˈwepənrē/ • n. [treated as sing. or pl.] weapons regarded collectively.


views updated May 17 2018

weapon OE. wǣpn = OS. wāpan (Du. wapen), OHG. wāf(f)an (G. waffe), ON. vápn, Goth. *wēpn :- Gmc. *wǣpnam, of unkn. orig.