20 January 2005
Gay Bombs and Chicken-Powered Nukes
By Gwynne Dyer
The old Sixties slogan urged people to “Make Love, Not War,” but who says you have to choose? If you drove the other side’s soldiers mad with lust, then they’d be too busy with each other to cause you much trouble. Of course, there is still a severe shortage of women in most front-line formations, but that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, it could be an advantage. We could call it the “gay bomb.”
It was the Sunshine Project, a group devoted to exposing research into chemical and biological weapons, that revealed the proposal for an aphrodisiac weapon, “distasteful but completely non-lethal,” that figured in a 1994 funding request from the research lab at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. They also had ideas for chemicals that would make enemy troops attract wasps or give them bad breath, but it was the love-gas that really caught the eye.
“Category No. 3: Chemicals that affect human behaviour so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One…example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behaviour.” Full marks for lateral thinking, boys, but have you considered the implications of your little idea?
There they are, Iranians or Syrians or North Koreans or whoever you’re fighting this week, dug in all along the front and ready to sell their lives dearly, and suddenly the love-gas shells start landing among them with soft whooshing noises. Gas masks are no protection: like nerve gas, just a droplet on exposed skin is enough. And soon there is more and more exposed skin as they tear their uniforms off and explore the charms of the sergeant, the section leader, and those cute new replacements.
So far, so good, but what happens when American troops are ordered to advance and take the sex-crazed enemy troops prisoner? What if some of the aphrodisiac lingers, and US troops start to — how shall we put this? — fraternise with the enemy?
What if terrorists get their hands on this weapon and set about to subvert America’s moral fibre in a really big way? Random attacks on church services, sales conventions, high school pep rallies — the imagination quails at the prospect. But mercifully, the gay bomb was never developed. In fact, the people proposing to do the research for it didn’t have the faintest idea of what chemicals, if any, might produce the results they described. They were just fighting for their share of the research budget.
But there really is no limit to the scientific imagination when it comes to weapons.. Take the case of the chicken-powered nuclear land mine.
Back in the mid-Fifties, the British army was wrestling with the question of how to give British troops time to retreat if the Soviet hordes broke through their defences in Germany. You generally lay mines as you retreat, if you have time, in order to slow down the pursuit — and now we are living in the atomic age. Perhaps we should look into the notion of nuclear land mines?
And so they got on with it, taking the standard British free-fall nuclear bomb of the time, the fetchingly named Blue Danube, and designing a pressurised, water-tight casing for the land-mine version. When completed, the new weapon, Blue Peacock, weighed seven tonnes. It could be buried in the ground or sunk in a lake or river, and it could be detonated either by wire, from a command post up to three miles away (which seems a bit close to a ten-kilotonne explosion) or by an eight-day clockwork device.
It was a quite serious if fundamentally insane piece of technology – it was even designed to detonate in ten seconds if anybody tried to move it — but there was one hitch. It gets very cold in the winter in Germany, and nuclear weapons are sensitive devices that do not like the cold.
Environmental tests suggested that the warhead simply would not work if Blue Peacock was left buried in the ground or immersed in water in the coldest winter months. What to do?
The boffins at the Armament Research and Development Establishment in Kent were not daunted: in a 1957 memorandum, they suggested a variety of ways to keep the buried or submerged casing warm during the hours, or even a few days, before it was detonated. The most attractive by far was a proposal that a flock of locally recruited chickens should be put into the casing before it was closed and planted somewhere. There would be enough air to keep them alive for some days, and their body heat would keep the weapon warm.
In the end, the suicide chickens were never deployed, which is probably just as well because the designers seem to have overlooked the fact that chickens produce copious amounts of, well, chickenshit, which gums up even the finest machinery. Blue Peacock was cancelled at the end of 1957 in favour of a more compact nuclear land-mine based on newer technology and with a built-in heater. Military R&D projects have a very high attrition rate.
What does it all mean? Oh, not very much, except that no idea for a new weapon is so bizarre, vicious or plain silly that it won’t find an advocate somewhere in the military-industrial complex. It is a very big beast, and it has to be fed constantly.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“There…enemy”)