Chapter 2 – The West’s advantage

Despite a few battles lost in Afghanistan, in South Africa, and in Tonkin, Europeans triumphed in all the wars and conflicts they waged in Asia, Africa, and Oceania. What was the basis of the West’s advantage? The importance of weapons superiority cannot, of course, be underestimated. The percussion-cap rifle, which was loaded from the front, was replaced by rifles loading from the breech (1860) and soon by the repeating rifle. In particular, the Gatling gun (1862) was followed by the powerful Maxim machine gun, which demonstrated its dreadful effectiveness against waves of determined attackers, like in Omdurman (Sudan, 1898). Fire was killing massively. In the second part of the nineteenth century if not earlier, European troops, except in the event of a surprise, were out of the reach of missile weapons and even of the type of fire arms being used in most societies. But the colonial wars, considered at the time as minor, were successful far beyond the limited means committed to them. Outside of the weaponry, what were the factors explaining these achievements?