La guerre au vingtième siècle

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Robida, Albert, author and illustrator. La guerre au vingtième siècle (War in the 20th Century). In La Caricature, 1883. Paris: Georges Decaux, 1887.[[1] ] France: Hachette Livre, in partnership with the National Library of France, 2018.[2]

I. F. Clarke has Robida and this work in the company of H. G. Wells and Conan Doyle for those in the 19th century able to begin to imagine how "technology might be able to create new instruments of war," hence, new ways (and costs) of war. Clarke finds Robida a relative "lightweight" (p. 83) but Robida's work here,

[...] the first major vision of technological warfare ever presented [...]. The vision of this remarkable engraver, lithographer, caricaturist, architect, and writer represents a distinct phase in the growth of the idea of the future. Robida comes midway in the development that begins with the total optimism of Jules Verne in the 1860s and ends with the first prediction of the universal horror of atomic warfare in The World Set Free by H. G. Wells in 1914. The two writers, Robida and Wells, had an unusual awareness of the destructive potential of technology, [81] when used for military purposes. * * *

The first stage of this realization appears in the text and drawings of Robida's La guerre au vingtième siècle. They present a picture of future warfare that was very different from what all the admirals and generals had been saying. Unlike Wells, however, Robida is not entirely serious in his forecast of war in the twentieth century. He looks into the possibilities of scientific warfare with all the ironical detachment of a satirist who has no illusions about the readiness with which men would use the most frightful weapons in order to conquer; but the difference between the realities of 1883 and what might happen in the future was of 1945 was still big enough to provoke amusement rather than terror and despair. Robida's position is closer to Verne than to Wells of The World Set Free; he is hardly attacking warfare, but rather the folly of human beings who might one day, if they were so foolish, really develop all the weapons he drew with such admirable ability. He foresaw most of what appeared later on: submarines, underwater troops, mines, torpedoes, smoke-screens, automatic small-arms fire, air bombardments of cities, a chemical corps complete with poisonous shells, a bacteriological warfare company to spray the enemy with microbes, and the blockhouse roulants, the forerunners of Wells's land ironclads. (Clarke, ch. 3 pp. 81-82)

For context, see also Marc Angenot's review in SFS 10.2 (July 1983), "Albert Robida's Twentieth Century" (Albert Robida. Le Vingtième siècle).[3]

RDE, finishing, 13Dec20