Science And War Essay

War Quotes (157 quotes)

“I'm not so sure he's wrong about automobiles,” he said, “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward for civilization—that is, spiritual civilization ... But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us expect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace.”

— Booth Tarkington

Spoken by character Eugene, in the novel, The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), 275

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... in time of war, soldiers, however sensible, care a great deal more on some occasions about slaking their thirst than about the danger of enteric fever.
[Better known as typhoid, the disease is often spread by drinking contaminated water.]

— Winston Churchill

Parliamentaray Debate (21 Mar 1902). Quoted in Winston Churchill and Richard Langworth (ed.), Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008), 469.

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Air Chief Marshal Harris [objecting to a change in strategy recommended by statisticians]: Are we fighting this war with weapons or the slide rule?
Churchill [after puffing on his cigar]: That's a good idea. Let's try the slide rule.

— Winston Churchill

During World War II, Britain lost the advantage when enemy U-boats began listening in to the aircraft radar, were forewarned, and would dive. U-boat sinkings fell to zero. Physicist Patrick S. Blackett with his Operational Research colleagues came up with a solution. Concentrate sufficient aircraft in certain areas, causing the subs to dive so frequently their air supply and batteries were exhausted, forcing them to remain on the surface and be vulnerable to attack. The strategy required diverting several squadrons from Bomber Command to Coastal Command. “Bomber” Harris voiced his objection to Churchill, who made the right choice, proved by successful results. As described by R.V. Jones, 'Churchill and Science', in Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), Churchill (1996), 437.

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A complete and generous education fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices of peace and war.

— John Milton

Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 78.

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A prolonged war in which a nation takes part is bound to impoverish the breed, since the character of the breed depends on the men who are left.

— Sir John Arthur Thomson

As given in David Starr Jordan, War and the Breed: The Relation of War to the Downfall of Nations (1915), 178.

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A skilful leech is better far than half a hundred men of war.

— Samuel Butler


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Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.

— Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 11.

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All war is murder, robbery, trickery, and no nation ever escaped losses of men, prosperity and virility. War knows no victor.

— David Starr Jordan

From his last public address in Palo Alto, California (30 July 1928), as quoted in 'David Starr Jordan Dies at Age of 80', New York Times (20 Sep 1931), N6.

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An inventive age
Has wrought, if not with speed of magic, yet
To most strange issues. I have lived to mark
A new and unforeseen creation rise
From out the labours of a peaceful Land:
Wielding her potent enginery to frame
And to produce, with appetite as keen
As that of war, which rests not night or day.

— William Wordsworth

In The Excursion (1814). In The Works of William: Wordsworth (1994), Book 8, 875.

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And I believe that the Binomial Theorem and a Bach Fugue are, in the long run, more important than all the battles of history.

— James Hilton

This Week Magazine (1937).

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Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves…. They exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.

— Lewis Thomas

(1974) In 'On Societies as Organisms', A Long Line of Cells: Collected Essays (1990), 10.

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Anybody who really wants to abolish war must resolutely declare himself in favor of his own country’s committing a portion of its sovereignty in favor of international institutions.

— Albert Einstein


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Anyone who thinks we can continue to have world wars but make them nice polite affairs by outlawing this weapon or that should meditate upon the outlawing of the cross-bow by Papal authority. Setting up the machinery for international law and order must surely precede disarmament. The Wild West did not abandon its shooting irons till after sheriffs and courts were established.

— Joel H. Hildebrand

Speech, American Library Assiciation Conference (3 Jul 1947), as quoted by Lawrence E. Davies in 'Army's Atomic Bid Viewed in Making', New York Times (4 Jul 1947), 11.

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Anyway, I'm sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war. I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.

— J.D. Salinger

Spoken by fictional character Holden Caulfield, in Catcher in the Rye (1951), 183.

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Armament is no protection against the war but leads to war. Striving for peace and preparing for war are incompatible with each other

— Albert Einstein


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Before a war military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war it seems more like astrology.

— Rebecca West

As quoted in B. H. Liddell Hart, Europe in Arms (1937), 199. In Alfred F. Hurley, Robert C. Ehrhart, Air Power and Warfare: The Proceedings of the 8th Military History Symposium (1979), 47, and citation in footnote, 49.

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Beggars in the streets of London were at that time leading the lives of princes, compared to the life of our soldiers in the Crimea when I arrived on the scene with thirty-six nurses.

— Florence Nightingale

As quoted in ‘Little Chats With Big People’, The Scrap Book (Jan 1908), 5, No. 1, 43.

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Blood mixture and the result drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is continued only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff.

— Adolf Hitler

Mein Kampf (1925-26), American Edition (1943), 296. In William Lawrence Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1990), 88.

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But does Man have any “right” to spread through the universe? Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics, you name it, is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what man is, not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be. The Universe will let us know - later - whether or not Man has any “right” to expand through it.

— Robert A. Heinlein

Starship Troopers

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But however secure and well-regulated civilized life may become, bacteria, Protozoa, viruses, infected fleas, lice, ticks, mosquitoes, and bedbugs will always lurk in the shadows ready to pounce when neglect, poverty, famine, or war lets down the defenses.

— Hans Zinsser

Rats, Lice and History (1934), 13-4.

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But if the two countries or governments are at war, the men of science are not. That would, indeed be a civil war of the worst description: we should rather, through the instrumentality of the men of science soften the asperities of national hostility.
Davy's remarks to Thomas Poole on accepting Napoleon's prize for the best experiment on Galvanism.

— Sir Humphry Davy

Quoted in Gavin de Beer, The Sciences were Never at War (1960), 204.

Chlorine is a deadly poison gas employed on European battlefields in World War I. Sodium is a corrosive metal which burns upon contact with water. Together they make a placid and unpoisonous material, table salt. Why each of these substances has the properties it does is a subject called chemistry.

— Carl Sagan

Broca's Brain: The Romance of Science (1979), footnote. Excerpt reprinted as 'Can We Know the Universe? Reflections on a Grain of Salt,' in John Carey, Eyewitness to Science (1997), 437.

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Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Open Mind (1955), 88.

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During the war years I worked on the development of radar and other radio systems for the R.A.F. and, though gaining much in engineering experience and in understanding people, rapidly forgot most of the physics I had learned.

— Sir Martin Ryle

From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)

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Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.

— John F. Kennedy

Address to the United Nations General Assembly, (25 Sep 1961). On U.S. Department of State website.

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Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world.

— Thomas Robert Malthus

In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), 140, and in new enlarged edition (1803), 350.

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Fleets are not confined to the ocean, but now sail over the land. … All the power of the British Navy has not been able to prevent Zeppelins from reaching England and attacking London, the very heart of the British Empire. Navies do not protect against aerial attack. … Heavier-than-air flying machines of the aeroplane type have crossed right over the heads of armies, of million of men, armed with the most modern weapons of destruction, and have raided places in the rear. Armies do not protect against aerial war.

— Alexander Graham Bell

In 'Preparedness for Aerial Defense', Addresses Before the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Navy League of the United States, Washington, D.C., April 10-13, 1916 (1916), 70.

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For centuries we have dreamt of flying; recently we made that come true: we have always hankered for speed; now we have speeds greater than we can stand: we wanted to speak to far parts of the Earth; we can: we wanted to explore the sea bottom; we have: and so on, and so on. And, too, we wanted the power to smash our enemies utterly; we have it. If we had truly wanted peace, we should have had that as well. But true peace has never been one of the genuine dreams—we have got little further than preaching against war in order to appease out consciences.

— John W. Wyndham

The Outward Urge (1959)

Four hundred thousand South Africans are dying of AIDS every year. This makes the war on Iraq look like a birthday party.

— Jeremy Cronin

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From Avarice thus, from Luxury and War
Sprang heavenly Science;
and from Science Freedom.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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From the time of Aristotle it had been said that man is a social animal: that human beings naturally form communities. I couldn’t accept it. The whole of history and pre-history is against it. The two dreadful world wars we have recently been through, and the gearing of our entire economy today for defensive war belie it. Man's loathsome cruelty to man is his most outstanding characteristic; it is explicable only in terms of his carnivorous and cannibalistic origin. Robert Hartmann pointed out that both rude and civilised peoples show unspeakable cruelty to one another. We call it inhuman cruelty; but these dreadful things are unhappily truly human, because there is nothing like them in the animal world. A lion or tiger kills to eat, but the indiscriminate slaughter and calculated cruelty of human beings is quite unexampled in nature, especially among the apes. They display no hostility to man or other animals unless attacked. Even then their first reaction is to run away.

— Raymond A. Dart

In Africa's Place In the Emergence of Civilisation (1959), 41.

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Global nuclear war could have a major impact on climate—manifested by significant surface darkening over many weeks, subfreezing land temperatures persisting for up to several months, large perturbations in global circulation patterns, and dramatic changes in local weather and precipitation rates—a harsh “nuclear winter” in any season. [Co-author with Carl Sagan]

— Richard P. Turco

In 'Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions', Science (1983), 222, 1290.

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Happy the men who made the first essay,
And to celestial regions found the way!
No earthly vices clogg’d their purer souls,
That they could soar so high as touch the poles:
Sublime their thoughts and from pollution clear,
Bacchus and Venus held no revels there;
From vain ambition free; no love of war
Possess’d their minds, nor wranglings at the bar;
No glaring grandeur captivates their eyes,
For such see greater glory in the skies:
Thus these to heaven attain.

— Publius Ovid

In Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed., trans.), Beautiful Thoughts From Latin Authors, with English Translations (1864),

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He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilisation should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

— Albert Einstein


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How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.

— Christiaan Huygens


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I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.

— Albert Einstein


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I do not think words alone will solve humanity’s present problems. The sound of bombs drowns out men’s voices. In times of peace I have great faith in the communication of ideas among thinking men, but today, with brute force dominating so many millions of lives, I fear that the appeal to man’s intellect is fast becoming virtually meaningless.

— Albert Einstein

In 'I Am an American' (22 Jun 1940), Einstein Archives 29-092. Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 470. It was during a radio broadcast for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, interviewed by a State Department Official. Einstein spoke following an examination on his application for American citizenship in Trenton, New Jersey. The attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war on Japan was still over a year in the future.

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I had anger but never hate. Before the war, I was too busy studying to hate. After the war, I thought. What’s the use?To hate would be to reduce myself.

— Elie Wiesel

Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 253

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I heard Professor Cannon lecture last night, going partly on your account. His subject was a physiological substitute for war—which is international sports and I suppose motorcycle races—to encourage the secretion of the adrenal glands!

— James McKeen Cattell

Letter from James McKeen Cattell to his son, McKeen. In S. Benison, A. C. Barger and E. L. Wolfe, Walter B Cannon: The Life and Times of a Young Scientist (1987), 319.

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I suspect that the most important effect of World War II on physical science lay in the change in the attitude of people to science. The politicians and the public were convinced that science was useful and were in no position to argue about the details. A professor of physics might be more sinister than he was in the 1930s, but he was no longer an old fool with a beard in a comic-strip. The scientists or at any rate the physicists, had changed their attitude. They not only believed in the interest of science for themselves, they had acquired also a belief that the tax-payer should and would pay for it and would, in some unspecified length of run, benefit by it.

— Sir Edward Bullard

'The Effect of World War II on the Development of Knowledge in the Physical Sciences', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1975, Series A, 342, 532.

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If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite, or they will perish.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer

Speech at Fuller Lodge when the U.S. Army was honouring the work at Los Alamos. (16 Oct 1945). Quoted in Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), 323.

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If we are correct in understanding how evolution actually works, and provided we can survive the complications of war, environmental degradation, and possible contact with interstellar planetary travelers, we will look exactly the same as we do now. We won’t change at all. The species is now so widely dispersed that it is not going to evolve, except by gradualism.

Russell shows how the interaction between science and war has always existed but has increased much more in modern warfare. As early examples, he notes that Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo received opportunities to work because their intelligence could be useful for methods of warfare: fortification and canon ball trajectories in these cases. This supposes that in some, or most, instances, the field of knowledge and technological advancement is somewhat guided (or misguided) by its usefulness in war. This implies an obvious problem and that is there are other uses for technology, obviously being that of democratic prosperity and peace. 

Russell goes on and suggests that the implications of this go further; to the point that technology itself (as long as it is useful in warfare) trumps everything. This is to the point that, as Russell notes: 

One nuclear physicist is worth more than many divisions of infantry. 

. . . what secures success in war is not heroic armies but heavy industry. 

The country that wins is not necessarily right or righteous; the country that wins simply has the most advanced technology. And advancement in technology does not imply that the country is more ethically advanced than its enemy. 

Russell concludes by saying that as technology increases (noting the atomic bomb), the potential for complete destruction of the world also increases. Humanity will be left with one of two alternatives: destroy humanity or to simply agree that war as such will eventually become too dangerous for either side to even assume that they could win. In other words, this second alternative suggests that there will come a point when the potential for destruction is so great that there can be no winner. (Or, to quote from the movie War Games, "The only winning move is not to play." This notion sounds very much like the movement for all countries to ban nuclear arms.

Russell concludes this chapter with a good amount of pessimism. Here, Russell suggests a neutral group that can oversee the world's affairs: something like the United Nations. He suggests that without such an entity the world will perish. 

Some would criticize the United Nations for failing to act in certain situations and while these are legitimate criticisms in some cases, the UN does serve a function; although, it may not currently live up to the standards in Russell's hopes. Another way to shift the emphasis of war and the military to peaceful uses is for the UN or individual countries and groups to espouse the merits of technology in peaceful, scientific, inspiring, and/or artistic ways. In other words, it would be a movement in which technology drives peace; not war. 

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