Some thoughts about Science and War

Who says war doesn’t bring us anything good

Although there is absolutely no denying war is a horrible thing, innocents dying, cities destroyed, cultures lost….but every cloud has a silver lining. Warfare has in fact brought us significant technological advances. However, how can such a terrible thing spur innovation and creativity?

One answer I’ve mentioned in previous post is that in a war, we are always thinking “how can i kill him more effectively than he can kill me”. This leads us to find creative ways to destroy. Even the earliest men must have thought something along the lines of “this stone is harder than my fist, if i hit him with the stone it’ll cause more damage, right?”. Moving along the timeline, societies that manage to utilize the better technologies for warfare almost always come out on top. The Greeks with bronze, Chinese and later the Europeans with gunpowder, and even the Americans with the nuclear bomb. The concept is simple, be more ruthless and efficient then the enemy.

We Humans are very good at waging war, however when we are not killing each other, we find time to improve our general standard of living, so it’s no wonder many useful inventions during war are adapted in peacetime. My past few posts have featured a few, but there are countless more, the wristwatch for example. A simple everyday object we don’t think much of, owes its origins to fighter pilots wanting a convenient way to tell the time, pocket watches are just too much of a hassle when trying to fly a plane.

Technologies from war have actually very significant impacts on our lives, aside from some simple conveniences. In the early days, metal works used to make armor and weapons were used to make jewelry, better tools and infrastructure. Major scientific advancements such as nuclear research and space travel also arose from the United States trying to outdo Japan and Russia respectively. Thanks to this, we have nuclear energy, a potential magic bullet for all the earth’s sustainable energy issues. Progress in space travel also granted us satellites, the key to GPS and satellite TV.

Imagine if humans were a peaceful race, would these inventions exist? Would they be invented sooner or later regardless? Or would the world be completely and totally different.

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9 thoughts on “Some thoughts about Science and War

  1. I would like to make a distinction here. War accelerates technology, not science and especially not fundamental science. Richard Feynman remembered his years working on the atomic bomb during WW2, “All science stopped during the war except the little bit that was done at Los Alamos. And that was not much science, it was mostly engineering.”

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    1. I guess I did use “science” in a very vague sense here, but thanks for your comment 🙂 although war did accelerate some things that I would consider scientific, such as new forms of energy and ways to synthesise energy for example

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  2. Actually, DARPA’s work that created the internet was defence-related, government-funded research. So war was not directly responsible for the internet, and the first network was among universities, I think (funded by DARPA). My question is: might the internet not have come up if governments funded more basic R&D instead of spending vast amounts of money on weapons? Is the US nuclear umbrella the reason why countries like Japan, S. Korea and Germany were able to save on their own defence spending to reach current levels of prosperity?

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  3. It is indeed undeniable that some technological advances are born of war. Sad that other more peaceful ones are also adapted to create a more efficient way to kill or subdue.
    Thanks for following my blog, which is much appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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