Technology and War: A Study of Violence in the Modern Era

McKeever, Brice, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Vickerman, Milton, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

This research examines the impact of technological advancements on the modern soldier. Specifically, it focuses on how advances in both the effective distance and overall lethality of modern weapons have affected the character of warfare in the modern era. Some scholars contend that, while violence in the modern era may be waning overall, the character of warfare is becoming more callous and impersonal; this is presumed to be due to the increased physical (and therefore emotional) distance between forces afforded by modern weapons. I address this theory by bridging the sociological literature on violence with that on shifts in military organization and warfare in the 20th century. Situated within this context, I relate developments in military technology to depictions of the warrior identity, as well as to images of the enemy. I draw conclusions from a historical study comparing the United States Army’s operational doctrine and recruitment materials over the last century as broken into three principal periods: the World Wars, the Cold War, and the contemporary “New War” era.

I conclude that while weapons technology has had a decisive impact on the image of the soldier and the enemy in modern war, the modern era has not seen a linear increase in callousness. Highly emotional negative portrayal, or “demonization,” of the enemy has been in decline since the height of the World War period, but the callous abstraction, or “dehumanization,” of the enemy has not increased on a strictly proportional basis. Furthermore, the transformation of the U.S. Army has also been uneven in the modern era: bureaucratization of the Army peaked during the Late Cold War, while more recent years have seen a revival of emotional engagement and traditional institutional values. I explore some of the variables mediating the effect of technology on the modern soldier, including the impact of the move to an All-Volunteer Force, decentralization, and the changing strategic goals of the U.S. military.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
technology, war, military, violence, United States Army
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: