Never before have I reacted so strongly to an article in Physics Today. “The Evolving Battlefield” by John S. Foster and Larry D. Welch may be a reality that cannot be dismissed out of our wishes for a more peaceful world; however, my negative reaction stems from a moral element to the article.
Essentially 99% of the article pertained to changing technology needs for national security with a dubious amount of relevance to the physics that the reader is expecting. The conclusion, however, was a feel-good appeal to scientists who may decide to use their talents to “improve the human condition,” as the authors put it.
Outside the ivory tower, many people don’t believe it is a net positive to wage battles without offensive combatant losses or to have pinpoint accuracy destructive power hundreds of miles from the target. Perhaps the V-2 rocket was the first unmanned weapon to have long-range accuracy. This was considered a machine of terror, not just a weapon of war.
Certainly smart weapons kill fewer unintended victims, but that should never be confused with improving the human condition. If scientists wish to use their abilities to build more effective and efficient killing machines, then they should do so without cloaking it in some fabricated moral justification.