The industrial revolution in Europe had given the West an immense advantage throughout the world in weaponry, shipping, invention, and health. This advantage would last until air transport and the potential for atomic warfare again changed, by a quantum leap, the technological distance between societies, forcing a new formulation of the definitions of world power.
Until that time, national pride was relatively simple in its expressions. Prince Bernhard von Billow (1849-1929), chancellor of Germany from 1900 to 1909, whose aggressive policies over Morocco helped isolate his country and pave the way for World War I, remarked, “Where I have planted my foot, there shall no one else be permitted to place his.” And a British writer, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), wrote satirically of how technology—in the form of the machine gun—gave the British led by a Colonel Blood, victory over the Boers in the South African war:
I never shall forget the way
That Blood upon this awful day
Preserved us all from death.
He stood upon a little mound,
Cast his lethargic eyes around,
And said beneath this breath:
“Whatever happens we have got The Maxim gun,
and they have not.”
Technological superiority was not, of course, to be measured only or even primarily in terms of instruments of war. Quinine, which helped to control malaria; the development of efficient steamships; the laying of submarine cables—the English Channel was first crossed by cable in 1850— and the explosion in information and communications; the building of railroads; these and many other technological developments gave Western nations more and more power. In 1837 Macgregor Laird (1808-1861), an explorer, early expert on steamboats, and co-owner of one of the most famous Scottish shipyards, wrote after going by steam vessel up the Niger River in West Africa:
We have the power in our hands, moral, physical, and mechanical; the first, based on the Bible; the second, upon the wonderful adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon race to all climates, situations, and circumstances, … the third, bequeathed to us by the immortal James Watt. By his invention every river is laid open to us, time and distance are shortened.
If his spirit is allowed to witness the success of his invention here on earth, I can conceive no application of it that would meet his approbation more than seeing the mighty streams of the Mississippi and the Amazon, the Niger and the Nile, the Indus and the Ganges, stemmed by hundreds of steam-vessels, carrying the glad tidings of “peace and good will towards men” into the dark places of the earth which are now filled with cruelty.