I'm currently reading a book entitled The Failure of Technology, written by Friedrich Georg Jünger. It was written during the summer of 1939, but then only published after the war in 1946, since the publisher didn't wish to risk government disapproval, which would have been obvious. An English translation came out in 1947. Friedrich Georg was a brother of the writer Ernst Jünger.
Below is the chapter on technology and war. Notice that there is mention of Clausewitz and a short analysis. Jünger has some interesting things to say about technology and its social effects. I'm working on a post on strategy within a disintegrating society and provide this post/chapter as context for my own upcoming post. This chapter brings up some disturbing questions. One which comes to mind is how would we define "total war" today? Jünger most likely picked up the concept from the writings of Erich Ludendorff.
TECHNOLOGY AND WAR
IT IS AN axiom of the natural sciences that the laws of nature are stable, unchangeable, and of permanent mechanical validity. Faith in scientific progress strangely enough presupposes the existence of laws which are completely exempt from any kind of progress. These laws are indispensable to the natural sciences as rigid and dependable substrata. The law of causality, for instance, states that the same causes must always produce the same effects.
The scientist who voices a doubt in the validity of the law of causality is obviously attacking the foundation on which the whole Babylonian tower of scientific knowledge rests. He who raises the question whether all this knowledge is worth knowing likewise attacks these foundations. This very question is outside the scientific field, for we are breaking through the sacred precincts of science if we are not content with its obvious and wonderful results. We undermine these foundations if we ask what insights really are gained by scientific dis coveries, what good they do us, and where mankind will be once science has achieved its goal.
Here we approach the ultimate illusion which attaches to scientific progress. Obviously the striveing for rationalization must come to an end at some time . Obviously it attains its end once that state of perfection has been reached for which it is striving so untiringly. For the idea of unending progress is absurd and inane, because the infinite motion that rapIdity and forcefulness of technical rationalization it presupposes is contradictory. It is exactly the rapidity and forcefulness of technological rationalization which indicate that we are approaching a finale, an ultImate stage of technology where everything technical attains the same degree of perfection long since achieved in the tools of handicrafts. Perhaps the moment when this will come about is not far off,
but it would be idle to speculate on this.
In any case, this is the great moment which is the main theme of the utopists, the moment upon which they concentrate their hopes. We often meet with the idea that all of mankind's sufferings, all the sacrifices that must be endured for the sake of tech nical progress will be compensated for at the end. Such theories of reward, however, while quite right and proper to homo religiosus, have nothing to do with technology. It is not the beginning but the end that has to bear the burden. It would be more fitting to see in these sacrifices and sufferings, the price of man's thirst for power.
The absolute notions of harmony with a state of technical perfection or to suppose a political and social idyll where it can never be found is sheer pipe dreaming. Those dreams of leisure, freedom, and wealth created by technical progress are utopian, and so are the ideas of peace, well-being and happiness in future times. They are utopian because they combine what cannot be combined. The machine is not a godhead lavishing cornucopias of happiness, and an era of the machine does not lead to a peaceful and charming idyll. At all times the power proffered by technology has exacted, and forever will exact, a high price; the price of the blood and sinew of human hecatombs who in one way or another get caught in the cogs and wheels of that vast engine. The price is being paid by the leaden monotony of factory and business life that is now reaching its peak; by mechanical work for one's living; by the operator's dependence upon the automatic tool. The price is paid by the devastation of spiritual life which grows in step with mechanization. We would do well, indeed, to say good-bye to all illusions about the blessings forthcoming from technology, but most of all to that illusion of peaceful happiness it is supposed to bring. Technology has not the wherewithal to bring back Eden.
Indeed, the shape of things to come is vastly different. Since technology is based upon the mining of resources and since its progress spells the progressive pillage of the earth, it is obvious that in a state of perfection it will practice the most complete and the most intensive exploitation on a planetary scale, a mining of all its resources in the most rational manner. This sapping and mining is bound to produce losses which must become increasingly unbearable. The devastations of this pillage are not limited to the exhaustion of mines, of oil wells and other resources. Neither this nor the reckless exhaustion of the topsoil which spreads erosion and the sinking of water tables will be decisive in themselves, although - in America, for instance - these warning signals are already looming big.
What will spell the end is rather the total char acter of these losses which include the human beings within the technical organizations. It becomes con stantly more evident that the sum total of the technological efforts and investments overtaxes human capacities, that the sheer weight of the mechanical burden is getting too heavy, that once technology has reached perfection, it will not be long before modem man collapses. Symptoms of this over￼burdening are already evident in the mental and the physical spasms of this day and age, the contortions of which betray the high pressure under which we live. Everywhere in the world we see forced, over taxing efforts. They are bound to be followed by the reaction that invariably comes after excesses of will power and nervous overstrain: exhaustion, apathy, and dull depression.
In this overstraining we also find the key to an understanding of the ideas and plans for total mobilization and total war. Whatever their opponents may object, these ideas make perfectly good sense, inasmuch as they outline with precision the situation in which we find ourselves. For this reason they deserve an attention and a respect demanded by any momentous thoughts which do not shrink from logical consequences no matter how grave they may be. The objections raised against total mobilization and total war significantly fail to hit at the crux of the matter.
What is the meaning of total mobilization and total conduct of war? How does total war differ from other wars? Clausewitz, the leading war theorist of the nineteenth century, never described such a war. True, in his definition of war he remarks that there is a tendency toward the extreme use of force and that there are no inherent limits to such use. He mentions specifically three reciprocal elements in war as conducive to extremes. But in the same breath he also speaks of the forces which modify and moderate the extreme and absolute concepts of war; the human relations, for instance, which actually continue between the belligerents even in war. His ideas of war, in other words, show plainly that they belong to a time which could have no clear concepts of the colossal growth of technical organization. The Napoleonic wars could still give no hint of this potential. What Clausewitz assumes as basic in waging war is the use of limited means for limited ends. But total war presupposes total technical organization. By its very concept, total war rejects all limitations of means and purposes. Its total not only in its preparation, its strategic and tactical means and ends; it is total above aU in its mentality of ruthless extermination which no longer recognizes any barriers.This destructive mentality is the counterpart of technological progress. It develops in the exact proportion in which technology itself breaks down all barriers of space and develops a destructive potential which is unJimited.
￼Even total war, however, has its modifications; even its inherent trend toward the extremes of violence is subjected to limitations and restraints. One such limitation lies in the fact that a war which is waged by every means must lead also to the exhaustion of every resource, provided that a certain balance of strength exists between the opponents. By definition, total mobilization or total war abolishes all and every reserve since no reserve remains untouched. There are neither stores nor funds that remain intact or inviolate, nothing immobile even that does not get mobilized, no inalienable ownership that does not get disowned.
For proper understanding of these developments, we must consider the over-all situation of modem man. What characterizes the situation in the mechanized war of the industrial worker or the soldier who is, in fact, a worker, as is everybody who lives in a state of advanced industrialization?
￼The situation of the worker is signalized by his dependence on machinery and organization. It is signalized by the absence of reserves on which he could fall back. He is reduced to the sale of his bare working capacity, and he must sell it unceasingly and unstintingly if he wants to live. He has no funds to guarantee him peace of mind, leisure, or even an extended vacation. This already existing pattern of so-called normal, civilian life, simply gets incorporated into the pattern of total war. In it all human and material resources are drafted, mobilized, and brought into action. Plainly, there is a reverse side to this process, namely, the total consumption caused by total war. Such a war is by no means a spontaneous, voluntary mass uprising where enthusiasm makes up for primitive technical equipment. It is a struggle between technically highly developed organizations which show all the mechanical, automatic features characteristic of an advanced stage of technology. That is why the most important goal of modern war is to smash the technical potential of the opponent.
￼￼￼Technical progress and conduct of war today are merging. We have reached a state of affairs where the technical potential of a state is the determining ￼factor in the event of war. Superior technology means victory, inferior technology means defeat; that is the briefest possible formula to which a definite phase of technical progress can be reduced. This equation forces all modem states, with relentlessly increasing mechanical compulsion, to support, to speed up, and to push to the utmost the drive for technical perfection. For its own self-preservation, the modern state has to promote, and subject everything possible to, technical automatism . Since the technical potential is decisive in war, it is actually a form of armament. Technical progress now drops the economic mask it had been wearing in the early days of technical organization. Technically organized work becomes preparation for war; its connection with war becomes constantly more unmistakable.
Nothing can prevent this. It is conceivable that war can be prevented in a specific case. But it is inconceivable that, in the event of war, the state would refrain from using to the full its technical potential. The incessant pointing to this potential, the propagandist efforts to make it look formidable and terrifying, are parts of modern political tactics even in so-called peace. It also becomes clear why states depart more and more from the old law of nations which requested a formal declaration of war. The stigma of being termed "aggressor" is outweighed too far by the advantage of high preparedness coupled with surprise attack made possible by the technical potential.
Just as a technically organized economy becomes more and more a war economy, so technology develops more and more into a war technology; it reveals ever more clearly its armament character. In our dynamic age, technology steps up its pillage of world resources; but while it devours material for war preparation, it reduces at the same time our living standards. It shakes off all fetters of economic laws and finances its organization by methods which constantly increase the burdens on the workers.
The question of just what is gained by total war is, not limited to specialists. That question is raised by the consideration that the total consumption demanded by a total war may well consume whatever gains result even from the winning of the war. What must be anticipated is a condition where there is neither victor nor vanquished, but only general exhaustion. Are we still in a position where we can hope for a gain? Or is the call for total war proof in itself that the fight for sheer survival has begun? In other words: Has technical progress reached a stage where its consumption has grown so tremendous that of necessity it must radically change the territorial and political organization of all states?
Friedrich Georg Jünger, Spring 1939