Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Shock and Awe

We went to Warwick Castle for Isla's birthday. This is a great place - not your usual castle experience by a long shot. In fact it's a whole day of street theatre with jesters, knights, jousting and more. (At this point I will refrain from mentioning the Princess Tower...)

The highlight of the visit was the incredible Warwick Castle Trebuchet - the world's largest siege weapon. It's truly enormous and uses a six tonne weight to hurl a large rock one hundred and fifty meters through the air. In the closing ceremony they use burning oil to create an impressive fire ball which soars through the sky like a comet!

Of course, the purpose of these impressive weapons was to terrify and impress your enemy. The medieval trebuchet was there to provide "shock and awe" to inhabitants of walled cities, much as the modern airforce attempts to impress city dwellers today.

The key to the tactic in both cases is the psychology of fear. The trebuchet could be used to hurl rocks from the sky - dropping silently like a V2 into the streets of London - or it could fire the heads of prisoners over the walls for a bit of grusome propaganda. A dead cow might provide some biological warfare - or fire could be shot into dry and claustrophobic streets.

I am struck that the concept of "shock and awe" is not new - they were doing it in medieval times with the industrial might and technological skill of their time. Today it's done with aircraft, computers and high-explosives but the effect is the same...

or not - since the human spirit is a remarkable thing. The people of London managed to survive Hitler's "vengeance weapons" and the people of Vietnam sheltered underground as the might of America bore down upon them. We still have to wait for history's judgement in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Shock and Awe" is impressive to watch and good for morale back home - but not always effective. After two thousand years of technological warfare we still have something to learn when it comes to winning the peace...

No comments: