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Part 1: What Impact Does Military Technology Have On Society?

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- This is Part I in a Three Part Series -

This article originally published on our Home Page in May 2012

With this article we begin the first of a series of three essays on technology and war. We start by analyzing the impact of nuclear weapons and the concept of the ultimate weapon on war, continue in the next article with a discussion on how technology shapes warfare, and in the last article end with a final essay on what makes modern military technology different from that of the pre-modern period, from the commander's perspective. Join us each month, and feel free to send us your comments.  


As we all know, many of the scientists who worked on the development of the atom bomb had misgivings as to whether it was the morally and ethically responsible thing to do; to develop a bomb with such great capabilities, killing power, and ability to destroy humanity. A number of them, including Albert Einstein himself, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt to express their concerns, yet at the same time urged that the bomb be built. Looking back at the advent and use of emerging technologies for military purposes, this instance of the scientists involved in the advancement of technology stepping forward and warning of the consequences of what they were doing was probably the first example of society recognizing that there is both a positive and a negative side to the inexorable advance of science.

Yet is that really the case? Perhaps more importantly, is it really the case that military use of emerging technologies always represents the dark side of life, while civilian use of it represents the bright side?

Israel's options on IranAsk the average man on the street and he would surely say that the military is quick to find terrible uses for new technology. Like some Darth Vader, the military is usually portrayed as skulking down the back alleys of civilization, looking for a chance to wreck its worst on society by repurposing a new technology for the sole purpose of maiming or killing.

That’s what most people think. Our view? Bah. Humbug.

In our view, the truth is just the opposite. From our perspective it’s the military that is first to find useful purposes for new technologies, purposes of the kind that frequently result in the further enlightenment of society and bettering of people’s lives. 

Take the Internet or the Global Positioning System (GPS). Without the military and DARPA, there would be no Internet (Al Gore to the contrary…), nor an ability for you, with your wife and kids in the car, to act like you are all knowing and well aware of where you are going, as you aimlessly try to find your way to your grandkid’s Little League baseball final, all without stopping to ask for directions. GPS, in all its wonder, saves you from the embarrassment of having to admit that most of the time you don’t know where you are or where you are going… something every man knows you’re not First atomic bomb testsupposed to admit to the opposite sex. Our point being that clearly, in the case of the Internet and GPS, rather than the military trying to work its worst on society, it has helped us all.

We would say the same for the atom and hydrogen bombs too.

As we look at the confrontation that continues to escalate between the West and Iran, over Iran’s stubborn insistence that it has a right to develop its own nuclear technology (read: bomb), it serves our purpose to look again at what the atom bomb brought us all.

For one thing, while during its development there were a number of scientists that posited that it might cause the world ill, none of them walked away from their jobs or quit the project. Instead, to a man they realized that society is wholly unable to stop the advent of science or technology, whether it wants to or not. Because of the free thinking capabilities of the human race, to try to do so would be folly. Instead, what early scientists knew then and we know today is that whether science or technology is used for good Nagasaki - 9 August 1945or evil is not based on the technology per se, but on the intent of the people who have access to it and control it.

In the case of technologies that can be militarized, this is especially true. And in Iran’s case, this factor is what drives the Israelis crazy. The intent of the leaders of Iran is what counts, not Iran’s ability to cause nuclear fission.

One can see this by looking at those scientists that have lined up on the side of trying to develop even more destructive military technologies… in the interest of finding what is usually referred to as the Ultimate Weapon. Among them are distinguished people like Alfred Nobel, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Robert Boyle, Paul Dirac and others who thought of weapons as having the ability to contribute positively to society.

Weapons, contributing positively to society? How so?

By making it possible to eliminate the blight of war, or at least bring its excesses under control, through the invention of a weapon so terrible that no one would have the courage to use it, lest it be used against them too. Therein, the Ultimate Weapon.

In a few months it will be 67 years since the first atom bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945, at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Used only twice in anger (August 6 and 9), the severity of the destruction it wrought in the real world (versus the theoretical world of quantum physics and mathematics) saw its further actual use quickly set aside in favor of the threat of its use. In essence, with its first explosion it became the Ultimate Weapon.

Enriching U235Few could argue that the existence of this Ultimate Weapon has caused those who possess it to turn from considering actual use of the device to its application in another yet different capacity: as an instrument of politics. This became possible because once the world knew what the atomic bomb could do, there was no need to actually do it. The theory of Mutually Assured Destruction proved this point, as any reasonable world leader can see that the threat of its use on the part of sensible countries against regimes on the wrong side of history was sufficient to keep those countries in line. That is, provided that those rogue countries were able to think and act reasonably, on their own accord. But what of countries whose doctrine of societal development is not reasonable, not by our western standards at least?

For more than six decades every country that has had access to the bomb has also subscribed to the common belief that preservation of their own society was more important than the destruction of that of their enemy. And because of this it has been the case that the worst destructive power that the advancement of military science and technology could invent has served to make the world more peaceful and safe, not less so. More specifically, as opposed to being a threat to society, the Ultimate Weapon has turned out to be the long sought after war-stopper.

North Korea's Missile TechnologyAnd while it continues to be the case that technology is neither good, bad, nor always neutral, there are some disturbing signs that things may be changing. The reason is that while technology by itself is non deterministic, it is also the case that it turns out to be the ideal instrument by which society can satiate its desire to manipulate the material world for human purposes. Don't believe us? Just look at genetically modified crops, or even Botox for that matter.

As we relate this to the case of Iran or North Korea, the concern becomes one of gauging whether their social values match those of the majority of the world or not. If they do, then they will use their increasing access to Ultimate Weapon technology to manipulate the material world for the benefit of humanity. If not, then we are all in for a very bumpy ride.

Again, we make the point: whether the advent of a particular technology ends up causing good or evil depends not on the technology itself, but on what humans choose to do with it. This is especially so for military hardware, and therein our concern over both Iran and North Korea gaining access to either nuclear technology or an effective ballistic missile system.

Iran's Missile TechnologyIn the case of North Korea, it would appear that while its leaders are bombastic, they are not without intelligence. Self serving, egoistic, petulant, and childish, yes. Stupid, no. Their effort to gain access to Ultimate Weapon technology is likely little more than a ploy to achieve the global footing they seek, and/or to use it to either fatten their pockets or, hopefully, find a way to re-enter society through the back door. Regardless, while their doctrine of social development may be convoluted, it appears to parallel ours enough to give us comfort that they fear reduction of their society to a parking lot as much as we do our own. If that is the case, then we need not fear North Korea any more than we do Russia or China today. While it may take a while, eventually the North Koreans will come around.

But what of Iran?

In the case of Iran, one might ask: does their society place more emphasis and value on preparing for the return of the Twelfth Imam, or on its own survival? Does their doctrine of social development parallel our own, or is it driven by messianic overtones that undermine logical reason?  

Shi’ite Islam states that Allah shielded or hid Muhammad al-Mahdi as the Twelfth Imam so that he would be able to return to the world at the end of time, when he would then reappear and save it from the chaos it was descending into as it approached its end. And while Shi’ite orthodoxy has it that humans are powerless to encourage the Twelfth Imam to return, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a member of the Hojjatieh sect, believes that if he can cause enough chaos and hasten the end of the world's coming, he can bring about the return of the Twelfth Imam sooner than Allah might normally have had it.

imam masjid mosqueConsidering this, one can quickly see that whereas world leaders who seek to avoid the end of the world can leverage the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction and the utility of the Ultimate Weapon to assure world peace, those who seek a quicker end to humanity see just the opposite: a chance to end things now, quickly, on their terms. That being the case, MAD and the strength of the Ultimate Weapon play perfectly into the hands of a wacky society such as that of Iran, a messianic cult that says it wants to hasten the end of the world, not stop it.

This is  deeply troublesome. More than just being a means to turn Israel into a has been experiment, Iran’s continuing effort to develop nuclear weapons seems based more so on attaining religious goals than dealing a neighboring country a devastating blow. Judged by the standards of reason, this form of Islamic belief threatens the world, not just Israel. One might ask: is all this crazy talk simply Iranian nationalist and Islamist rhetoric, something designed to intimidate the west, or does it represent their true, core beliefs?

One might also ask: can we afford to wait and find out?

For as long as rogue regimes continue to threaten the safety of others, those who wish to see a peaceful world will have to use the military force they have at their disposal, both manpower and technology, to suppress and stop those who would use the Ultimate Weapon for non-peaceful purposes. In this regard, and especially with respect to Iran, the preemptive aspects of the Bush Doctrine are beginning to look more and more attractive.





White House vs Iran 

Click to read the next two articles:                           Article II                               Article III 

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This page originally posted 1 May 2012 

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