"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If Sunbeams Were Weapons of War

“I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy… If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago.” Sir George Porter, Nobel Laureate in chemistry, spoke those prophetic words. We have barely scratched the surface of the sun (so to speak), but there lies great potential (and from a purely physics standpoint it is tremendous "potential"). But more about that later. For now, let's reach into the "dark" side of the Pentagon. Remember the "Dark Budget" referenced in my last posting? Well here is just part of the lowdown on the dark side.

Have you ever heard of DARPA??? Think Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Sounds like just another military agency, right? Wrong. This one is way out there, and I mean REALLY out there. DARPA is a division of the Pentagon that funds all manner of far out research in science and technology (not your run-of-the-mill Research and Development), some of it so far out that you wonder what these people are thinking. As the book describes it, they are thinking that no matter how far out an idea may seem, if they don’t try it out some foreign enemy might build it and use it against us (before we can use it against them of course).

This is a book about what I would call science fiction, that is certain science that is (thanks to some wacky scientists with crazy ideas they just can’t get out of their heads) really fiction. Sharon's book gives us tremendous insights into a governmental agency that runs like the mythical perpetual motion machine, a veritable bottomless pit of funding that is literally thrown at anyone with an out-of-the-box idea that just might remotely have a snowball’s chance in Hell of being used in some way by the military. DARPA has grown astronomically since the inception of the “War on Terror”, and this book tells the story of DARPA through one of its hair-brained ideas that just refuses to die (even when Congress steps in to cut off funding); the “isomer weapon”, a “futuristic device that would rival the power of a nuclear bomb” (and which the folks at DARPA believed would get around arms treaties).

The only problem with the isomer weapon, as Weinberger so thoroughly explains in fascinating detail, is that it just doesn’t seem to work, and even if it did a single weapon could cost billions of dollars. DARPA – Think robotic vehicles, pilot less drones, exoskeleton suits for soldiers, nuclear hand grenades. What!!!!!! Yep, the idea for the isomer bomb originated in 1984 when a list of possible uses for the isomer included – of course it was the last one on the list – a “nuclear hand grenade”. As the author shows, nothing is too wild for DARPA. Oh, and did I mention the "gay bomb"?

I won’t say any more; you will have to read the book, and it is well researched and written. It is a story of “high comedy”, as one reviewer wrote. But it is also a powerful story of a Pentagon run amok, sucking phenomenal amounts of money into the bottomless pit we know as the military-industrial complex while we throw a few crumbs to diplomacy and foreign assistance, not to mention programs of social uplift in our own nation.

If you have any interest in defense spending, you must READ THIS BOOK! Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld, by Sharon Weinberger, C2006. You can read more about Sharon's book (and its subject) at ABC News.

Back to "Sunbeams" - Just consider, for a moment, if instead of spending the kind of money DARPA spends (on its research and development preparing for war), we spent that money on research and development on alternative energy (and related) technologies. Just think of the patents, new jobs, new business opportunities, the goodwill (and many other benefits) that would be generated in the U.S. and abroad by leading the world to independence from oil. Just think; what a revolution that would be!!!

Stay tuned for more on such a plan in a subsequent blog posting.



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