Ivan Bloch

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Ivan Stanislavovic Bloch (1836 - 1902) (aka Johann von Bloch, Jean de Bloch, Ivan Bliokh) was a Polish banker and railway financier who devoted his private life to the study of modern industrial warfare. He was intrigued by the devastating victory of Prussia/Germany over France in 1870, which suggested to him that the solution of diplomatic problems by warfare had become obsolete in Europe. He published his six volume master work, La Guerre Future, popularized in translation as Is War Now Impossible?, in Paris in 1898.


Contribution to theory

Bloch's detailed analysis of modern warfare, its tactical, strategic and political implications, was widely read in Europe. Bloch's main argument was that:

  • New arms technology (e.g. smokeless gunpowder, improved rifle design, Maxims) had rendered maneuvers over open ground, such as bayonet and cavalry charges, obsolete. Bloch concluded that a war between the Great powers would be a war of entrenchment and that rapid attacks and decisive victories were likewise a thing of the past. He was able to calculate that entrenched men would enjoy a fourfold advantage over infantry advancing across open ground.
  • Industrial societies would have to settle the resultant stalemate by committing armies numbering in the millions, as opposed to the tens of thousands of preceding wars. An enormous battlefront would develop. A war of this type could not be resolved quickly.
  • The war would become a duel of industrial might, a matter of total economic attrition. Severe economic and social dislocations would result in the imminent risk of famine, disease, the "break-up of the whole social organization" and revolutions from below.


Bloch attended the first Hague Peace Conference in 1899, possibly at the invitation of Tsar Nicholas II, and distributed copies of his work to delegates from the diplomatic missions of 26 states, to little avail. The British publicist WT Stead also worked to spread Bloch's insights. In each particular, Bloch's theoretical research was rejected or ignored. To the English readers of The Contemporary Review, Bloch wrote in 1901:

Having busied myself for over fourteen years with the study of war in all its phases and aspects, I am astonished to find that the remarkable evolution which is rapidly turning the sword into a ploughshare has passed almost unnoticed even by the professional watchmen who are paid to keep a sharp look-out. In my work on the war of the future I endeavoured to draw a picture of this interesting process. But writing for specialists, I was compelled to enter largely into details, the analysis of which ran into 3,084 pages. The facts which are there garnered together, and the consequences which flow from them, run too strongly counter to the vested interests of the most powerful class of the community to admit of their being immediately embodied in measures of reform. And this I foresaw from the first. What I could not foresee was the stubbornness which not only recoiled from taking action but set itself to twist and distort the facts. Patriotism is highly respectable, but it is dangerous to identify it with the interests of a class. The steadfastness with which the military caste clings to the memory of a state of things which has already passed away is pathetic and honourable. Unfortunately it is also costly and dangerous. Therefore I venture now to appeal to the British masses, whose vital interests are at stake and whose verdict must be final.

Europe's patriots were unmoved. French cavalry and British infantry commanders only learned Bloch's lessons by a process of trial and error once Bloch's impossible war, World War I had begun. The Russian and German monarchies proved equally incapable of assimilating Bloch's cautionary words concerning revolution, paying the price with summary execution and exile, respectively.

Bloch's foresight is somewhat qualified by what proved an underestimation of the tactical and strategic significance of indirect (eg, artillery) fire, and his incapacity to foresee the development of the armoured tank and military aircraft. Neither oversight was significant enough to undermine his broadest observations, however.

An International Museum of War and Peace was established at Lucerne, Switzerland, in Bloch's name in 1902. According to peacemuseums.org [1] (http://www.peacemuseums.org/conferencedata/1/text/BEL-PAPER.htm), it was destroyed in one of the subsequent world wars, despite Switzerland's neutrality.

Role in contemporary theory

Bloch survived long enough after publishing his theory to turn his analytical talents to investigating the institutional barriers which prevented the theory's adoption by the military establishment. He appears to have concluded that the military had to be sidestepped, by a more direct appeal to voters.

Contemporary theory treats Bloch as the Clausewitz of the early 1900s. One recent review in the journal War in History [2] (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/arn/wih/2000/00000007/00000003/art00037) is especially interested to study the interaction between Bloch's theory and the military professionals of the time. In short, it finds that they tended to dismiss Bloch, on the basis that, while his 'maths' might be correct, his overall message ran the risk of being bad for morale. This inability for 'amateur' criticism to be assimilated by professionals is found to offer insight into 21st century military thought.

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