4 inventors who created superlethal weapons and regretted

4 inventors who created superlethal weapons and regretted

Creating a unique invention that changes the course of human history must be one of the greatest satisfactions anyone can feel.

It’s hard to imagine the pleasure experienced by people who have been behind such brilliant creations as the wheel, concrete, steam engine or the internet.

But not all inventions have ends that are exclusively beneficial to the world. There are some that actually left tragic and even macabre consequences.

And some of the geniuses behind these terrible discoveries ended up haunted by their conscience.

Here we tell the story of four of them who, often without evaluating the destructive power of their creations, ended up giving rise to some of the most lethal weapons in history.

1. Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the atomic bomb’

No other scientist was more involved in the creation and use of atomic bombs during World War II than Robert Oppenheimer.

The American theoretical physicist was the director of the Manhattan Project, which managed to develop the first atomic bomb in history.

The bomb was detonated in the desert of New Mexico (United States) – in an operation called “Trinity” – on July 16, 1945, less than a month before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, which are estimated to have caused the death of 150,000 to 250,000 people.

Oppenheimer, a complex and charismatic figure, had devoted himself to studying the energy processes of subatomic particles, including electrons, positrons, and cosmic rays.

But the military conflict experienced at that time made his professional life take another direction.

After Albert Einstein sent a letter to the then President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, warning of the danger that threatened all of humanity if the Nazis were the first to manufacture an atomic bomb, the idea of ​​creating a nuclear weapon became a priority for the American government.

And who led this process was Oppenheimer. He quickly began researching a process for separating uranium-235 from natural uranium and determining the critical mass needed to manufacture the bomb.

Among other things, Oppenheimer was instructed to establish and run a laboratory to carry out this task. For that, he chose the Los Alamos Plateau, New Mexico, in 1943.

“Oppenheimer has held a position of immense responsibility and has been pushed to its limits,” according to Alex Wellerstein, a historian who specializes in nuclear weapons, explains to BBC News Mundo (the BBC’s Spanish service).

“He was involved in key decisions about the design of atomic bombs and was personally involved in decisions about how these bombs would be used. He pleaded that they be used against cities and was on the committee that decided where exactly the bombs would be dropped,” he adds. he.

Oppenheimer would later express his grief at the death of thousands of victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He resigned from his post two months after the bombs exploded. Between 1947 and 1952, Oppenheimer was an adviser to the US Atomic Energy Commission, when he advocated international control of nuclear power, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and curb the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, he was strongly opposed to the development of the hydrogen bomb.

But their efforts were unsuccessful. Due to his controversial public statements – which resulted in several enemies – his security credentials were revoked and he ended up losing his political influence.

“In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Oppenheimer was very bitter and regretted many things. The reason for his regret has always centered on these postwar failures. weapons and has been unable to curb the rise of large arsenals of several megatons,” says Wellerstein.

After the bombs exploded, Oppenheimer would declare that the words of the Hindu sacred text Bhagavad Gita came to his mind: “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Many historians interpret these words as a feeling of guilt over his lethal creation. But for others, like Wellerstein, they are more related to awe at something “beyond this world”, as nuclear weapons are.

For all that, Oppenheimer will always be remembered (and known) as the “father of the atomic bomb”.

2. Arthur Galston and Agent Orange

American physiologist and botanist Arthur Galston never thought he was creating something that could be used as a weapon: Agent Orange.

His area of ​​study focused on plant hormones and the effects of light on plant development.

During these studies, he experimented with a plant growth regulator called triiodobenzoic acid (TIBA). The scientist discovered that this component could stimulate soy flowering and make it grow faster. He also warned that if it was over-applied, the compost would cause the plant to lose its leaves.

But Galston’s discoveries weren’t restricted to the plant world.

In the context of the Vietnam War – which took place between 1955 and 1975 – other scientists used their discoveries to create Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide that aimed to eliminate forests and crops that could be used by the Vietcong guerrillas.

Between 1962 and 1970, US troops released about 75 million liters of the herbicide to destroy crops and expose their enemies’ positions and routes of movement.

As a result, Galston was deeply shaken and warned authorities and the world on several occasions about the enormous environmental damage caused by Agent Orange. He then stated that the herbicide also posed risks to humans.

The most dangerous component of Agent Orange is dioxin, which is a contaminant that can remain in the environment for decades and, among other things, can cause cancer, fetal malformation, infertility problems and attack the nervous and immune system.

Warnings from Galston and other scientists prompted the US government to commission a toxicology study. In light of the results, then-President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to Agent Orange releases.

Later, the botanist would say: “I used to think that it would be possible to avoid getting involved in the antisocial consequences of science by simply not working on any project that might have evil or destructive ends. I learned that things are not so simple and that almost all discoveries scientific knowledge can be perverted or distorted due to social pressures.”

Galston also declared that Agent Orange was “a misuse of science”.

“Science is intended to improve the progress of humanity, not to reduce it. Its use as a military weapon seemed to me inadvisable,” he added.

3. Mikhail Kalashnikov, creator of the AK-47 rifle

Kalashnikov was the designer of one of the best-known weapons on the planet: the AK-47 semi-automatic rifle.

In 1947, Russian military engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov created this simple, tough, and reliable rifle that became the main weapon of the Soviet and Russian armies, as well as dozens of other countries.

The AK-47 was also a symbol of revolution around the world and was in action on the battlefields of Angola, Vietnam, Algeria and Afghanistan. He was also a companion of rebel armies in Latin America, such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) in Colombia.

Palestinian groups have used it frequently and there is a famous photo of Osama bin Laden carrying the rifle with its characteristic curved magazine.

The design’s relative simplicity made it inexpensive to manufacture and simple to maintain on the battlefield. It became the most used assault rifle in the world. The AK-47 is estimated to be responsible for more cumulative deaths than atomic bombs.

Although, throughout his life, Mikhail Kalashnikov has expressed little remorse for his deadly invention – having once said that he “sleeps soundly” at night – he confessed shortly before his death that he felt “unbearable spiritual pain”.

In a letter to the leader of the Russian Orthodox church of which he was a member (which was found by the Russian press a month after his death), he said that he felt responsible for the millions of deaths caused by his revolutionary rifle.

“My spiritual pain is unbearable. I keep asking the same unanswered question. If my rifle took people’s lives, am I… a Christian and an orthodox believer, to blame for their deaths?” Kalashnikov wondered.

He further wrote: “The longer I live, the more this question keeps coming out of my head, and the more I wonder why God allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed, and aggression.”

4. Alfred Nobel and the dynamite

In December 1896, two young Swedish engineers had the surprise of their lives when they opened the will of Alfred Nobel, who commissioned them to spend most of his fortune for the purpose of creating an entity to celebrate the progress of humanity.

Following their master’s instructions, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist created the Nobel Foundation, which established annual awards for achievements in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Physiology, Literature and World Peace; in 1969, the Economy was added.

This last Nobel wish did not come by chance; there is a compelling reason behind it. It is said that, in his last days, the idea of ​​death and destruction generated by the application of his inventions tormented him.

Therefore, he decided to donate a large part of his fortune to create the foundation.

Decades earlier, the Swedish chemist, engineer, writer and inventor had invented dynamite.

Born into a family of engineers, Nobel worked with his father in the manufacture of explosives. But in 1864, he lived a tragic experience that marked his life, when his younger brother and four others died in an explosion of nitroglycerin.

Two years later, in 1866, Nobel developed a method that would allow the unstable liquid explosive to be handled safely. To reduce its volatility, he mixed nitroglycerin with a porous absorbent material, creating dynamite.

This invention gave its inventor immense fame and wealth and started a new era in construction… but also destruction. That’s because it didn’t take long for it to start being used for war purposes.

Dynamite was used as the explosive content of artillery shells and military demolition charges, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Nobel died on December 10, 1896, at his home in San Remo, Italy, after signing his will that laid the groundwork for what would become the most prestigious international prize for human progress.


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