The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

10
War and Other Ways
to Kill People

W e humans are a hardy lot. It eventually takes the cellular deterioration of old age to set most of us up for death, which then occurs by cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, or other illness. Death by natural causes is almost always the result of a protracted assault on our bodies. We are hard to kill. 1

But now and then we undertake the technological problem of killing one another intentionally. That is seldom easy to do, and it has to play out against the universal human commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” So the problem is not only a difficult one technologically, it is also one that calls up all manner of creative tactics of self-justification. The motivation for killing takes many forms—the greater good of society as expressed in war and capital punishment, mercy killing, personal gain (often expressed in crime against another person), revenge, anger, or suicide. I expect we all have sanctioned killing by one or more of these means at one time or another, by either words or deeds.

We have created little original technology for the purpose of killing one another. However, a great deal of our existing technology has been adapted to that purpose. Weapons for hunting have repeatedly been elaborated into weapons of crime or war. Lisa Meitner, whose 1939 paper described the energy release of nuclear fission, clearly thought she had identified the ultimate peacetime power source. Asked what use the Wrights' new airplane would be, Orville Wright unhesitatingly shot back, “Sport!” While war was far from the Wright brothers' minds in the process of invention, their first big commercial sale was to the United States Army.

-139-

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity *
  • 1 - Mirrored by Our Machines 3
  • 2 - God, the Master Craftsman 20
  • 3 - Looking Inside the Inventive Mind 35
  • 4 - The Common Place 55
  • 5 - Science Marries into the Family 70
  • 6 - Industrial Revolution 86
  • 7 - Inventing America 96
  • 8 - Taking Flight 115
  • 9 - Attitudes and Technological Change 126
  • 10 - War and Other Ways to Kill People 139
  • 11 - Major Landmarks 153
  • 12 - Systems, Design, and Production 167
  • 13 - Heroic Materialism 179
  • 14 - Who Got There First? 193
  • 15 - Ever-Present Dangers 209
  • 16 - Technology and Literature 219
  • 17 - Being There 229
  • Correlation of the Text with the Radio Program 241
  • Notes 243
  • Index 255
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