Image Courtesy — History Channel

The Positives of WAR !!

Shashank Shekhar
Oct 26, 2017 · 13 min read

You got to be kidding me! How can wars have a positive side? Wars are enormously demanding on a nation’s resources — Food, water, medication, arms, ammunition, manpower and more. Moreover they are responsible for so much of destruction, deaths, and so much more.
How can wars possibly have a silver lining to them ?

I am no Sadist, and I do not support wars, but History tells us — Wars have accelerated inventions, innovations and our adaptability to new things.
Still not sure HOW?

Here’s a compilation of 21 inventions which were primarily, War Technology, but later got adapted by the commons and now is Part and Parcel of our daily lives.

  1. Sanitary Napkins :
    With the introduction of new cellulose bandage material during the First World War; it wasn’t long before French nurses figured out that clean, absorbent cellulose bandages were far superior to any predecessors.
    British and American nurses picked up on the habit, and corporate America wasn’t far behind: In 1920, Kimberly-Clark introduced the first commercial sanitary napkin, Kotex (that’s “cotton” + “texture”).
Early Marketing Advertisement. Image source — Pinterest

2. Plastic Surgery : Walter Yeo, a sailor who lost his eyelids in the battle of Jutland, is often described as the first to benefit from advanced plastic surgery. New Zealand surgeon Harold Gillies carried out a new type of skin graft, swinging flaps of skin from undamaged areas to rebuild Yeo’s eyelids.

Although many plastic surgeons resisted the pressure to perform cosmetic operations after the war, it was perhaps inevitable that the procedure would grow like wildfire. In 2013 some 11 million cosmetic procedures were carried out in the U.S., in an industry worth some $12 billion.

Walter Yeo. Before the surgery(L), post surgery (R). Image source — HistoricalHoney

Although, Plastic Surgery dates back to 800 BC, developed by Indian Physician — Sushruta. The commercial adaptation of plastic surgery was only after the world war.

3. Nuclear Power : When you think of nuclear power, the first thing that springs to mind is that it is a source of energy. However, nuclear power plants that we utilize to obtain electricity nowadays originated from the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, namely the Fat Man and Little Boy. Although in theory the scientists of both sides were aware of the potential of the atom, the US managed to succeed in creating a weapon of mass destruction first through the Manhattan project.
Later the Russians came up with the first Nuclear Power Plant in Obninsk in 1954.

Bombed Hiroshima (L), Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, Russia (1954) — First Nuclear powered Power Plant (R)

4. FANTA — Yes the Soft Drink.
After the US entered the war in 1941, the trade embargo imposed during second world war prevented importing Coca-Cola syrup into Germany. Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola in the country at that time decided to create a domestic product for the market using available ‘leftovers of leftovers’ products like whey (a cheese by-product) and apple pomace (apple fiber from cider presses).

The name was the result of a brief brainstorming session, which started with Keith’s contesting his team to “use their imagination — fantasy” (Fantasie in German), to which one of his salesmen, Joe Knipp, immediately retorted “Fanta!”

Fanta advertisement from Germany in 1941. Image source — Google

5. Chemotherapy

Mustard gas — One of the most deadly chemical weapons deployed in battle, was used in the 1st world war which led to as many as 10,000 deaths with it’s first use in Ypres, Belgium.
Fearing the use of mustard gas in World War 2 — researchers of the Allied Forces realized if mustard gas could kill white blood cells, it could also kill cancerous cells. After successful animal trials, Goodman and Gilman looked for a human volunteer with white blood cell cancer to test mustard gas as a cancer therapy.
A man with initials J.D was the first patient said to have undergone chemotherapy in 1942. Significant improvements in this field has taken place since then.

6. Stainless Steel

We should thank Harry Brearley of Sheffield for steel which doesn’t rust or corrode. As the city’s archives put it: “In 1913, Harry Brearley of Sheffield developed what is widely regarded as the first ‘rustless’ or stainless steel — a product that revolutionised the metallurgy industry and became a major component of the modern world.”

Newspaper clipping announcing Invention of Stainless steel. Image courtesy — Google

7. The ORIGINAL Computer :

Two coding and decoding machines stand at the foundation of the modern day computer, namely the Enigma and the Lorentz machines. The role of these gadgets was to encode and respectively decode the traffic, which comprised mainly of communications between the German high command and the air, ground and naval forces dispatched.

The British also needed mathematicians to crack the German Navy’s Enigma code. Turing worked in the British top-secret Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park. There code-breaking became an industrial process; 12,000 people worked three shifts 24/7. Although the Polish had cracked Enigma before the war, the Nazis had made the Enigma machines more complicated; there were approximately 10¹¹⁴ possible permutations. Turing designed an electromechanical machine, called the Bombe, that searched through the permutations, and by the end of the war the British were able to read all daily German Naval Enigma traffic. It has been reported that Eisenhower said the contribution of Turing and others at Bletchley shortened the war by as much as two years, saving millions of lives.

The Imitation GameA movie based on the life of Alan Turing and the invention of this genius device.

A British ‘Turing Bombe’ in Bletchley Park Museum in Bletchley, England. Image courtsey — Google


Jonathan Letterman, MD of the Army of the Potomac, was responsible for creating the first organized transport of the wounded. Ambulance units usually consisted of a ragtag group of soldiers who were otherwise unfit for fighting. Letterman innovated and regimented the process. The ambulances of a division moved together under the direction of a line sergeant, with two stretcher-bearers and one driver per ambulance. They would go into the field, pick up the wounded, deliver them to dressing stations and then to field hospitals. To this day the military bases its ambulance system on Letterman's ideas.

9. Blood Banks

Blood transfusions had been carried out since before the war, but these were direct from donor to recipient, as there was no way of storing blood. Peyton Rous, of the Rockefeller Institute in New York, looked for ways of preserving fresh blood and found that a salt solution would do the job, with the addition of sodium citrate to prevent clotting and dextrose as a source of energy. Capt. Oswald Robertson took the new solution to the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Belgium 1917. Soldiers in camp were willing donors, and flasks of blood could be stored in a portable ice chest for up to 28 days

10. Telegraph

The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse in 1844, and telegraph wires soon sprang up all along the East Coast. During the war, 15,000 miles of telegraph cable was laid purely for military purposes. Mobile telegraph wagons reported and received communications from just behind the frontline. President Lincoln would regularly visit the Telegraph Office to get the latest news. The telegraph also enabled news sources to report on the war in a timely fashion, leading to an entirely new headache for the government: how to handle the media.

11. Microwave Oven
While scientists around the world worked on using radio antennae to detect distant objects during the early part of the 20th century leading to first practical radar set in 1935.
The cavity magnetron was developed for radar use in 1940, but now forms the power source of the domestic microwave oven. Later Percy L. Spencer invented Microwave open using the basic concept of mangetron.

Percy with the functional Microwave. Image source — Google

12. Artificial Satellites a by-product of Space Race during the Cold War between USA and USSR.

The first satellites were developed during the cold war by both America and Russia. These orbiting observation stations were first designed to spy on each other. Later uses focused on more sinister motives such as weapon guidance and other forms of concealed attack.

The Space Race refers to the 20th-century competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US), for supremacy in spaceflight capability. … The “race” peaked with the July 20, 1969 US landing of the first humans on the Moon with Apollo 11.( but speculations say they never landed the moon and it was staged to establish supremacy. Notice the flag, there’s no wind in Space, still the flag is swirling. )

Image Credits —

The world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, in October 1957, set off alarm bells in the Eisenhower administration and created intense fear and anxiety among the US public that the Soviet Union had surpassed the technological achievements of the United States.

Sputnik orbited the earth and transmitted radio signals for twenty-one days before burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. Sputnik II was launched the following month, in November, carrying a dog named Laika. In May 1958, the Soviets launched Sputnik III, which weighed almost three thousand pounds. Continuing their run of successful launches, the Soviets in 1959 sent a space probe, Lunik III, to photograph the dark side of the moon.

In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to enter Earth’s orbit, in a single-pilot spacecraft called Vostok I.

Early Soviet successes in the space race led US President John F. Kennedy to announce the inauguration of the Apollo program, which pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Telstar was the first commercial satellite to be launched as a commercial communication satellite in 1962, and changed the way we communicate forever. Today satellites form an integral part of everyday life. Without them we would not have live Television broadcasts and no Global Positioning System (GPS).

13. Penicillin :
Originally, the discovery of the capabilities of the Penicillium Notatum mold on killing bacteria was made in 1869 by Ernest Duchesne and Sir Alexander Fleming made it popular later or in 1928 with his studies on the matter. However, it was not until 1939 when Dr. Howard Florey’s research was able to prove the effectiveness of penicillin without a shadow of a doubt and with the aid of Andrew J. Moyer he developed the most powerful antibacterial substance in the world. Needless to say, with all the wounded soldiers dying from simple infections, it was about time.

Advertisement for penicillin production from Life magazine, August 14, 1944. Image courtsey — Google

14. Digital Photography :
Though a different type of conflict, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union also produced a myriad of new inventions. Everything ever accomplished by NASA, for example, has its roots in the rivalry between the two superpowers. Today, one of the most popular Cold War inventions is digital photography. Early high altitude spy planes had to drop rolls of film out of the sky to be developed and analyzed back on terra firma.

These drops led to arduous collection missions or tricky in-air intercepts of film floating down from spy planes by parachute. Digital photography, first employed in the NASA-Air Force KH-11 satellite in 1976, solved this problem. By taking digital images, the spy planes could then transmit the components back to earth through encoded radio signals.

15. Ultrasound :
The submarine emerged as a major threat during WWI, with German U-boats sinking some 5,000 Allied merchant ships. Depth charges were developed to attack them, but the big challenge was simply locating a submerged submarine.
The British Navy’s Anti-Submarine Division developed an apparatus for underwater echo ranging using ultrasound, known as ASDIC. A quartz resonator produced a series of pulses that microphones picked up. The delay between the pulse and the echo indicated the distance to an underwater object. The same technology later gave rise to medical ultrasound imaging and ultrasound therapy.

Two applications that use sound waves to measure distance: A sonogram uses high-frequency ultrasound to make an image of a fetus (left), and a ship’s sonar sensor uses ultrasound signals to scan the ocean floor (middle). A student uses LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robot ultrasonic sensor to measure distance (right). Image source — Google.

16. Sun-lamps :
The undernourishment of Germans because of the war led an increase of rickets, a disorder caused by a lack of Vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate that leads to the weakening of bones. By the winter of 1918, half of the children in Berlin were suffering from rickets.
At the time, the cause of the ailment was not known, but a Berlin doctor named Kurt Huldschinsky noticed that the children were also very pale, so he conducted an experiment in which he put four children under mercury-quartz lamps that emitted ultraviolet light. The treatment worked: The children’s bones became stronger. Ultraviolet light causes the skin to produce Vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones. Thus, the sun lamp was born.

17. Canned Food:
As Napoleon and his army romped across Europe, the General needed to find a way to deliver enormous quantities of good-enough food to the front lines. And so in 1809, the French government held a contest to solve this problem, with a cash prize of 12,000 francs. This sum was awarded to Nicolas Appert, who designed a sealed glass jar that could be produced en masse in factories. Appert used his 12,000 francs to build such a factory, but the British burned it down on their rampage through France in 1814.

Surviving Canned Tin. Image courtesy — Google

Napoleon never made canning economic enough to make it widespread in his armies before the Napoleonic Wars ended. The Brits stole the idea instead and the subsequent developments included making the canning process quicker and cheaper, and realizing that using poisonous lead solder might not be the best idea.

18. Duct Tape :

Duct tape was originally invented by Johnson & Johnson’s Permacel division during WWII for the military. The military specifically needed a waterproof tape that could be used to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. As to why it was originally called “Duck” tape by the soldiers isn’t entirely known.

Initially Duct tape was used to seal pack, war related materials. Image source — Google

19. Haber’s Process : Feeds one-third of today’s Population today!

German chemists discovered that explosives could be made without saltpeter, if they could synthesize ammonia. Fritz Haber managed to achieve this almost out of thin air: his process combined hydrogen (from natural gas) and atmospheric nitrogen to produce ammonia. The Haber–Bosch process requires high temperatures and pressure, but it is effective, and by 1913 BASF had set up a plant producing 30 tons of ammonia per day.

The process allowed Germany to fight a war without access to saltpeter supplies.
Ammonia is also a key ingredient in making nitrate fertilizers, and, according to some estimates, the Haber–Bosch process now feeds about a third of the world’s population. Haber himself won a Nobel Prize for his work . . . even though he was also the man behind the military use of chlorine gas.

First Haber Plant. Image source — Google

20. Commercial Airlines

Although the first fare-paying passengers had flown before 1914, it was the development of larger, multi-engined aircraft in WW1 that made airlines possible.
The Handley Page O series was built to strike at Germany, partly in response to zeppelin raids on London. They could carry an impressive bomb load for the time — sixteen 112-pound bombs. More than 500 Handley Page O/400 bombers were produced, and after the war some were converted to passenger use. The fuel tanks, which occupied the fuselage, were moved down into the bomb bay and replaced by 14 wooden seats. Amenities were basic, though passengers did have one item not available on modern airlines — a parachute.

India’s first commercial Plane by Tata Air Lines, now Air India. Image courtsey — Google

The Handley Page Transport Company flew scheduled service between London and Paris and several other routes, cruising at under 100 miles an hour at 8,000 feet. The German Farman F60 Goliath, also designed as a bomber, was also converted to passenger use after the war and flown by four French airlines.

21. Synthetic Rubber

Natural rubber was available in limited quantities, and it’s demand was very high. Rubber was used for tires and every imaginable War machine.
“The Germans knew the rubber was miserably inadequate, as did the rest of the world. With British restrictions on rubber supply and the determination of the US, Germany and the Soviet Union, the synthetic rubber quest was far from over,”.

“You would never see in our lifetime, and even our grandchildren’s lifetime, the collaborative efforts that took place at that time with the synthetic rubber program,”.

The government, private enterprises and academia all working towards one objective sharing patents and agreements and operating these facilities on behalf of America.”

Countries are not at war anymore, at-least in the open. But wars, sure did accelerate the entire process of innovation, invention & adaptation of new technologies, products and services.
From history, we have learnt that Wars act like a catalyst in Innovation, invention and adaptation.

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