David and Goliath, or an Old Testament story about Poland’s New Model Forces (for those who can read between the lines). Part 1
In the time of Goliath, it was clear and obvious that heavy bronze armour and an iron-tipped spear were the basis of a soldier’s strength.
The strategic plan of the Philistines was to disarm the Hebrews by destroying their metallurgical works of that time. They did so to a great extent (as we read in the First Book of Samuel) by capturing and exiling all of the artisans working on the new technology. This prevented the Hebrews from producing their own modern weapons and made them dependent on the Philistines for civilian production, such as in agriculture. Thus, the key to the power of the Philistines was their industrial power, which of course gave them serious economic power. This is a characteristic example of a military-industrial complex in ancient times.
The two main offensive weapons in those days were a heavy iron spear, well suited to close combat, and a light throwing spear. Both weapons were moved by the strength of the thrower’s muscles. Targeting and missile control required a combination of a good eye and skilled hands. The limitations of these weapons resulted from the limitations of human efficiency.
Back then, all armies had more or less the same armaments and the same level of training in range and accuracy. Depending on how technically the weapon was constructed, there were only slight innovations to it, other than an increase in the weight of the spear. Even innovative tactics were limited by the nature of the weapon. The only way to have an advantage over the opponent was defensively, by improving the warrior’s chances of surviving a spear attack. Therefore, over time, those who had a better economic base and an industrial-military complex began to gain an advantage, and were able to provide their warriors with better and better armour that resisted spearheads more and more effectively.
When Goliath went into battle, “he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.” (KJV, 1 Sam, 17.5–7).
The task of Goliath and his offensive mission was to throw the javelin and attack with the spear. However, to survive up to this point, he had to carry 220 pounds of bronze armour and a shield so large that it required a separate man to carry it to the battlefield. The only reason to put on and wear such heavy armour was because it allowed for any kind of offensive action in the first place; but otherwise, this was only a burden that made it difficult to move during combat.
Goliath was therefore burdened with two fundamental weaknesses. Firstly, a defensive weapon system that protected against the enemy, but limited mobility. The heavy weight of the armour meant that the fighter could not move with enough agility and in the pace required on the battlefield, especially during the clash with David in hilly terrain.
This would not be a problem if his enemy were also burdened with such weight. Both would then be equally handicapped in their combat mobility. Meanwhile, one side made a breakthrough in strategic or tactical mobility, and the entire balance collapsed dramatically. Another weakness for Goliath was that while he was well protected by his bronze armour, he was not perfectly protected. His eyes, this system of martial observation, orientation and guidance, were not protected. The warrior needed to see something.
These small points were vulnerable. If Goliath, the heavyweight infantry archetype, was to be defeated, it would require a more mobile combat platform. Additionally, it required a weapon of sufficient range to hit Goliath beyond the range of his own offensive weapon. This weapon should be accurate enough to take advantage of Goliath’s weaknesses in defence and strong enough to topple him, kill him, or otherwise eliminate him from combat.
David was not a professional fighter, so he was not burdened with established beliefs about the necessary weapons, the art of operation, or tactical action, nor did he invest in very expensive weapons like the Goliath. He also had no obligations towards his social group, where a specific way of fighting would be associated with social and political status and connections with the industrial and defence complex of the time (on the consequences of which, more shortly).
This meant that he could correlate a political goal with an action plan without pre-imposed mental maps. For example, he was free to choose the technology and tactics best to defeat the enemy. At first, Saul, the leader of the Hebrews, “armed David with his armour, and he put a helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.” (KJV, 1 Sam 17: 38-40).
David was mobile. He could easily have been killed if he had entered the Goliath’s firing zone. But Goliath – laden with armor – moved very slowly. So he couldn’t move forward fast enough to catch David within his blast radius. It was an unequal fight. David was perfectly safe as long as he could maintain discipline and follow his combat plan. In such a fight, only Goliath took the risk. The lack of equipment meeting the requirements of the art of war at that time saved David’s life and gave freedom to the people of Israel. Had David gone into battle wearing Saul’s armor, he would have probably been killed.
Meanwhile, David has become an effective combat platform, very mobile, with a system of tracking, targeting and launching missiles at a distance. The shock weapon was a slingshot, and stones were the projectiles. It was a radically new system that was light, but capable of striking at long range and very accurate. Its main advantage was the low energy expenditure of human muscles by increasing their power thanks to the centrifugal force of the slingshot.
David spun the slingshot over his head, dramatically increasing the initial energy of the projectile and compensating for its light weight. The revolution on the battlefield caused by the advent of technological innovation in the form of the slingshot was possible primarily due to the willingness to change among the warrior caste of the time. This was missing on the part of the Philistines who, functioning according to old mental maps, felt good and were confident in themselves and their convictions. After all, they had successfully consolidated property in the coastal plains, stopped the earlier Hebrew offensive led by Saul, and were now in the midst of their own counter-offensive toward the coveted centre of the land.
Here comes a very important issue, no less important in making a revolution in military affairs than the mere defeat of Goliath. Military effort to date had been based on the paradigm of heavier and more expensive weapons. As such, it was socially and economically attractive to a specific social group. Metallurgy was the high-tech business of the time, and it harmonised well with the trading power of the Philistines in the eastern Mediterranean. It gave political agency to the then technologists, engineers and manufacturers as well as the military and political leaders allied with them.
The Israelites were forced to defend themselves, and Saul’s forces withdrew from the attackers. Why now suddenly change the battlefield paradigm? The great Philistine offensive led to an internal crisis of confidence in the Hebrew headquarters. Under enemy pressure, some commanders stiffened in command, clinging to old doctrines and additionally increasing their dependence on already outdated solutions. Saul was different. Upon seeing what David had done with Goliath, he accepted the introduction of a new technology and doctrine of action in the war against the Philistines, even though this seriously undermined the authority and the intellectual and social foundations of his own “old” army.
Moreover, such a revolution seemed to regress at first glance. The poor equipment of mobile slingers cost pennies. In addition, people from outside the social classes that had previously dealt with warfare could now join the fight waged by David’s new warriors. This led to a radical and incomprehensible simplification of combat doctrine. However, the ruler of the Hebrews, Saul, was able to accept such a breakthrough and thus defeated the Philistines in the war.
But this is where things get complicated. The Old Testament tale has two parts: the more famous one about the defeat of Goliath and the less known one about the matter between Saul and David, between the “old” and the “new”. It is also significant that Saul wanted to have his cake and eat it. He had the flexibility of mind to accept that the way to win a war was to fight David and his men, but when the enemy was defeated, Saul wanted to go back to the old way of functioning. This method guaranteed the former caste its proper social status, political power and shares in the industrial and defence complex, concentrated precisely on the old way of warfare. As a result, there was a conflict between Saul’s traditional forces of and David’s new, light and mobile units, which, moreover, proved their advantage. David and his people won.
The biblical story of David leads to several conclusions about the development of weapons and the nature of warfare. New breakthrough technology often feels less advanced than the old ones. For example, in the 14th century, the then firearms seemed completely ineffective against fortifications. In the twentieth century, battleships seemed to be the pinnacle of technology, while the planes that flew in front of them seemed to be a plaything and were considered a primitive weapon against such powerful ships.
It needs to be remembered that each weapons system (and its entire family) has a life cycle. A weapon appears (starting the cycle) when an offensive weapon is required, and ends its life when a weapons system has developed to be so complex that it needs to be defended rather than used for an attack. The whole cycle has taken place when the effort to defend such a system eclipses its offensive capabilities. A weapon reaches its utility limit when the resources needed to defend it and survive remove its cost-effect. Thus, a weapon reaches its end when the cost of defending it is so great that it makes it impossible to buy other necessary weapons, or it disrupts the civil economy. Such was the result of the defensive armour of Goliath, all that bronze armour, scale plates, greaves, helmet, etc. And this may be the result of the end of the stealth technology cycle (and of the controversial F-35 aircraft, for example) – which is today’s (very expensive) armour of modern aircraft.
Armed forces that have not had significant military successes in the past are more likely not to miss the moment when the end-of-life process of a given type of weapon begins.
Winning wars creates the illusion that certain technologies will always be effective. This illusion is mixed with the interests of the military, political and industrial leadership and the established interests of specific politicians and interest groups in the political and social system. All these subconsciously allied forces create a sense of technical greatness by focusing on technology as a “miracle”. It gives the impression that technology works miracles and thanks to it you will gain supremacy on the battlefield.
In pathological cases, there is even a feeling of invincibility amongst an army or a type of armed forces. The victory of the French in World War I led to a technological, organisational and leadership defeat in 1940. Losing a war (ideally, of course, without completely destroying the country’s potential, its occupation or full subjugation) is the best impulse for change. This is proven by history.
US ground forces after their defeat in Vietnam showed all the symptoms of a defeated army, and the Israeli army in October 1973 showed the damage caused by the too-easy victory of 1967. Today, one wonders where the American campaigns of recent years and the technological domination in the fields of asymmetric war might have led America in terms of a future in which systematic warfare breaks out between the great powers.
At the peak moment for ancient weapons, just before their defeat, the latest generation of war technology appears invincible. Knights in full armor, fortifications with massive artillery power, battleships, ICBMs – all of these weapons came and went as the last word of technology. And it remained so until events on the battlefield made them a mere burden.