Here is an interesting post called When Chemists go to War. It is a good reminder of how our work can be taken to places where we ourselves wouldn’t go. Ever develop chemistry that has killed someone? What would you do if you developed a substance that was used for destructive purposes? Would it bother you? Some scientists from the Manhattan Project were troubled by their work on the bomb, but others slept quite well.
I suppose it could be considered similar to the situation with the inventor of the baseball bat. Could this inventor have forseen the use of the bat in committing violence? Probably didn’t cross his mind. But if you’re inventing new military explosives, how do you cope with the knowledge that your invention’s use is specifically for more precise application of killing power? The fact is that there are many scientists who have no difficulty with this at all. I’ve met a few of them and they are very sober folks. They know exactly what their invention does and they are eager to do even better.
I think it is this ability to stand behind the abstract technical details, sheltered from the blood and guts reality, that allows scientists to rationalize their work on killing technology. Scientists will never have to carry with them the olfactory battlefield memories of bomb smoke and shredded bowel. Weapons labs are relatively safe places to work. The weapons scientists biggest hazard, realistically, is the commute to and from the lab. Perhaps weapons designers and munitions manufacturers should have to clean up after a car bomb or carry bodies from the scene so as to emphasize the exact consequences of this work.
Maybe the most important thing we can do to honor soldiers lost and wounded in battle is to resolve that we will produce fewer dead and wounded soldiers. One approach embraced by many is to make war more effiicient and more automated. Send machines into battle rather than people. The other approach is to be a bit less warlike. Throttle back on weapons spending. Take the view that war isn’t really glorious, but rather that it is an uncivilized duty we are called upon to do on occasion.
Amassing huge armed forces presents the temptation to use them. The goal for our national leaders should be … lead us not into temptation.