The Enemy is Far Away!

At first sight, the war wouldn't constitute for anyone an invention worth to mention because we have the impression that, from its remote origins, war has been an inherent part of humanity. Therefore, we are not going to talk about war and nothing else. However, it could be reviewed the making of the enemy as a category itself, a fundamental element of any war. Human creativity has been prodigal in creating inventions that have transformed entire collectives into enemies. To belong to a different clan or unknown tribe has been always a motif to awaken distrust; to speak different languages, a constant source of mistrust as well; and the voice tones or the different phonological modulations could raise big suspicions among those who didn't share the same language, even making them believe that they were roughly called, with mockery or aggressiveness. At the same time, the different ways of dressing up, praying, eating and behaving have always contributed to the mutation of neighbors into enemies.

Battle of Mohács in Hungary on August 29, 1526




The dynamics of war weren't limited to fighting with the enemy. Throughout history, conflicts have become gradually more complex, starting to be essential to count with physical superiority, and since ancient times, it was considered the horse to be the best instrument to achieve that superiority. The horse acted as a "generator" of military, physical and moral hierarchical distance in the classical battles. Despite the past glory of chivalry, soon the utilization of horses became antiquated in trying to establish distances with the enemies.

Proximity has always been one of the greatest obstacles for combatting. Having in front of you a human being, no matter how different they are, triggers feelings of compassion, especially when talking about a weak or injured human. War voids laws and weakens the scale of values which governs society in times of peace, but despite this, to stare closely to the eyes of another person, the pleading look of the supposed enemy could threat the necessary ferocity during a war. Keeping the rival far away has had, and continues to have, two functions: the first, protection, the second, the anonymity that distance provides. Besides the use of horses to impose distance, it became essential to implement other ways to obtain it. The spades, the spears, the bows, and the catapults were the first steps to build the long and complex ladder of the necessary distance. But wars are not individual issues, they have always been collective actions, so the idea of distance is reflected in the army displacements from the empire, the state or the cities.

In the Middle Ages, two objects saw the light, which increased the distance between both contenders sides and transformed the strategies and war tactics: the crossbow and the longbows. Both apparatuses had been originated in previous ages, but it was in this period when they acquired their true value: to remove the hierarchies, because now anyone could kill, and to amplify the distance between the enemies. These weapons could be used from important distances and were lethal for the knights who were used to approaching with extreme ease to other knights.

The crossbow deserves special attention in this regard. The decree nº 29 of the 2nd Lateran Council on April 8, 1139, said the following: "We forbid from now on to turn to the deadly skills of the cross-bowers and archers who go against Christians and Catholics". Later on, Innocent III changed this prohibition, adding to the already mentioned decree: "with the exception of using them against the non-believers". This exception was an open door for different interpretations, more permissive,  regarding the utilization of such a deadly weapon.

In European Monarchies, such as the Spanish Kingdom, where conflicts were very frequent, the king at the time, Ferdinand the Fourth, in the New Law of 1309, recommended the death penalty for those who used the crossbow as a cursed weapon that provided the arrow with an impetus capable of passing through the shields and the protections of the knights. All people who described it in the Middle Ages considered that "military art" had been matched with the devil, inventing an apparatus that could automatically kill, with no possibility of defense, anonymously and from an "unseemly" distance. However, the crossbow is, perhaps, the precedent of all long-range weapons, the precedent of all the following armament development.

At first sight, the bow was a less deadly weapon because the arrow wasn't launched at the same speed as in the crossbow. This weapon had been used in ancient times. Just remember the Bow of Ulysses, he was the only man who had enough strength to arm it, and that was like his ID card. A bow of such size and demand was considered in "The Odyssey" as more of a desire, a legendary object rather than a real feasible reality. But the legend was turned into reality in the 14th century when the bow reached such a large size that its handling demanded a really good strength. On the battlefields of the last 60 years of the Hundred Year's War, the longbows, made of yew, light, stylized and flexible, gave a considerable advantage to the English throughout all of those years. The time-lapse that separated the battles of Crecy, on August 26, 1346, and Agincourt, on October 25, 1415, was a period when the whole conception of war changed drastically, completely burying the chivalrous ideal of medieval France.

First were the crossbows and then the bows which allowed to maintain the distances with the enemy. The Battle of Agincourt was an episode considered by English historians as the end of an era. Certainly, after that battle where the best French chivalry made its appearance, it seemed that the longbow was going to become a strategic weapon. However, it was not the bow that would determine the distance between enemies, not even the gadget that over time would objectify people from the opposite side converting them into mere shot targets. The distance that voids the face of human beings increased with the deployment of armaments which make use of gunpowder. The fire had entered the "war art" a long time ago and, despite this, it showed its first efficacy signs in the same era when the bow was triumphing. The news about the existence of "Greek fire" was first documented in the early Byzantine Empire. The invention of gunpowder is often attributed to the Chinese and dates back to the end of the first millennium of our time. But the frenzy for the construction of artillery pieces that would push stones or bombs started in the 14th century and gained some ground in the 15th century. At first, they were machines used to demolish walls, like the ones used by the Turks in order to destroy the fortifications in Constantinople, and they couldn't fall in the category of "weapons that establish distance between combatants", but rather in the category of "weapons of siege". However, if they were to be designed lighter and smaller, they could be used individually with the aim of attacking people like the muskets, becoming much more effective than the bows. Despite this, this type of firearms were not completely decisive on the battles till the 18th century. But before that, in the 17th century, both technicians and chemists were really attracted by these kinds of revolutionary weapons. The latter ones were interested in how it could be improved the chemical composition of the gunpowder for the shot to be more reliable. The former ones were more concerned about working out the range of the shots. This was the case for Galileo, who in the 17th century included his research on projectiles in his "Dialogues concerning two new sciences". In this work, he studied the parabolic trajectory of the projectiles, their range and the angles which should have the weapons in order to reach the largest distance possible.

Over time, the primitive muskets were transformed into shotguns, carbines, and rifles of higher precision. The old arquebuses, difficult to load and so slow that they were quite ineffective guns, were substituted by more agile rifles, whose main feature consisted of having a striped bore which improved considerably the stabilization of the bullet throughout its trajectory, increasing overall the precision of the shot. Its use determined the way of combating during the Civil War (1860-1864), a landmark in this story of distance.

The painters also took notice of this transformation and it has been perfectly preserved up to these days some paintings that show the activity of the snippers as the beginning of a new perversion of the enemy, the most brutal of all inventions of the contemporary civilization, mother of all wars of the 20th century.

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