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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
Dolphin Warriors. Why should such a peaceful animal be turned into a war machine?
Dolphins attacking Iraqi combatants, bacteria used as a computer chip, and ray-guns similar to Star Trek phasers have all been recent technological inventions proposed to be used for the US military. Over the span of the Iraq war, media on science and technology have been releasing reports on what some scientists have come up with for the military. Some of the inventions have potential, some seem to be absurd and others are as both gruesome and creative as Leonardo da Vinci's notebook sketches on his inventions of weaponry. Aside from highlighting amazing innovations, the list of discoveries that has been compiled and summarized in the following paragraphs serves a second purpose: it's also connected by a common theme of showing the paradoxical aspect of inventions that are both commercial and inconsumable. While reading the following list one ought to ask themselves two questions: "How much money and resources have been spent in the research and development of such weapons? Why do we need such inventions so early in our generation's timeline?"

Included in the arsenal is the aforementioned enemy-hunting dolphin. The associated-press, reported that the trained bottle-nose dolphins "may be the U.S. Navy's best line of defense against terrorists in scuba gear." The dolphins are trained to find mines and approaching enemy scuba divers. Meanwhile, the sea lion would chase down the diver with "hand-cuffs" designed for their mouths which they can clamp onto the swimming intruder's leg to arrest them. The Navy's mammal training program has been in existent since the 1950s and has been used in prior wars.

The imagination of the military stretches even further as they wish to incorporate the world of microorganisms into battle. Microorganisms, such as the very E.Coli found in sewage water, have been manipulated by scientists to be used as various machines including cameras, microchips, plastics, drugs, batteries and fuel. This new ground-breaking technology is something that military could possibly incorporate into their war strategy as soldiers run low on other resources, which is common, and microorganisms have the potential to be a relatively abundant alternative.

A more secretive development by the US military involves a ray-beam gun. When fired at someone it will make the person feel like they've caught on fire. The gun which uses electromagnetic waves, will penetrate about half a millimeter of skin and that causes the sensation of burning. The ray gun could be available by 2010.

Although these types of developments appear to be more advanced on the US military side, the development of weapons is not limited to America. One needs to only look at the Eastern side of the world to see that Iran also has made claims to certain developments. One such development was a missile that could avoid radars and hit several targets at once. Another product was a stealth "flying boat," reported by Iranian broadcast media, that was capable of traveling while avoiding radars.
As impressive as some of these inventions may seem, they're potential to develop society are minimal. Once they are taken out of their military context the scientific innovations almost seem useless. In his canonical work, 1984, George Orwell wrote on how even if the military invented a fictitious "Floating Fortress" it wouldn't advance the development of civilization: "War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population."
The problem isn't that these technologies have been developed but rather that the expenditure of time and research could be based in a more constructive and beneficial research. Perhaps, one would argue that many scientists come up with bizarre and useless inventions all the time. One comical example is the seedless watermelon, which comedian Jerry Seinfeld commented on as "Other scientists dedicate themselves to AIDS, cancer… heart-disease but these guys are saying 'No I think I'm going to devote myself to melon, that's much more important.'" However, the scientific research in the military is not a case of a few scientists and engineers that have deviated from the well-intended scientists who rather focus on other nobler issues such as AIDS. In his 1961 farewell speech to the American people, the president and former general Dwight Eisenhower warned that the economy was beginning to become heavily dependent on military services and the production of military goods. The "Military-Industrial Complex" including scientific research was something that needed to diminish but is expanding instead.
A secondary argument may be that we wouldn't have the technology, such as the internet or cell phones if it weren't for the military. Granted, that war may have stimulated the rate of scientific discovery in certain eras, it can be just as easily noticed that science and technology haven't been guided by wars but rather natural human curiosity. Certain useful inventions we have today could have been developed when their function became more necessary such as the case with dynamite. Even the science behind one of the most advanced weapons and scientific developments, atomic energy, wasn't created for the A-Bomb. Many of the scientists who made the creation of such a bomb possible had no intention of creating the weapon, such as Albert Einstein's paper on mass and energy in 1905, and only gave serious thought to the palpability of such a creation about three decades later, starting with Einstein's official warning of the possibility of the invention in 1939.
The true necessity of such inventions are, again, best summarized by Orwell, "In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated." Thus such scientific research as the ones mentioned should be eyed with at least a nuance of public scrutiny.


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