Dual Use Technologies

Did you know that there was a chance that we’d enter WWI as German allies? It’s true!

There was a huge hue and cry about the blockade that Britain used in an effort to strangle the Germans of needed material. The Brits would seize cargo that was bound for the Kaiser if it was deemed to “have military value”, even if it came from a neutral country like the US.

At first, the list of things to be banned was exclusively munitions or bulk material that was needed by those industries that directly supported the military. Oil was banned, which was to be expected, but so was bird guano from South America that was long used as fertilizer. (You see, the nitrate-rich guano was also used to make explosives……)

So the Brits soon found themselves making longer and longer lists. No matter what it was, from food to leather, books to pig iron, garter belts to chewing gum, everything could either be used directly to support the soldier in the field or it could be reworked into something that would. American companies began to feel the pinch.

WWI was the first time that heavily industrialized nations went to war for a protracted period of time, and so it was the first chance for people to realize that restricting a country’s war-making ability by denying them the means to build it is devilishly difficult. You never know when you might actually aid your potential enemy by selling them something completely innocent that they’d then twist to their own purposes.

We’ve got a phrase nowadays that captures this concept: “dual use”. The United States, more than any other country in the world, has been trying very hard to make sure that a potential enemy (or potential enemy of one of our allies) doesn’t get their hands on something that will give them an edge. We do a pretty good job, but it’s an impossible task. No matter what, the best we can do is slow things down some instead of stopping it entirely.

But there’s another side to this. Stuff developed specifically for the military has been found to be very useful for peaceful civilian activities. Camping gear is the most common example, but we can’t forget such areas as food preservation or emergency medical supplies. In the high tech realm, the Internet and GPS were both developed specifically for military use, but they have had a great impact far outside of their intended purpose.

I was inspired to write after reading this post at Heads Bunker. It seems the Pentagon has been trying to develop a variety of non-lethal chemical weapons. Some of them are interesting, such as the one which gives those exposed bad breath to deny a terrorist the ability to hide amongst civilians. Or a gas which would make direct sunlight unbearable. (I suppose stakes through the heart would be needed to dispatch the terrorists after exposure.)

But the one idea that was really interesting was the aphrodisiac gas. Introduce it to an enemy position and they’d find themselves overcome with fleshly desires. Supposedly this would produce a blow to our enemy’s morale.

I figure that, if they could put it in a cologne and make women susceptible, it would certainly be a boost to my morale! Makes me think of the surge in sales that the pharmas had after they came out with Viagra. What a way to have a defense budget surplus! They’d probably call it the “getting-a-piece dividend”.

This ties in with my original topic. The United States is suffering from a terrible international image right now. This could be a way to see just who our friends really are, or at least make them sound like they’re our buddies.