History: War and Social Upheaval

Figure 1.--James Roosevelt like some wealthy boys in the early 1920s adopted the short pants that became popular following World War I, especially in Europe. Note the buttons at the knee, reflecting the convention that dress shorts or knee pants should have the buttons originally designed for breeches. James' buttons were purely ornamental.

Wars and other priods of upheaval are often a catalyst for profound social change, which in turn is a catalyst for dramatic change in fashion. Major changes in fashions appear to appear to often follow wars or other social uphevals. Some of these changes are obvious. I haven't fully thought this out yet, but we have been collecting information on major conflicts which we believe is the fiorst step in assessing this question. We have begun to formulate some preliminary ideas, but this still a very nuch open question to us. Hopefully HBC readers will have some ideas here. Of course fashion changes or just a part of the wider cultural changes resulting from wars. There are other related topics. Children are often involved in the wars and always affected by them.


Military historians in recent years have begun to move away from an almost exclusive focus om battles and weapons and increasing realization as to the extent to which larger societal developments influenced warfare and visa versa. as a result we see new theories emerging as to how to clasigy historical era with the militart and milrary technology plaing an important. role. The stone age or paleolithic age was of course by far the lonest and the period we know the least about. We do not even know the importance of warfare during the paeolithic. Some look at modern stoneage people for indiucators, but there are reasons to believe that modern stone-age people are more warlike than actual stone-age people. Modern stone-age people have been pushed together in less than desirable corners of the world. Actual stone-age people were few in mumber and scattered around the world so tht contavts and possible conflict seen less common. With the coming pf the agicultural revolution we also still have limited evidence, but one salient archeological observation is that early settlements and towns did not have defensive walls. This stringly suggests tat warfare was not endemic, even rare. Only after the development of agriculure and settled society do we see nomadic herders appearing, setting in motion pne of the baiic conflicts of history, the confict between settld and rich agriculturaists and nomadic herdersm sometimes called brbarians, civetinbg the riches of the settled people. This dynamic is remakably similar in both the West and East even though the two regions developed in isolation. and the dynamic governed much of human history into what we now know as recorded history with the develooment of written languages. We see the development of the civilized core with the nomadic herding people on the perifery. especially the Eurasiam Steppe. The much richer and more populated core would seem to have the military advantage, but in actuality the nomdic herders often mustered sperior nilitary forces.

Specific Wars and Crisis

HBC has collected information on the following wars and crises. In most cases we have just collected basic information on the conflict and our understanding of fashion impacts are still limited. We have primarily focused on 19th and 20th century conflicts. This is the historical period in wich specialized clothing existed for boys. Some of these conflicts had major impacts on fashion. Some of these conflicts had less impact on fashion, but are important to fully understand the swwp of history and the other conflicts we are assesing. We hope to eventually, however, expand our coverage to earlier conflicts as well.

Military Components




The story of man is in large measure the development of tools by Homo habalis and launching the stone age. Actually it began before that as Hominids man descened from the forest trees and began to walk upright, changes began to his shoulders which allowed him to throw. And this led to a critical evolutionary step--the ability to kill prey at a distance. No other amimal has this ability. Killing at a distance both opened up new food sources and the ability to fight off dangerous preadaors. The development of weapons involved first and foremost physicics and the laws of motion before science even exsisted. [Parker] Other sciences like chemistry were involved, but nothing has surpassed physics withe exception of the chemistry involved in gun powder. Mechanics and the laws of motion governed the perfomance from the first stone thrown to modern artillery and balistics. [Parker] Animals have been found to use tools. And from the beginning some of the tools developed by huminoids were weapons. And these weapons have to a significant degree shaped history. One of the first high tech weapon was the arrow. The arrow appeared long before civilization as we know it from the agricultural revolution. The arrow revolutionized both hunting and warfare. It was a weapon of stunning impact as aesult of speed, force, and accuracy as well as silence. Arrowheads have been found in a range of neolithic sites. Designed differeed and help to define the people who created them. [Soar] The horse was domesicated (about 4500 BC). The horse did not emerge as an important factor in warfare until much later (about 2000 BC). It was at first limited neause strippus were not yet invented, but then the ar chariot appeared a critical factor in ancient battles. The first saddles appear to have been introduced by the Assyrians (700 BC). Stirups appeared in India (about200 BC). Stirups greatly increase the rider's ability to both stay mounted as well as control the mount and it increased the horse's potential as a weapon platform. Many people have been pary\ticularly associated with the war horse (Huns, Mongols, Arabs, Cossacks, and Native Americans). Just as weapons were devised to make use of the horse, other weapons have been devised to oppose the horse. [DiMarco] And as science developed, increasingly sophisticated research was directed at weaponry. Scirntists studied shell trajectories. Gas dynamics proved vital to modernizing fire arms.


Military historians tend to focus on commanders, battles, tactics, and weaponry. Prrhaps the most under studied aspect of warfare is logistics. Huge advances in weaponry were made over time. Relatively limited advances innlogustics ocurred with logistics. The armies that went to war after the Germans crossed the Belgian border (August 1914) had a variety of modern arms, but unbelievably the modes of military transport were little changed since abcient times. Weapons and supplies were carried on the backs of soldiers themselves or animals, either pack animals or on carts/wagons drawn by them. Fast chatriot armies clashed at Qadesh (1274 BC), but the chariot was a war weapon, not aode of military transport. An in modern times, it was the horse or mule that moved artillery, ammunition, and the vast quantity of supplies requird to wage modern war. The only change of any importance was that the first armies like early trade caravans first depended on the donkey to move equipment and supplies. Gradually larger, stronger animals were employed, but there still were very significant limitations imposed by logistics on military operations. Oxen could pull large loads, but only at painfully slowspeeds. Sea transport was a major advance and became very important, at least in the West. Notice how the Roman Empire developed around the Mediterranean Sea where Legions could be transported and supplied by sea. The only significant change since ancient times was the steam engine which did not appear until more than two millennia later (mid-19th century). Steam engines greatly improved the reliability and speed of maritime transport, but it revolutionized land trnsport with the railroads. Only a few decades after it appeared, the railroads began playing important roles in warfare (1860s). Railroads helped determine the outcome of both the American Civil War (1861-64) and the Austro-Prussian War (1864). As important as it was, there were serious limitations to rail transport. It was very useful behind front lines to move men and equipment to supply established front lines and to build up forces for an offensive. This could be done more rapidly than ever before. But what rail transport could not do was to supply an offensive as it move forward. Fot this supplies had to be moved forward beyond the established railhead. And important battle were not uncommonly fought where armies collied in unforsseen locations at considerable distance from railheads. This was paticularly the case during important offenses and armies advanced away from rail heads. Here World War I armies still depenended on animals. And this was particularky the case for artillery and supplies. The men moved forward primarily on foot. This significantly limited the speed at which an offense could move forward. A reader writes, "It is quite amazing to see World War I photographs and the number of animals carrying equipment or pulling wagons. Soldiers on the march were heavily burdened. It was partly the same in World War II, particularly during the German Barbarossa offensive into the Soviet Union. Not only were animals used in miltary situations but in civilian life too. Horses were used to move heavy engineered parts of ships from the factory to the railway. Ambulances and Fire engines were horse drawn up until the 1920s." The internal combustion engine changed the face of military transport on the modern battlfield, girt on land and than in the air.

Intelligence and Spying

Intelligence and spying seem as old as war itself. Espionage is not as well documented as actual war, but there are a wide range of historical accounts. And of course there is a narrow line between diplomacy and esbionage. We note early references in the Bible. Some of the best known ancient accounts are the ancient writings of Chinese and Indian military strategists such as Sun-Tzu in China and Chanakya in India. Modern espionage is better documented. Often it is the weaker combatant that is more concerned with esbionahe, but that is not always the case. George Washington had an active spy system during the Revolutionary war. Spies were active in the American Civil War. The most detailed accounts of espionage exist for World war I, World War II, and the Cold War. Several of the spy agencies involved became world famous. The 20th century had a major impact on intelligence. With the advent of radio. elecronic or signals intelligence became a whole new ahd critical area of spying. And differences developed because of the closed nature of the totalitarian societies which developed after World War I. This resulted in major differences between the various intelligence services. Even with the end of the Cold War, espionage has not ended. Both China and Russia are very active. Espionage is generally associated with governmental organizations or politucal mivements. There is also commercial spying which became of some importance in the 20th century.


There are many historic example of pacifist thought, although rare in the full sweep of human history. Modern examples of pacifism appeared in European churches like the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and others. These groups were important, especially the Quakers who did not separate themselves from the wider society like the Mennites. The Quakers were especially important in the anti-slavery movement. Their impact on war and militarism was, however limited. Potentially more important was the world Socialist movement that developed in Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Socialism developed as a strongly anti-militarist, anti-war movement. Socialists saw war and colonialism as natural outgrowth of capitalism that would be swept away in a new socialist future. War was another way in which captalist class divided and exploited the working class. The militarism of 19th century Europe was one of the driving forces of the emigrant outflow during the late 19th-century. Socialist leaders pointed out that most of the dieing and suffering was experienced by the workers who formed the bulk of the waring armies while capitaliss made great fortunes selling arms. The Socialist movement was still in its infancy when the Franco-Prussian War broke out (1870). The movement by the early 20th century had become an important political force throughout Europe, especially Western Europe. As military rvalries developed among the great powers, Socialist leaders were hopeful that worker solidarity could prevent a major war in Europe. The failure of the movement to do so has always been considered one of the great failures of the world socialist movement. In the wake of the World War I disaster, anti-militarism grew un both Europe in America. This sentiment was one of the major reasons that Britain and France did not effectively contront the NAZIs and America remained staunchly isolationist until Pear Harbor. After the World War II, the Soviets used pacifist sentiment in Western Europe to weaken European resistance to Soviet military expansion.

Peace Treaties

There have been countless attempts, even in our modern age, to conquer nations or groups of nations. Some have involved minor territorial aims while others have sought to titally subject other nations. Most have ended with minor peace treaties between the major combatant countries. Some have evolved into major conflagrations causing untold death and distruction. The most devestating modern wars have been the 30 Years War which devestated Germany, the Napoleonic Wars, World War, and World War II. After each of these major wars, international conferences attempted to reconstruct Europe and in the case of the Worlds Wars, much of the rest of the world as well: Westphakia (1648), Vienna (1815), Paris (1919), and San Francisco (1945). The results even of the Peace of Westphalia persist in our modern world. Some of these treaties proved more controversial than the wars themselves, especially as the wars receeded in people memories. The Congress of Vienna became a symbol of the repression of the Ancien Regime. Hitler railed against the Versailles Peace Treaty, not the War. The American right after World War II attacked the Yalta Agreements and the Uninted Nations created in San Francisco.

Planned Anthology: Call for Contributors--Children and War

NYU Press is soliciting contributions for a proposed interdisciplinary, multi-national anthology of original essays about children and war, from the early 19th century up to the present. Contributions are encouraged from all disciplines, including history, psychology, sociology, military studies, anthropology, and political science, as well as from children's activists and policy makers. Essays may address, among other topics: children's participation in warfare, both on the battlefield and on the home front; the effects of war on children's institutions and family life; and the representation of armed conflict in children's play and literature. "War" will be defined broadly, including, for instance, the Cold War, terrorist operations, and "low level" conflicts. Each essay should be between 6,000-8000 words. The deadline is March 31, 2000. Interested scholars should send their one-page proposals, along with brief c.v.'s, directly to the editor of the proposed anthology, James Marten, at History Department, Marquette University, P. O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53208-1881. They may also be e-mailed to him at martenj@execpc.com

National Terminology

Many countries developed slang terms for soldiers and people from other countries. Often these terms were derogatory. The most famous is probably, the French word for the Germans--"le boche". An assessmet of the drogatory French word for the Germans, "le boche", is an interesting study of French-German relations during the 19th and 20th century. The word, once so common, is no longer heard in France. As far as we can determine, the Germans had no comparative derogatory term for the French--although their allies the English did. Some of these terms were more positive, especially the term widely used for the Americans--"Yanks".

Youth Groups

Uniformed youth groups began forming in the late 19th century, but became more extensive after the Scouts were founded in 1906. Thus many groups were organized throughout Europe when World War I (1914-18) broke. These groups were mobilized to support the War effort in many ways. This changed substantially in World War II. The Hitler Youth not only had a major role on the home font, but actually had a combat role. The NAZIs in most occupied countries banned Scoting, although they operated clandestinely. The NAZIs and in some countries supported alternive right-wing groups, but none played the significant role played by the Hitler Youth. Group in America and Britain played the same home front roles that they did in World War I. In addition to youth group activities in the two major 20th century wars, youth groups in individual countries have played important roles in various regional conflicts.

Children and War

Children and other civilians have alwaysbeen affected by war. In ancient times armies often lived off the land. They would often pilage farms and towns to obtain provisions. Cities that were conquered would be looted and in many cases the men, women, and children sold into slavery. This is what happened to Carthage and may other city of the ancient world. European knights in the middle ages adopted a code of chilvary. This was rarely extended to the peasantry. In our moder age a code of behavior was adopted for conducting war, but was not often followed. The French Revolution changed European wars. Rather professional armies fighting wars, the French mobilized large citizen armies. Children were often drawn up in these armies. This concept resulted in larger and larger armies, eventually culminating in the two world wars. The Europeans adopted a code that civilians should be respected and protected by combatants. It became obvious in World War I, however, that civilians on the home front played a major role in the outcome of a war. Children were graetly affected, especially those living in or near the far-flung battlefields. The number of casualties also mean that millions of children grew up without fathers and or in poverty. It was this perhaps inevitable that civilians would be directly targeted in the next War. World War II indeed brought more horrors to children than any other modern war. Children were affected not only by the staggerings dimensions of the War, but by the tactics and strategies adopted by the combatatants. The Germans and Japanese used terror bombing of civilian populations as an offensive tactic in the early phases of the War. The Americans and British eventually adopted the same tactic as part of their strategic doctrine. Children as part of the civilain population were this affected. The Germans did even more than bomb civilains. First they targeted handicaped children for sterilization or death. Once the War began they targeted non Aryan populations for death or slavery in a new Europe. Children here were a special target as they had no value as workers and thus Jewish children were among the first to be killed. Some wre even used in diobolical medical experiments. Thousands of other non-Jewish children were kidnapped and assessed racially by SS and other doctors. Most that failed the racial testing or were uncooperative eventually died in concentration camps. Those that passed were brought to the Reich for Germiniztion by SS and other approved families.

Fashion Impacts

We have developed some thoughts about the fashion impacts of specific wars. We wonder, however, if there are any fashions impacts of war in general. A reader writes, "It is interesting to note that in period of war boys are wearing military uniforms like their father and in period of peace they are wearing more fancy "feminized" clothings." This is probably an over simplified formulation, but certainly the first part of this formulation is accurate. Almost always during wars, boys want to wear military garments. War is a very exciting event and often attracts the interest of boys. Not only do boys war uniform garments they can get ahold of, but the uniforms often inspire boys' fashions, both actual items and detailing. Of course this did not always come in time of war. The sailor suit, for example, became a popular boys' fashion during an era of relative peace in Europe. As to more fancy styles in times of peace, here we think the overall pattern is much more varied. Many different styles developed during peaceful era. It is, however, probably correct that because of the economic demands of modern war that styles plainer and more utilitarian. We note for example that pleats and knickers were casualties of World War II.

Moral Issues

The question of good and evil and war and peace is a central question of human relations. Some have concluded that war is the ultimate evil and nothing justifies the resort to force. HThe ultimate expression of this belief is pascifism. Pacifists often speak from a plane of moral superority. They have difficulty addressing the question of morality when they allow evil to be done such as the failure to intervene in the face of terrible atrocity such as the genocide in Rawanda. The question arises if those who stand by and watch evil acts with out intervening have no moral responsibility in allowin evil to happen. Many Americans reached the conclusion that war was the ultimate evil after World War I. American isolationism was a major force in the 1930s and complicated President Rooselvelt's efforts to aid the Western democracies when confronted by Hitler. American isolationism had deep roots and there were pacifist elements. Yet even ardent isolationists for the mpost part believed in national defense if attacked. Ironically the isolationism which almost resulted in Europe's conquest by NAZIism has today been adopted by many young Europeans who today view war as the greatest evil. (There are substantial differences among Europeans here. These believes are most ardently heald by the younger generation and in those countries not subjected to Soviet installed police states after the War.) Another philosophical issue debated by those who accept the necesity of war is how much evil is morally permissable in the persuit of war. The Allied World War II strategic bombing campaign has been question on moral grounds. (During and immediately fter the War, few questions were asked because of the enormity of the German and Japanese attrocities.) The issue of civilian casualties has become major issue. It has become such an issue that countries like Serbia (1998?), Adghanistran/Taliban (2001), and Iraq (2002) will place military assetts near schools, religious sites, and other locations where civilian casulaties might result.


DiMarco, Louis A. War Horse: A History of the Military Horse and Rider (2013), 432p. ,p. Parker, Barry. THe Phtsics of War: From Arrows to Atoms (2013), 320p.

Soar, Hugh D. Straight and True: A Select History of the Arrow (2913), 272p.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 6:24 PM 2/7/2017