Inventor Nikola Tesla: The legendary genius explained why science would win the next war (1916)

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Nikola Tesla electricity

First, Nikola Tesla on how science can help avoid war (1915)

“There is one momentous desideratum which especially must appeal to every thinking human being at this particular time and would be brought infinitely nearer to consummation by the perfection of such [an inexpensive worldwide wireless communication] system.

“All these forces and influences inevitably must make for peace because, by annihilating distance, they will bring men into intimate contact one with another. This will mean acquaintance, acquaintance will mean friendship, friendship will preclude misunderstandings and wars.

“Now, when all the rest of the world seems to be thinking in terms of destruction, we, of this republic, should think in terms of construction.

“The first requisite of this is the perfection of our means of national self-preservation. There, again, the wireless would be of immense value if used as it easily might be.

“I have been always opposed to the manufacture of expensive war engines and implements of destruction, but the study of the awful spectacle which unfolds in Europe [World War I] has taught me much.

“It is my present belief that no effort or expense should be spared which could help toward putting this country in a position not only to resist attack, but to make all the world respect those broad, humanitarian principles for which the American people have been willing to fight.”

This statement, from the famous electrician, astonished me. “How could this be done without incurring the same danger which has existed in Europe during many years and which at last has culminated in the present calamity?” I asked.

“We can maintain peace for ourselves and help to maintain it for the world only by adopting methods radically different from those which so signally have failed in Europe,” he replied. “Hitherto it has been humanity’s plan to preserve peace by creating forces for offense.

“Had there been the slightest possibility of the success of this old method Europe would never have known another war. Therefore it is plain that this is the time and I am sure that we are the people, to cut loose from that traditional illusion.

“Other forces and implements different from those of war must be found for settlement of international disputes and he who finds these instrumentalities must first render himself invulnerable before he can force others to accept his suggestions.

“The task undoubtedly is ours.

“The underlying idea of war is fundamentally wrong, although it has been sanctioned by the theory of the survival of the fittest and, in earlier civilizations, may have been one of the necessities of advance.

“But I am sure it is true that this country can do more toward promoting the world’s progress and ensuring its own tranquility by making itself invulnerable than it could by making itself invincible.

“So I believe that the United States, with every possible speed and energy, should attack the task of insuring its own safety by means more scientific and advanced than those which so lamentably have failed in Europe.

Inventor Nikola Tesla: Scientists will win the next war (1916)

Nikola Tesla, electrical scientist, says not armies alone, but whole populations will be destroyed by use of wireless currents — his own air torpedo deadly.

In the science which man has spun out of his brain he has created a monstrous Frankenstein, which is now rending him limb from limb on the battlefields of Europe. But one of the fatal qualities of science is that it always progresses.

What part will it play in the next world war? Will the inventive intellect by then have unloosed forces which, compared to the 42-centimeter howitzer of today, will be as the 42-centimeter gun is to the two-handed sword of the Roman legions?

Yes, reply the experts; the present war is based on chemistry; but future warfare will wield the enormously more gigantic power of destruction provided by electricity, according to a writer in the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Tesla on war: Science will arm nations

Then it will not be a question of the annihilation of armies; it will be one of the extermination of whole populations. It will not be a matter of demolishing cities and fortresses, but of wiping whole nations at one stroke from the face of the earth.

The scientists, in fact, offer us one ultimate alternative: Either man must conquer his innate murderous instincts and cease from war, or else, in the end, the human race will perish in a universal act of suicide such as Schopenhauer foretold — self-slain by the unspeakable agencies of destruction with which science will inevitably arm us.

For 600 years, gunpowder and its derivatives have ruled the destinies of mankind. A flash from the pestle of the scientist-monk, Roger Bacon, blow feudalism off the globe, and made possible the coming of democracy.

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Gunpowder gave to the European races sway over the whole world; it subjected to them America, Asia and Africa. Little did Bacon dream of these consequences from his experiment with saltpeter and sulphur. Perhaps as little do we today realize the possibilities of the wireless current which in an instant bears the spoken word from Arlington to Honolulu.

In the imagination of every scientist in the world today, there is a vision of a machine with a key by means of which a wave of electricity will be flashed through the air to explode the enemy’s bombs, torpedoes, cartridges and magazines.

The man who first perfects this device will go down in history — if any historians are left alive — as a greater man than Roger Bacon, for his invention will make lyddite and picric acid obsolete, and will send rifles, cannon and dreadnaughts to the junk heap.

The Nobel Prize-winner’s prophecies

Only one scientist so far makes a claim to have advanced some steps towards the perfect electric man-killer.

But that man is no other than Nikola Tesla, electrical wizard, who has just been awarded a part of this year’s Nobel prize for physics. In an interview the other day he laid down these prophecies:

1. This is the last war in which the explosive power of chemicals will decide the issue.

2. In the next war, electricity will be the force of organized slaughter.

The confidence with which Tesla uttered these predictions is based upon an invention which he says he has just completed, but the details of which he is for the present jealously guarding, for fear they might be worked out by one of the belligerents in the present war.

In case the United States were involved in war, however, he says he would place his device unreservedly at the disposition of the military authorities.

Inventor Nikola Tesla on effects from a distance

“It is, of course, possible,” he said to a representative of the Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine a few days ago, “to produce electrical effects at a distance by means of wireless energy. But the insurmountable difficulty thus far has been to aim an electric wave in one direction only, with all of its force concentrated on a given target.

“I will go so far as to say that after twenty years of application to the problem of transmitting energy by wireless I have just made a valuable advance in this direction. The stage has been reached where to an extent it is practicable to use this force in war, and to predict such a development as will make electricity supplant cannon in battle.

“It is impossible to give details at this time, but in a general way my invention can be used in three methods.

“In the first place, it will be possible to send an explosive body through the air — an aerial torpedo flying many times faster than an aeroplane — and to direct this projectile to the spot desired, where it can be exploded by wireless. It will be possible to guide the projectile by wireless after it has passed beyond the range of the eye, and the aim is so accurate that it is possible to reduce the error to a few feet in a thousand miles.

“In the second place, it will be practicable with this apparatus to produce effects at a distance which will interfere with the enemy and tend to make him ineffective.

“In the third place, it promises to be able to produce at a distance such effects of electrical tension as will jeopardize life and property.”

Nikola Tesla with a lightbulb in his hand

A torpedo of the air

The inventor declined to go into specific details, saying that it is safer to be specific after the fact. But one would gather from the words he did speak that he has contrived a torpedo of the air flying under its own power as a torpedo swims in the water, which can be steered by wireless and exploded by the same force.

Such a projectile would have a range not of some twenty miles, like the highest power cannon, but one limited only by its own flying endurance. It would be harder to hit with shell and rifle fire than an aeroplane, because of its smaller size and swifter velocity, and it need not be manned by a crew who would be exposed to death at every instant.

Such a missile, aimed according to the mathematical formulas used today by gunners whose target is beyond the range of eye and telescope, could be dispatched for the destruction of a battleship long before her own guns would be able to come into play.

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Safe from the shells of the greatest ordnance, it could start from a point miles beyond their range and destroy the batteries without the possibility of a reply.

Nikola Tesla: A remote electrical shock?

The second and third methods of which Tesla speaks are discussed in rather cryptic language, but leave the inference that he believes himself already able, in some degree, to produce at a distance by wireless an electric shock similar to that produced by touching a charged wire. One can think of no other way in which effects perilous to life and property could be obtained with electricity.

With this idea worked out to its ultimate perfection, one might foretell such appalling events in warfare as this: An entire army, in its trenches, is without warning seized with the death agonies of a wretch in the electrical chair, and is exterminated by a silent enemy, using no bullets.

Or, at a given moment, every living thing in a great city is struck dead as if by lightning, by means of a force unleashed hundreds of miles away by an officer who merely pulls a lever in a wireless tower.

Tesla appears to see in the future a warfare of electrical appliances more deadly than all the cannon ever made; he sees entire areas electrified and made untenable for any living creature. Death and destruction will be dealt out at unheard of distances, with zones of action more spacious than we now dream of.

There is foreshadowed a conflict in which not armies but nations may be destroyed in a single action, by men armed with thunderbolts more mighty than those of the heavens. No wonder that Tesla, his own imagination recoiling in horror, says:

“I hope this is the invention that will make war impossible.”

Nikola Tesla on other inventions for war

Another device for which inventors are seeking is one that will be able, by means of the wireless current, to explode at a distance the enemy’s magazines of ammunition.

If this were perfected, one man in London, by pressing a button, could set fire to all the explosives in the Krupp factories and blow that institution into bits; or he could blow up all the cartridges and explosives in the German army. Or another man in Berlin could with one stroke blow the English fleet out of the water with its own powder.

In an article in a Paris newspaper recently, Marconi, father of wireless telegraphy, declared that such an invention would mean the abolition of firearms and a reversion to hand-to-hand fighting.

A Dutch inventor named Lanzlus, now in New York, claims to have made such a device. An Italian inventor won considerable notoriety for himself two years ago by demonstrating an apparatus which he declared would explode ammunition at a distance by means of a wireless current but he was shown to be a fraud.

A young New Yorker, who already has several authentic inventions to his credit, declares he has perfected a method of emitting wireless current which will melt all metals within a certain radius. A California inventor asserts that he can create a flame at a distance by means of wireless, and offers to set fire to any fleet approaching the Pacific coast.

Some German advances

The Germans are reported to have used heat to destroy the barbed-wire entanglements of the Russians. Tesla believes that the result was obtained, if at all, by the projection of a flame produced by hydrogen gas under high pressure.

Such a flame can readily be projected for 10 feet, which might be sufficient when the trenches are close enough together. In such a flame barbed wire would melt like wax.

In all of the belligerent countries, and in those which fear they may sometime become belligerents, the best brains are hard at work on the problem of contriving new methods of murder more deadly and more wholesale than those now employed. Some of their dreams of future warfare may seem fantastic.

But the rude cannon of the Turks seemed an incredible prodigy at the siege of Constantinople in the fifteenth century; and to the artillerymen of our Revolutionary war the machine gun of today would appear an equal marvel.

One can scarcely doubt that if man continues to maintain his delight in war, science will be at hand to supply him with weapons as advanced in murderous power over those today, as the arms of today surpass the sling and stone with which David, introducing the artillery of his era, slew the armored giant.

Will human nerves be able to endure these colossal horrors? Probably; today they endure the shock of explosives, the sound of which would have sent Achilles to the madhouse.

Nikola Tesla electricity

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