If you were alive a thousand years ago and decided you wanted to kill the local prince, it meant getting within reach of the prince. You would have to get close enough to stab him with a knife or poison his food. That meant getting past the guards and his retainers who were always with him. For anyone but those with regular access to the prince this was near impossible, which is why political assassinations were almost always a part of palace intrigue or a palace coup.
Ranged weapons changed this math a bit, but the bow was around a thousand years ago and was not a weapon for this type of activity. The reason is bows were primarily for hunting at close range or part of a system for war. The hunter would need to get close to his quarry as bows were not terribly accurate. In war, masses of archers operated a lot like a missile battery. They would fill the sky with arrows using volume to overcome the limited accuracy of the weapon.
The first real innovation in weapons that could be used for assassinations was the crossbow which arrived in the Middle Ages. We know the ancients had crossbows and used them in war, but they were not terribly accurate. The cost made them a weapon of war rather than a tool for private use. The crossbow disappeared from Europe for almost a thousand years, but then reappeared in the tenth century. Technology soon made them cheap and deadly accurate in the right hands.
This is why medieval leaders grew concerned with this weapon and tried to ban their private ownership in some cases. A weapon that a peasant could own and master that would allow him to strike the prince from a distance created a new problem for the ruling class of the time. A couple of angry peasants on the roof tops or even in the crowd could kill the prince. All of a sudden, having guards and a retinue was not enough, so the prince had to be more careful around the peasants.
Of course, we see the same thing happen with firearms. In the 18th century it was not a great weapon for assassinations. If you could get close enough you could kill the prince with a muzzle loader, but you would also be easy to spot. The first widely available firearms were not great for up close work. Pistols started to change this, and technology soon made it possible to conceal a deadly weapon on your person, thus making the assassin a real threat to authority.
Even though the problem was obvious, it took a while for rulers to figure out how to deal with firearms as political weapons. The same is true for things like roadside bombs and bombs delivered through the mail. A hundred years ago anarchists sent bombs to rich people through the mail. Of course, political actors were able to assassinate important people with the use of commonly available firearms. This is no longer an issue, as the ruling class has adapted to this threat.
This may be about to change. The use of FPV drones in the Ukraine war is doing to range weapons what war did for prior weapons. The FPV drone is a First Person Video drone that an operator uses to put an explosive on a target. The drone has a camera so the operator can look through that camera to guide the drone to the target where it explodes upon impact. Two years ago, these did not exist as a practical matter, but now the battlefield is littered with them.
The reason the skies are full of drones in Ukraine is they are cheap to produce and cheap to master. A team of two can become a highly effective weapon on the battlefield with a week of training on the drone. Training men to use million dollars tanks and artillery takes years. The drone is not a replacement for these weapon systems, but they are proving to be a cheap way to increase the combat effectiveness of troops that have the minimum amount of training.
A big part of the drone war is that the soldiers are learning to operate them and also repair them when needed. After the war, millions of men will go back to civilian life knowing how to make a cheap flying bomb they can guide to a target. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian men will come home angry at their politicians or the politicians of Europe about their conduct of the war. In other words, you do not have to be a genius to see the potential downstream consequences of the drone revolution.
For the last fifty years, the West has had to deal with terror attacks, which meant bombs, mass shootings and hijackings. Western elites had largely insulated themselves from assassination, so the only political violence was attacks on civilians. Now that is about to change as the terrorist can fly a bomb through the window of a rich person’s home or into the limousine of an important person. The math of political violence is about to change due to the drone.
History tells us that no one will notice this until a lunatic flies his homemade FPV drone into a government building. Then the security industrial complex will get the money to unriddle the problem. The battlefield will provide a lesson here as well because those soldiers using drones are working on defending against them. Reports suggest the Russians are way ahead on this, but it will not take long before the private sector in the West is working the problem of killer drones.
In the middle of the last century, it was still common to see politicians mixing it up with the people, but that no longer happens. Over time the threat of political violence, despite the rarity, has put the political class behind a wall. Drones will probably put them in a bunker, but it will also put the managerial elite in bunkers too. They will cease to be real people and instead be nothing more than images on our screens. The FPV drone cannot hunt what it cannot see in the wild.
It will also mean new rules to monitor the sale of components used to make drones, like we see with explosives and street drugs. You cannot go into a store and buy certain cold medicines without a note from the state. It will not be long before you must pass a background check to buy a drone. We may even see politicians try to ban assault drones on the grounds that they are weapons of war. It sounds ridiculous, but our rulers think this is a good ad, so nothing is too farfetched.
This thought experiment is a good reminder that war has downstream consequences that no one can foresee. Cheap crossbows were great for waging war, but lots of good crossbowmen in the crowd were not good for the king. The same proved true for other weapons of war. We are about to see the same thing with this war. In the fullness of time, it will be seen as an inflection point and maybe one that makes the economics of the Western ruling system unworkable.
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