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Cutting Edge Technology and the Irony of War

KJ Parker is one of my top five authors. I just discovered a trove of non-fiction and short fiction that is definitely worth checking out.

Cutting Edge Technology: by K. J. Parker — Subterranean Press

War is a great generator of ironies. My all-time favourites are the patent infringement lawsuits brought against the US government after World War I by the German arms industry. The US, desperate to upgrade its antiquated rifles and ammo when it entered the war, had copied the Mauser bolt action and the German-designed spitzer bullet to create the P17 rifle. The German patent holders won the suit, and the US had to pay royalties on every rifle issued to and every bullet fired by their armed forces during the war. I’d put that in a book, but nobody would believe it.

A milder irony lies in the fact that, in 1917, George S Patton, pioneer of modern mechanised warfare, designed a sword for the Army. He was only a young lieutenant at the time, but the weapon he came up with was, by all the arcane criteria of swordsmen and swordsmiths, more or less perfect, the best sword ever issued to an army. It was a light, slim thrusting sword for cavalry use, wonderfully balanced, an ergonomic marvel, and if it was ever drawn in anger, I can find no record of it. The peak of perfection is reached only when the instrument itself is entirely obsolete, and the designer was the father of the impersonal hell of modern mechanised war.

Patton didn’t just design a sword, he also wrote a user’s manual, setting out a standardised training program for swordsmanship in the US cavalry. The approved method is refreshingly simple; you hold the sword at arm’s length, point it at the enemy and gallop. That’s it. Patton deliberately declined to teach any defensive parries; the cavalry swordsman is basically just a bullet fired at the enemy by his commanding officer, and there’s no need for a bullet to defend itself.
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