The idea of systems theory seems complex and somewhat like guesswork, but generals have long understood systems without realizing it. It has been common practice to push internal systems to test their resilience since the battle at Marathon, where the Greek soldier ran the first marathon to inform the city that they had won the battle, so that the city would know that an incoming naval attack was going to have no land reinforcements. Since that date though, infrastructural systems have changed. No longer do we run marathons to deliver messages and supplies, as a long line of infrastructural systems stands between that and the common day internet and plane duo that can send messages within a minute and supplies within a day to anywhere on the globe.
The Romans were famous for their vast infrastructure which constructed roads from their capital city to the far outreaches of their territory. The idea was that troops could be quickly assembled and marched from Rome to anywhere that caused trouble with fairly limited opportunity to be ambushed. It was a system with great resiliency, though it also cost a great amount. Julius Caesar during his campaign in Gaul famously crossed the Rhine River into German lands decided there was nothing there and left. What was so marvelous about this crossing is his engineers, traveling with the troops, quickly constructed a bridge that Caesar destroyed when he decided not to extend his campaign. If Caesar was not going to use his infrastructure to cross the Rhine, he didn’t want to leave it for someone else to.
Since the Romans, roads for feet and chariots have lost their usefulness. Imagine how much longer it would take to reach the other side of the United States with only messages delivered personally. It took months for people to cross to California in 1849 across the Oregon Trail, and that system had little resilience. Assuming good weather, plenty of supplies, and a strong knowledge of where they were headed, which were rare enough by themselves, the long journey left the traveler’s family vulnerable to bandits who would often take the opportunity to replenish their own supplies. As a result, a new system of transportation was arranged which has only begun to be outdated in the last half century.
When the railroad was invented, it meant a spike in how quickly messages and supplies could be delivered. The new system was faster and safer than the previous system of horse and buggy. A full railroad was unlikely to be stopped and robbed by a single person and could make journeys in what seemed like a blink of an eye. Granted the system was not as resilient as was noticed when railroads were put in the American Midwest where an entire train could be stopped by a single cow that wandered onto the tracks. However, a device names a cow pusher was designed to force wayward cows off the tracks without causing damage to the train. Very quickly, the railroad became the way to send supplies and messages in battle.
Rail however was less resilient than hand delivered messages as the United States Civil War proved. Rail cars could be disrupted before they ever left the station and entire rail lines could be put out of commission for entire wars. The campaign that has come to be known as Sherman’s March proved this. Major General Sherman marched from Georgia to Savannah with the plan of disrupting systems in the south. He set his sights specifically on two systems, the crop rotation cycle and our old friend the infrastructural system. He disrupted crop rotational cycles for what he believed was a short term, by burning the crops that were in the ground. He disrupted the infrastructural system twisting existing railroad tracks which caused so much damage that repairing the South’s rail lines was an issue even after the Civil War.
After the Civil War, northern residents rushed into the South so quickly the south named them carpet baggers, a derogatory term. Most of them were taking part or looking for jobs in the massive program known as Reconstruction. The goal of this program was rebuilding the South in general, though it was the mangled rail lines that gave a lot of the work. As the story goes, the Northerners were so hated that the South made a deal allowing Rutherford B. Hayes to be president as long as Reconstruction ended and the Northerners go back north.
Railroads effect on the speed in which something could be delivered made them signs of a modern nation. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire had been nicknamed the Sick Man of Europe following a war with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, a powerhouse in Europe and several other wars with smaller Balkan states, all of which resulting in the loss of Ottoman territory. The Ottoman sultan was determined to bring the country into the modern age, but here he hit a snag. The Empire’s economy was based on war and expansion. There was no means for taking a census and the odds of levying an effective tax code without an accurate count of who should be paying seemed low. Still, an effective rail line may show Europe that the Ottoman’s were headed in the right direction. So, “the Hijaz Railway commenced in 1900” “designed to link Damascus with Medina and Mecca”1.
The Hijaz Railway may have been a huge success under different circumstances. In fact, “in the course of eight years the Turks had put down 808 miles of rail”1, but a world crisis loomed in the near horizon. It almost immediately began to turn a profit and looked as if it would become a mainstay of the Ottoman Empire for years to come. “Just after it was built in 1908, the Hijaz railway was transporting as many as 300,000 pilgrims south each year”2. This success was short lived as “the last through train from Damascus to Medina ran in April 1918”3.
In 1914, the First World War broke out over Austrian-Hungarian interests in the Balkan. After, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia Russia declared war on Austria-Hungry causing Germany to declare war on Russian which then forced France to declare war on Germany. It did not take long for the whole of Europe to be swallowed into war. The Ottoman Empire was not immediately thrust into the war and remained impartial for a while. However, interest in their aid from Germany and fear that if the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers the Russian navy would be useless, had Germany and France vying for support from the Ottoman Empire. Finally, a blunder from the French in which the Ottomans heard them say that Ottoman aid would be a detriment not an aid in the war effort ending in the Ottoman Empire joining the Central Powers. For a little while, it looked as though this may be the key to regaining some of the Empire’s former glory. Soon, however, it became apparent that Austria-Hungary was only interested in the war along their Southern border, leaving Germany to hold off both France and Russian on their own. Germany then turned to the Ottomans as the key to the war, hoping they would take some attention by attacking Russia and territorial holdings, specifically the Suez Canal (though owned by France, this was another key component to the infrastructure of transport of Britain), of Great Britain and France.
Britain was ready however, having detached an early regiment to Egypt in the case that the Ottomans joined the Central Powers. Under the command of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, this regiment marched up through the Sinai Peninsula and persuaded many Arabs, who were considered of lower rank in Ottoman society then the Turkish population to join their ranks. Soon, the British had persuaded the Sharif of Mecca to join their cause, and though his troops were somewhat limited, his flag among the British was a huge a hit to the Ottoman cause. As he traveled further up the coast, T.E. Lawrence settled at the Hijaz. Then, the tracks took heavy damage. “Following the Allied capture of Aqaba, many Turkish locomotives and many miles of track were destroyed; traveling on the railway became an uncertain adventure; civilian traffic languished and with the termination of hostilities, ceased altogether.”1 Colonel Lawrence’s troops dynamited the tracks so frequently that the vein that ran supplies from the Northern Ottoman Empire to the Southern was severed. Though, Syed Tanvir Wasti does remind us that the Ottoman still controlled the southern tracks.3
The Hijaz Railway was never fully repaired. Owing mostly to the separation of a vast amount of Ottoman lands at the end of the war to France and Britain as territories, the Rail line did not run through a single country but several, which made repairs require international cooperation. In fact, the Ottoman Empire itself was doomed to fall soon after the war as the Turkish revolution, a war fought mainly against Greece, culminated in the creation of the Republic of Turkey, which took over the remaining Ottoman lands, in 1933.
Still, there is talk of repairing the Hijaz today and adding to it. “The Amman’s latest grand vision… sees Jordan as the centre-piece of a modern regional railway network”2. This “vision”, as Laura Haynes calls it, is a sort of spine that attaches to the Hijaz but sprouts out to areas such as Cairo and Baghdad. However, the “project remains at an extremely elementary stage”2. The Hijaz Railway Company itself has been forced to cancel many of its recent trips as there is so little interest.
Today, our infrastructure system is a little bit different. Today we rely on the internet to send messages and planes, or cars if they’re local, to send supplies to troops. Planes and cars are by far more resilient than rail traffic. For one thing, they must be attacked while in transit, and they can only be attacked one at a time. However, internet and phone lines, are by far less resilient. Lines can be cut, satellites can be blocked and even wireless internet can be easily brought down. Also, both phones and internet can be seen or heard by an outside observer that the sender nor the receiver know is there, though this is a less a question of resiliency. Once again, we choose speed and comfort over resiliency, though in times of war, this could be understood, even if the system is going to come under fire.
source for photo: http://www.rogersstudy.co.uk/hejaz/hejaz_railway/railway_map_all_stations.jpg
source for photo: http://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/20091013_0051.jpg?w=500&h=563
source for photo: http://mannaismayaadventure.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/lawrence-of-arabia/
In the above photos, we see the original plan for the Hijaz Raliway. It was meant to travel from Damascus to Medina. In the second photo damage done to the Hijaz by Colonel Lawrence and his troops is apparent. Finally in the bottom photo, a Turkis engine still sits in Saudi Arabia were it was no doubt derailed.
The above images are a comparison of the major wars that America fought between the Revolutionary war and World War II (it does not include the Babary Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish American War, because I felt that the trend was most apparent through the major wars.The top shows the Revolutionary war were the transit system was limited to boats and horses. All notes had to be hand delivered, and the timing was off. Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the battle of New Orleans, which has been called the greatest battle of the War of 1812, was fought two weeks after the war ended, because neither general knew that the war was over. In the Civil War, railroads ran through the country as a spine. Battles could stretch out a little bit, but it still took a long time for messages and supplies to be delivered, so battles were still fairly close to home. In the First World War, again rail was the line of travel, biplanes existed but they were useless for delivering supplies and in combat, though there are a few bizarre stories of men throwing grenades out of biplanes. Finally, by the time of World War II, war could be global. There is a reason there is no photo encompassing the range of World War II above, because the entire World was affected. This was largely because people, supplies, and messages could reach far away places relatively quickly by plane. This ability for global war has only increased since the invention of the internet.
1) Lockyer, Norman. “Reactivation of the Hijaz Railway, Saudi Arabia.” Nature (London). 208. no. 5017 (1965): 1262.
2) Haynes, Laura. “Reviving The Legend..” Middle East Economic Digest. 49. no. 12 (2005): 49-50.
3) Wasti, Syed Tanvir. “Muhammad Inshaullah and the Hijaz Railway..” Middle Eastern Studies. 34. no. 2 (1998): 60.