The Pentagon's Ray Gun

What if we told you the Pentagon has a ray gun? And what if we told you it can stop a person in his tracks without killing or even injuring him? Well, it’s true. You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but as CBS News correspondent David Martin experienced first hand, you can feel it.

Pentagon officials call it a major breakthrough which could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq. But it’s still not there. That because in the middle of a war, the military just can’t bring itself to trust a weapon that doesn’t kill.

I highly recommend the whole video report (link accompanies article). The problem is they do not get into the real potential ethical dilemmas this could create: What if it were used to prevent the Birmingham boycott or Tiananmen Square or some other protest?


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Military / Armed Forces, Theology

14 comments on “The Pentagon's Ray Gun

  1. William P. Sulik says:

    Re: Tienanmen Square

    Wouldn’t the use of a non-lethal “ray gun” to disperse the crowd have been better than the lethal force used? [url=]Estimates of deaths[/url] range from 200 – 10,000.

  2. janetroya says:

    I think Kendall is not concerned about the choice in regards to use of force. Rather- the potential to use this kind of intimidation. force to prevent a gathering in the first place.

    Your question leads to the obvious answer that the ray-gun would be preferable to killing people in order to disperse a crowd. But that isn’t the question.

    Bith the examples Kendall used where peacful and non-destructive protest. The people gathered to protest and raise concerns. No-violence was intended.

    The danger of this kind of weapon is to prevent people from assembling at all. I think that is the question kendall is raising.

  3. Saint Dumb Ox says:

    I do think Kendall has a point, but guns have been around a lot longer than this ray gun and people have still gathered for protests.

    For myself, I would actually be MORE inclined to go to a protest if I knew I might only get “heat rayed” as opposed to killed with a real or rubber bullet.

    I am more worried about what this weapon can really do. They say it doesn’t cause any lasting harm to a human, but does anybody really know (agent orange is a good example)? Microwaves cook all kinds of things after all.

    From what I can see this ray gun relies on the ability of the target to run away. What about packed crowds where running away is impossible? Human stampedes never end well.

  4. William P. Sulik says:

    Thank you for the response and clarifying. I had thought about this as well.

    I think while the protesters in Tienanmen were hoping for a peaceful protest, they were fully aware that the government response might not be peaceful. I think they were prepared for government violence and death. Similarly, many in the Civil Rights protests in the South knew of the potential for violence (either direct on site or later, such as the firebombings, lynching and assaults after the fact, away from the media) and assembled anyway.

    Maybe I’m still misunderstanding. I guess I see the actions of those trying to suppress the peaceful protest as being impermissible from an ethical standpoint, whether it’s the use of lethal or non-lethal force.

    But I know there are those who differ — for example, the recent admission by one candidate that those who might refuse to participate in the National Health system would find their wages garnished, property liquidated or sent to prison.

  5. Chris says:

    “What if it were used to prevent the Birmingham boycott or Tiananmen Square or some other protest?”

    Lethal weapons (which intimidate) are already used in these situations, how is this non lethal device (FAR less intimidating) going to make things worse? Besides, we live in a democracy with checks and balances. This thing would have been great in Seattle at the WTO meeting – one of the most brazen, law breaking “protests” in our history:

  6. libraryjim says:

    Any technology that is developed can be used for good or for ill. Does that mean we should not develop new technologies because of the possibility that someone with motives less pure than ours may use it for their own purposes? electricity can light a city or be used for capital punishment. Cars can get you from point a to point b, but they can also cause accidents. etc.

    Jim Elliott <><

  7. KentuckyLutheran says:

    I think the primary difference about the use of these weapons in that they are “microwaves.” As an invisible, “non-lethal,” but extremely painful weapon, governments could use this weapon with less fear of the negative backlash that other weapons often produce.

    Think about it, the tanks rolling down Tianmen square resulted in powerful images that were beamed across the world.

    There is a built-in restraint faction in the use of force: will doing this actually result in more protest and/or international intervention of some form. At the very least, there is a PR consideration: one good photo is often a more powerful and effective representation of a repressive governments misdeeds than a hundred victim accounts.

    Governments have long used various “non-lethal” means of crowd dispersion, such as fire-hoses, tear gas, dogs, baton wielding police, rubber bullets etc. However, these means produce images that draw attention to the protests and to the government’s violence. Think about the footage of civil rights demonstrators getting attacked by dogs, wire houses, and violent police officers: does anyone not think these helped highlight the injustice they were facing and help get national and international attention?

    What about this new weapon? What kind of images would it produce? Would governments feel less restrained in using it, since there would be no photos of bloodied protesters on international wire services? Would the brave protesters who encountered such a weapon be given the kind of moral “victory” and authority that those that have faced other forms of violence have been given?

    I don’t think so. I think you’d largely have an invisible weapon that can be used from a distance. Crowds could be dispersed “for their own good/safety” before anything happens or any news cameras arrive. Protesting is largely about drawing attention to a cause or an issue, and this weapon could effectively end large public demonstrations as we know them. I think there are serious ethical considerations here beyond “well, at least this doesn’t kill anyone.”

  8. The_Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I am reminded of that old Far Side cartoon with the alien driving away in a flying automobile with a bumper sticker that says, “Ray Guns Don’t Kill Zygornians, Zygornians kill Zygornians!”

  9. Ralph says:

    Leipzig: Wir Sind das Volk!
    The wall fell because the East German and Soviet tank commanders didn’t use lethal force to disband the demonstrators.

    Of course, if we could only get a low-power version for the HOB…

  10. Michael D says:

    It won’t be stopped – it is very rare for new technologies to be stopped, because they just leak out of whatever containment one creates for them. I agree that a new weapon such as this creates new ethical risks, such as encouraging a move toward a totalitarian state, because police and National Guard will be more willing to use this much earlier (they are human, after all, and would not fire a weapon so readily). Counter-measures will be developed: protestors will learn to wear tin foil under their shirts, or carry mirrors to reflect the microwaves back at the attackers. What will happen when criminals get their ray guns? I’m from Canada… does the US constitution protect the right to carry ray guns, or just ballistic guns?

  11. evan miller says:

    Well, #10, the criminal with the ray gun had better watch out for me with my “ballistic gun”.

  12. celtichorse says:

    Maybe when it is deployed it will be an ‘over and under’ gun giving the shooter a choice of beam or bullet–a Janus-faced threat.

  13. talithajd says:

    Ahh, the tin foil moves from hats to t-shirts. I like celtichorse’s idea. That has a real Star Trek “set phasers to stun” appeal.

  14. libraryjim says:

    Just a newer form of the tazer.

    I like the Star Trek analogy, and I can see the same objections raised for that development.