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“Engines of Destruction” Foreseen

“Engines of Destruction” Foreseen

“Engines of Destruction” Foreseen

“The wicked wit of man always studies to apply the results of his talents to enslaving, destroying or cheating his fellow creatures.”​—Horace Walpole, 18th-century English writer.

AVIATION has brought a multitude of benefits to mankind. Nevertheless, how true the above words of Horace Walpole have proved to be! Even before human flight ever became a reality, men were contemplating the many ways in which flying machines could be used as instruments of war.

In 1670, more than 100 years before the first manned balloon flight, Italian Jesuit Francesco Lana pointed out the possibility that “God will never permit such a machine [airship] to be constructed, in order to preclude the numerous consequences which might disturb the civil and political government among men.” With some foresight, however, he added: “For who [does not see] that no city would be secure from surprise attacks, as the airship might appear at any hour directly over its market-square and would land there its crew? The same would happen to the courtyards of private houses and to ships crossing the sea . . . Even without descending, it could hurl iron pieces which would capsize the vessels and kill men, and the ships might be burnt with artificial fire, balls, and bombs.”

When hot-air and hydrogen balloons finally appeared at the end of the 18th century, Walpole feared that the vessels would quickly become “engines of destruction to the human race.” As it turned out, by the end of 1794, hydrogen balloons were being put to use by French army generals to spy over enemy lines and to direct troop maneuvers. Balloons were also employed in the American Civil War as well as the Franco-Prussian conflicts of the 1870’s. And during the two world wars of the last century, balloons were used extensively by American, British, French, and German troops on reconnaissance missions.

The balloon did become an instrument of death in World War II when the Japanese army sent aloft toward the United States 9,000 unmanned balloons armed with bombs. More than 280 of the explosive-laden balloons reached North America.

Aerial Battleships Expected

From its inception the airplane too was seized upon as a potential war machine. Said Alexander Graham Bell in 1907: “Only very few know how near America is right now to solving a question which will revolutionize warfare throughout the world​—I mean the construction of a practical aerial battleship.” In that same year, The New York Times quoted balloonist Captain Thomas T. Lovelace as saying: “In from two to five years every big nation will have war airships and airship destroyers just as they now have torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers.”

Just three months later, the Wright brothers were contracted by the U.S. Signal Corps to build the first army plane. A New York Times article of September 13, 1908, explained the army’s interest in the airplane: “A shell could be dropped into the funnel of a warship, causing terrible damage to the machinery and completing its work of destruction by bursting the boilers.”

True to Bell’s words, the airplane went on to “revolutionize warfare throughout the world.” By 1915, aircraft manufacturers had developed a forward-facing machine gun synchronized to fire through the arc of the propeller blades. Fighter planes were soon joined by bombers, which grew bigger and more powerful by World War II. On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare, flattening the Japanese city of Hiroshima and eventually snuffing out 100,000 lives.

Just two years earlier, in 1943, Orville Wright had said in private that he was sorry the airplane had been invented. In the course of the two world wars, he observed, it had indeed become a terrible weapon. Since then, with the production of laser-guided missiles and so-called smart bombs, its deadly potential has increased, as ‘nation has risen against nation.’​—Matthew 24:7.

[Pictures on page 22, 23]

1. Unmanned bomb-carrying balloon

2. Barrage balloon

[Credit Line]

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/​OWI Collection, LC-USE6-D-004722

3. B-29 Superfortress

[Credit Line]

USAF photo

4. Strike Fighter F/​A-18C Hornet

5. F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter

[Credit Line]

U.S. Department of Defense