In the 1860’s, an American doctor decided to ostensibly break the Hippocratic oath and design a machine to make ending lives swift and viciously efficient. His hoped to invent something “which could by the rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred.” To create something so devastating that wars would invoke more human costs that could be justified.
His name was Richard Gatling. His Gatling Gun was used prolifically throughout the Civil War. Despite his intent to decrease the proclivity of bloodshed, it took less than 20 years for his concept to be improved by Hiram Maxim. The ferocity of the Maxim Machine Gun, capable of a blistering 600 rounds per minute, was so awe-inspiring that many thought it’d serve as a vital deterrent to future conflicts. The New York Times wrote in 1897 that it would encourage rulers to “give greater thought to the outcome of war before entering.”
It was used extensively in the first world war less than two decades later.
It was the most destructive thing we had before man learned to split the atom. It still didn’t stop us.
We tried to make something so horrifying that we would disarm the Horseman of War. We only augmented his arsenal.
The Gatling and Maxim guns were made plainly antiquated by the coming of the Nuclear Age, but the ghosts of their intent still linger. Many of us have been taught that nuclear annihilation has been kept at bay by the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The idea that no nuclear power will attack another because it could literally end the world. Brilliant thinkers assure us that this places nuclear powers in a state of equilibrium. Provided that all actors are rational, we need not worry about nuclear oblivion.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
There’s a facile pot-shot to be made at how “rational” President Trump and Kim Jong-un are, but that misses the point. Even if they were the paragons of rational thought, there’s the sobering fact that we have heard that promise before. And every time we have, it has been broken.
It may be time to end the MADness.