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11-08-2015, 17:22

THE WAR AND SCIENCE

The war brought together the power of science and industry and the power of government as never before. The personification of this union was Fritz Haber, the German chemist. i By synthesizing nitrogen before the war, Haber made it possible for Germany to produce munitions even when the Allied blockade cut it off from the outside world. His seminal act, however, was to convince the German government and military of the uses of poison gas, then to supervise its application on the western front. In all, between 1914 and 1918, governments called on their scientists and inventors for new discoveries and on their industrialists for new feats of production. The war was the seed ground for the weapons of the future. Great Britain, for example, put the world's first aircraft carrier into the water in time for the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In several countries, including Germany and the United States, the airplane went from the primitive, barely armed models of 1914 to sophisticated, long-range types available in time for the final years of combat. The growing use of tanks by the Americans, British, and French in the final offensive of 1918 likewise began to open a new era in armed conflict. Soon after the war's end, devices first invented or first widely used in wartime found vast application in the civilian world. Radio became first a basic tool for warring armies, then, after 1918, a common conveyor of news and entertainment in middle-class homes. In June 1919, Captain John Brown of Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) and a fellow officer made the first successful flight across the Atlantic. Their trip from Newfoundland to Ireland opened the way for long-range commercial aviation. The scientist in government employ or under government contract, active in the development of weaponry, remains a living legacy of the war. At the close of the century, the immense destructive capacity of modem weapons, which first became fully evident in World War I, remains a factor in intemafional life. Nonetheless, the ulfimate destructive tool of war, nuclear weapons (which came out of the World War II experience), has not been employed for the past five decades, though Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the threat of biological and chemical weapons use during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and after recalls the extremes, and horrors, of World War I. The World War I era's readiness to resort to whatever weaponry existed or could be conjured up has not continued to its logical conclusion. The horror and the irrationality of launching nuclear salvos has so far restrained the international powers that have such weapons at hand. As in other areas, the trajectory of events set in motion by the war has gone forward in a twisted and unpredictable fashion.

 

 

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