Nikola Tesla electricity

Tesla: Science will win the next war (1916)

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. 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.

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.

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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.”

Other inventions

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.

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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.

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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.

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