A Dance with the Devil: The Strange and Complicated History of Technology and War

Sud Alogu
8 min readFeb 23, 2023

It is difficult to capture the intimate relationship between technology and war. It is an idea that is so totally twisted, when you think about it. What, more than technology, has given so many millions of people the basic necessities of life, such as food and shelter and security? Where would we be if major technological advances hadn’t been made?

What would the world look like without the internet, without electricity, or running water? And yet, the most life-giving factor we know of (technology), cannot exist without the most life-destroying one (war). And so, war and technology reinforce each other, in an everlasting relationship that human beings take part in, knowingly or unknowingly.

It is another one of those strange paradoxes that is so pervasive in human history.

Let’s look at how technology is improved through war, and war improved through technology, by reading this fictional example of General Smith.

In the late 20th century, a military commander named General Smith was tasked with leading his troops into battle in a far-off land. He had been a career soldier, rising through the ranks through sheer determination and grit. However, as he arrived on the battlefield, he realized that everything he had learned throughout his career was quickly becoming obsolete.

The enemy had deployed a new type of weapon that was unlike anything the General had ever seen before. It was a small, unmanned aircraft that could fly at high speeds and take out targets with pinpoint accuracy. The drone could avoid radar detection and was virtually impossible to shoot down.

As General Smith watched in disbelief, the enemy drones decimated his troops with ease. He tried to counter them with traditional anti-aircraft weapons, but they proved useless against the agile, nimble drones. Smith was dumbfounded, never having imagined such a weapon in his wildest dreams.

The drones kept coming, taking out more and more of Smith’s troops. As the General looked around at the chaos and destruction, he realized that his training and experience had not prepared him for this new reality. He felt powerless and defeated, unable to stop the relentless onslaught.

The next day, Smith met with his superiors and demanded that they find a way to counter the enemy drones. He knew that if they did not come up with a solution soon, they would lose the war. His superiors agreed and tasked a team of engineers with developing a new type of anti-drone weapon.

It took several months, but the engineers finally came up with a solution. They developed a new type of missile that could be launched from a truck-mounted launcher. The missile used advanced guidance technology to track the drones and take them out in mid-air.

General Smith watched in amazement as the new missile system was tested. The first time they fired it, they took out three drones in one shot. It was a remarkable achievement, and Smith knew that they finally had a chance to turn the tide of the war.

With the new missile system in place, Smith and his troops went back on the offensive. They engaged the enemy drones in fierce battles, but with the new weapon, they were able to take out the drones with ease. The tide of the war began to turn, and Smith’s troops regained ground that had been lost.

Looking back on the war, Smith realized that he had learned an important lesson. He had always thought that his training and experience were enough to overcome any obstacle, but the rapid pace of technological change had caught him off guard. He knew that he would have to be more vigilant in the future and keep an eye on emerging technologies that could threaten his troops.

In the end, Smith emerged from the war a wiser, more experienced leader. He had seen firsthand the power of new technologies and how they could change the course of a war in an instant. He knew that the future would bring even more technological advancements, and he vowed to stay ahead of the curve and never be caught off guard again.

Technological development and war have always been closely linked throughout history. From the earliest weapons made of stone to the modern-day drones and cyberwarfare, technology has played a crucial role in the way wars are fought and won. This essay will explore the relationship between technological development and war and how the two have been historically intertwined.

One of the earliest examples of technology being used in war is the invention of the bow and arrow. This allowed humans to hunt and fight from a distance, giving them an advantage over their opponents. As societies became more advanced, the use of technology in war became more sophisticated. For example, during the medieval period, the use of the crossbow allowed infantry to take down heavily armored knights, which had previously been impossible.

The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century saw the widespread adoption of new technologies such as steam power, railroads, and mass production. This allowed countries to build larger armies and supply them more efficiently, leading to more destructive and deadly conflicts. The American Civil War was one of the first wars to make use of these technologies on a large scale. The Union army was able to mobilize troops and supplies quickly using the railroad, giving them a decisive advantage over the Confederacy.

World War I was a turning point in the use of technology in war. The introduction of new weapons such as tanks, airplanes, and chemical warfare caused unprecedented destruction and death on the battlefield. It also saw the rise of new industries such as the aviation and chemical industries, which had a profound impact on the global economy.

World War II was a defining moment in human history, with far-reaching impacts on technology, society, and the global economy. The conflict was characterized by industrial attrition, with the United States’ production of tanks, ships, and planes outpacing all the Axis powers combined. The need for faster and more capable computing power during the war drove investment in the development of mechanical computers, which accelerated the field significantly. By the end of the war, the invention of the world’s first digital computer, the ENIAC, had been completed. This was followed by the invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit, revolutionizing the field of computing and paving the way for the development of personal computers and later the internet.

Nuclear technology also had a significant impact on society after the war, ushering in a new era of power and weaponry. The development of nuclear weapons led to the Cold War, a period of heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted for decades.

It is important to note that not all technological developments have been driven by war. Many of the most significant technological innovations have been the result of peaceful pursuits such as scientific research and exploration. However, war has historically been a powerful motivator for technological development. The need to gain an advantage over one’s enemies has led to some of the most significant technological breakthroughs in history.

The ENIAC computer was one of the most significant technological developments to emerge from World War II. The development of this machine was led by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, who were commissioned by the US military to build a device capable of computing firing tables for artillery. The ENIAC was built using over 17,000 vacuum tubes and was capable of performing 5,000 additions or subtractions per second. While the ENIAC was a massive leap forward in computing power, it was still limited in its capabilities. The machine was not programmable, and any changes to its operations had to be made by physically rewiring the machine.

Despite its limitations, the ENIAC paved the way for the development of more sophisticated computers. One of the key innovations that emerged after the ENIAC was the transistor. The transistor was invented in 1947 by William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs. The transistor replaced the vacuum tube as the primary component in electronic circuits and was much smaller, more reliable, and more energy-efficient. The invention of the transistor led to a significant reduction in the size and cost of computers and paved the way for the development of more advanced machines.

The invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 was another critical development in the field of computing. The integrated circuit combined multiple transistors and other electronic components onto a single chip, which made it possible to build even smaller and more powerful computers. The first integrated circuit was invented by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and was a breakthrough in the field of electronics. The integrated circuit paved the way for the development of personal computers and the modern-day computing industry.

Aside from computing, World War II also had a significant impact on nuclear technology. The Manhattan Project, which was the US government’s top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb, brought together some of the brightest minds in science and engineering. The project was led by physicist Robert Oppenheimer and was conducted at multiple sites across the US, including Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project was successful in producing the world’s first atomic bomb, which was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945.

The development of nuclear technology had far-reaching implications for society. The atomic bomb was used by the US military to bring an end to World War II, but it also ushered in a new era of nuclear weapons and the Cold War. The proliferation of nuclear weapons created a sense of fear and uncertainty that defined international relations for decades. Additionally, the development of nuclear power had a profound impact on the world’s energy sector. Nuclear power plants generate electricity by harnessing the heat generated by nuclear reactions. Nuclear power is a clean and efficient source of energy, but it also poses significant risks, such as the potential for nuclear accidents and the safe disposal of nuclear waste.

World War II was a transformative period in human history that brought about significant advances in computing and nuclear technology. The development of the ENIAC, transistor, and integrated circuit revolutionized the field of computing and paved the way for the development of personal computers and the internet. The Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb had far-reaching implications for international relations and the world’s energy sector. The legacies of World War II continue to shape the world we live in today, and it is essential to understand the impact that this conflict had on society and technology. Further, it is important to understand how technology and war continually fuel one another, even if technology is not necessarily tied to violence.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” — Albert Einstein