Air Chief Marshal Harris [objecting to a change in strategy recommended by statisticians]: Are we fighting this war with weapons or the slide rule?Winston Churchill
Churchill [after puffing on his cigar]: That’s a good idea. Let’s try the slide rule.
Allow me to begin by saying that I am not a person who likes, desires, or finds any redeeming value for the purpose of going to war. It is always driven by pursuit of greed and power of a very few individuals. It is vial and destructive. Far too many innocent people are harmed and little of value remains after a wartime. With today’s technology, it is a inhumane process of unemotional devastation. Yet, mankind has an enduring recorded history of being at war, someplace on this earth, in a continuous unbroken pattern of never-ending destruction. The human race is a warring race.
It would be wrong to believe that the past was peaceful. One reason why some people might have this impression is that many of the past conflicts feature less prominently in our memories; they are simply forgotten.
What is a war?
War is defined as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.
Has the world ever been at peace?
Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 7.9 percent of recorded history.
How many people have died in war?
At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. Estimates for the total number killed in wars throughout all of human history range from 150 million to 1 billion. War has several other effects on population, including decreasing the birthrate by taking men away from their wives. The reduced birthrate during World War II is estimated to have caused a population deficit of more than 20 million people.
How many people around the world serve in the military?
The combined armed forces of the world have 21.3 million people. China has the world’s largest, with 2.4 million. America is second with 1.4 million. India has 1.3 million, North Korea 1 million, and Russia 900,000. Of the world’s 20 largest militaries, 14 are in developing nations?
The Proverbial Phoenix Rising from the Ashes
What I do appreciate is technology, innovation, and creation. Sadly, war is often a genuine and major catalyst for these three advantageous inclinations. Calamity seems to go hand-in-hand with invention.
Of the enduring legacies from a war that changed all aspects of life – from economics, to justice, to the nature of warfare itself – the scientific and technological legacies of World War II for example, had a profound and permanent effect on life after 1945. Technologies developed during World War II for the purpose of winning the war found new uses as commercial products became mainstays of the American home in the decades that followed the war’s end.
Wartime medical advances also became available to the civilian population, leading to a healthier and longer-lived society. Added to this, advances in the technology of warfare fed into the development of increasingly powerful weapons that perpetuated tensions between global powers, changing the way people lived in fundamental ways. The scientific and technological legacies of World War II became a double-edged sword that helped usher in a modern way of living for postwar countries, while also launching the conflicts of the Cold War.
Wars put an enormous demand upon a nation’s resources. Those resources include everything from materials to military personnel. It’s expensive to wage war. And war places a burden upon a nation’s citizens. As soldiers march off to battle, the people left behind must work even harder to keep the nation’s infrastructure from collapsing.
But wars can also have beneficial effects on economic and technological development. In general, wars tend to accelerate technological development to adapt tools for the purpose of solving specific military needs. Later, these military tools may evolve into non-military devices.
Six Innovative Examples from World War II
There are thousands of amazing innovations that can be traced back to wartime developments. Here are six interesting creations that evolved from war to service the best interests of our post-war society.
A relatively recent example of this is radar. While scientists around the world worked on using radio antennae to detect distant objects during the early part of the 20th century, we credit Sir Robert Watson-Watt with building the first practical radar set in 1935. The British Air Ministry adopted his design and used it to detect aggressors during the early days of World War II.
In a way, the Internet itself began as a military project. Beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Defense funded a project called ARPANET. The purpose of the project was to develop the technologies and protocols necessary to allow multiple computers to connect directly to one another. This would allow people to share information with each other at unprecedented speeds.
A computer network could also have another benefit: national security. By creating a robust and flexible network, the United States could ensure that in the event of catastrophe, access to the nation’s supercomputers could remain intact. ARPANET’s protocols allowed information to travel across different routes. If something happened to a computer node along one route, the information could take another path to get to the right destination.
From the machine this article was written on to the processing power of a smart phone, modern computing would not be what it is without the innovation of the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park and Colossus.
Originally invented as a way to speed up the cracking of the Enigma codes, Colossus was the first of many computers which have gradually shrunk in size to become part of everyday life, with their use in work, schools, and play around the world.
Using German technology geared towards guiding the V2 rocket, the Americans and Russians were able to launch the first satellites, put men on the moon and build the International Space Station.
All of these post-war initiatives advanced our knowledge of the universe significantly. In a more everyday sense, signals bounce from satellites in space to bring you digital TV and now, high speed internet connectivity to the most remote or mobile locations. One of the most important innovations has been the GPS. Sat Navs triangulate your position between three satellites to tell you where you are in the world.
In today’s caffeinated world it might be hard to imagine a huge surplus of coffee beans sitting unused in warehouses in Brazil. Yet, it was exactly this problem, brought about by the Great Depression, which lead to suppliers asking Nestle to come up with a way of preserving it.
Soluble coffee products had been on the market before but they were vastly inferior in taste to the product created by Nestle in 1938. The brand pioneered the process of drying coffee extract with carbohydrates. Freeze-dried coffee would come about after the war, using the same vacuum technology used to produce penicillin, another wartime development.
Jet engines came to the fore in the closing months of World War II as a way of giving fighters an advantage over their adversaries. The German ME 262 was the first operational Jet fighter with the British Gloucester Meteor not far behind.
This technology, first developed between 1939 and 1945, is now being used by airlines to carry passengers all over the globe, so much so that flying abroad is now more affordable than ever.
In conclusion, World War II was the first “high tech war,” if we define that modern phrase to mean a war fought with new technologies that were specifically invented for that particular war. The atomic bombs were but the most visible of thousands of small inventions, from materials in the home to training films to new ways of seeing the enemy that contributed to the war effort. The organization of this great war of invention had lasting effects, setting the stage for our “national innovation system” to this day – where the country employs the talents of scientists and engineers to help solve national problems. Moreover, the inventions of World War II can be found in so much of our daily lives, from Saran wrap to computers and large-scale production and shipping of industrial products. Even our education system, the very way we train people to use new technologies, finds some of its origins in World War II. Sometimes it might seem lamentable that so much of our noblest energy – scientific and engineering creativity – goes into humanity’s most destructive activities. But like it or not, technology and war continue to be intertwined.
The fields of science and math and the technology that their study produces is not restricted to any one country or side in a war. Scientific and technological progress served both sides in WWII. Both sides poured national resources into developing new and better weapons, materials, techniques for training and fighting, improvements in transportation, medicine, nutrition, and communications. Science and math also know no morality. Alone, they can exist in pure form, devoid of practical use for good or bad. It is only when people apply their actions, desires, intentions to that science and math that they have an opportunity to use them for positive or negative purposes. Each generation of humans can then examine those uses and decide for themselves as a society and as individuals if that science and math was used wisely or not.
Burton, K. D. (2021). The Scientific and Technological Advances of World War II. WWII: The National War Museum, New Orleans. Retrieved on April 28, 2021 from, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/scientific-and-technological-advances-world-war-ii
Hedges, C. (2003). ‘What Every Person Should Know About War’. The New York Times. Retrieved on April 28, 2021 from, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/books/chapters/what-every-person-should-know-about-war.html
Mindell, D. (2009). The Science and Technology of World War II. State Library of North Carolina. Retrieved on April 28, 2021 from, https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/science-and-technology-world
Strickland, J. (2021). Do wars drive technological advancement? HowStuffWorks, a division of InfoSpace Holdings, LLC., A System1 Company. Retrieved on April 28, 2021 from, https://science.howstuffworks.com/war-drive-technological-advancement.htm
Unknown. (2020). 10 everyday inventions we owe to World War 2. FindmyPast. Retrieved on April 28, 2021 from, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/blog/history/10-everyday-inventions-you-owe-to-ww2
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.