Personal Protection Over Time
Over the course of history, humankind has been waging war against each other and the victor often credits their successes to advanced technology, weapons, and strategies however one pivotal part that often gets ignored by both sides of any conflict is the defense aspect on the soldiers which eventually passes down to civilians. Since the improvement of armor usually develops conjointly new weaponry, most pieces come around eras with massive leaps in warfare technology or tactics. Civilians often seek the surplus weapons or armor for themselves to ensure protection from governments and each other from the days where houses had swords to the concealed carries of today. Armor and more recently, bullet proof armor has always been made widely available for personal protection in modern society although certain countries such as Australia and most of the EU still prevent the purchase or use of it.
Before body armor, casualties on battlefields were massive and unpreventable due to lack of medical knowledge and blunt brute-force strategies that our tribal ancestors used on each other during the stone age. Although numbers during the skirmishes weren’t very high, the death toll as a percentage took a huge blow to the populations. Near the end of the stone age, the only real protection a person would have from incoming assaults and projectiles were the animal hides they wore and wooden make-shift shields. The good news however was that since the weapons were also undeveloped, the only thing that was of massive danger were blunt objects and arrows near the end.
As the stone age fizzled out thanks to the beginnings of smelting and the creation of the bronze age which meant new technology, new weapons, new armor, and bigger civilizations. Leather Body Armor encompasses the beginning of that age as man had also perfected the curing of leather for many uses from clothing to building materials. People began to use leather hides to make sturdy leather armor for themselves when war came along. This innovation helped stop some deaths from the harder, sharper bronze weapons but they would still be able to cut through any leather armor and shields eventually. Leather armor was the go-to for most of ancient civilization for cheap protection when they hit the battlefield. The feudal Japanese were masters who perfected the art of molding leather armor in layers and scaly patterns that would redirect blows off instead of resist them and was very effective against iron and steel weapons.
As leather began to phase out, a new type of cheap(ish) light armor was developed: chain mail. Chain mail was a thin fabric made of interwoven metal chains that were brought together in a pattern that would prevent slashing blows and arrow attacks from killing the wearer. This innovation proved to be pivotal because when chain mail was combined with a sturdy piece of armor on top or underneath, the person could be relatively protected from most attacks for a few strikes before they would be in trouble.
During the bronze age, heavier and better supplied soldiers donned bulky bronze body armor. This armor reflected similarly to their leather and metal counterparts although they were still fairly inefficient since having fitted metal armor was a very new and weird invention at the time. Most of the people who wore this armor were horse cavalry troops because it allowed them to leg around such weight. Bronze soon became obsolete to wear on the battlefield thanks to the iron age which ushered in even harder, sturdier weapons and armor.
The iron age and steel age brought civilization to its first most modern relatives of super cities, castles, and coliseums. During this long course of history, humankind armed itself with all kinds of different weapons and strategies which are still mimicked and studied today. Great Empires rose and fell with might and sword and a large, silent contributor to that was the armor seen then. Metal armor first saw its hayday with the Greek and Roman Conquests where the Greeks would use large iron shields and long metal pikes to form a spiked phalanx and march toward their enemies. The Romans developed that strategy further by adding metal plated armor: woven together with leather strips to their soldiers and broke the phalanx mass into centuries of 100 for more mobility. Afterward, the struggle of unarmored speed and heavy armored protection waged between medieval kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire and the Hun Hoards. The invention of gunpowder however, made the metal weapons and armors largely obsolete.
For a large period after gunpowder is made and used, body armor fades out to relative antiquity because the metal pieces couldn’t stop bullets well enough to make up for their weight; heavy armies were being out matched by lighter ones because of it. From the early 1600’s until WWI, body armor all but disappears and becomes largely obsolete. The bullet proof/resistant armor we see today comes in large thanks to two major investments from the winning sides of WWI and WWII where the soviets were arming their engineers with steel cuirasses to help with explosions and then realized how it made them nearly invincible in comparison to their peers. The other end of the spectrum, the U.S. forces used flak vests on their soldiers to prevent death from shrapnel and later developed it to stop small caliber bullets both of those new uses brought a light to the idea of body armor being used once again.
Modern body armor today as we know it pays its homage largely to the Vietnam war where troops requested their flak jackets be equipped to handle rounds from their adversaries AK47’s 7.62mm round and because of that need, the first “bullet proof vest” was made and fielded; sadly it didn’t make it in time to actually be used during the Vietnam War. Afterwards, research into stopping bullets showed a promising compromise that protects from bullets; a composite armor that is a mix of soft and hard armor; to increase the impact duration (which reduces damage) and to ultimately stop the bullet altogether.
Thanks to those developments in body armor technology, civilians and soldiers can both buy body armors of different types depending on their needs and preferences. Because of the research conducted post WWII, we now enjoy a wide variety of protection from bullets as well as blunt objects, stabs, and spikes. Today, body armor comes in three main types: Soft, Hard, and Composite; each having their own unique advantages and disadvantages. When buying body armor, make sure to look for certification in NIJ (National Institute of Justice) or OLES (Office of Law Enforcement Standards) to make sure it works well and will actually protect you. (website) provides some of the best armor around with varying levels of NIJ certified protection at a price lower than a new handgun or AR. The plate carriers that come with have all kinds of colors, patterns, and functions to make each vest customizable to your wants and needs. They also just recently released a sleek backpack that can transform into a full vest system in a flash.
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