Nikola Tesla’s Machine to End War

The art of thinking

Today the most civilized countries of the world spend a maximum of their income on war and a minimum on education. The twenty-first century will reverse this order. It will be more glorious to fight against ignorance than to die on the field of battle. The discovery of a new scientific truth will be more important than the squabbles of diplomats. Even the newspapers of our own day are beginning to treat scientific discoveries and the creation of fresh philosophical concepts as news. The newspapers of the twenty-first century will give a mere “stick” in the back pages to accounts of crime or political controversies, but will headline on the front pages the proclamation of a new scientific hypothesis.

Progress along such lines will be impossible while nations persist in the savage practice of killing each other off. I inherited from my father, an erudite man who labored hard for peace, an ineradicable hatred of war. Like other inventors, I believed at one time that war could he stopped by making it more destructive. But I found that I was mistaken. I underestimated man’s combative instinct, which it will take more than a century to breed out. We cannot abolish war by outlawing it. We cannot end it by disarming the strong. War can be stopped, not by making the strong weak but by making every nation, weak or strong, able to defend itself.

Hitherto all devices that could be used for defense could also be utilized to serve for aggression. This nullified the value of the improvement for purposes of peace. But I was fortunate enough to evolve a new idea and to perfect means which can be used chiefly for defense. If it is adopted, it will revolutionize the relations between nations. It will make any country, large or small, impregnable against armies, airplanes, and other means for attack. My invention requires a large plant, but once it is established it will he possible to destroy anything, men or machines, approaching within a radius of 200 miles. It will, so to speak, provide a wall of power offering an insuperable obstacle against any effective aggression.

If no country can be attacked successfully, there can be no purpose in war. My discovery ends the menace of airplanes or submarines, but it insures the supremacy of the battleship, because battleships may be provided with some of the required equipment. There might still be war at sea, but no warship could successfully attack the shore line, as the coast equipment will be superior to the armament of any battleship.

I want to state explicitly that this invention of mine does not contemplate the use of any so-called “death rays.” Rays are not applicable because they cannot be produced in requisite quantities and diminish rapidly in intensity with distance. All the energy of New York City (approximately two million horsepower) transformed into rays and projected twenty miles, could not kill a human being, because, according to a well known law of physics, it would disperse to such an extent as to be ineffectual.

My apparatus projects particles which may be relatively large or of microscopic dimensions, enabling us to convey to a small area at a great distance trillions of times more energy than is possible with rays of any kind. Many thousands of horsepower can thus be transmitted by a stream thinner than a hair, so that nothing can resist. This wonderful feature will make it possible, among other things, to achieve undreamed-of results in television, for there will be almost no limit to the intensity of illumination, the size of the picture, or distance of projection.

I do not say that there may not be several destructive wars before the world accepts my gift. I may not live to see its acceptance. But I am convinced that a century from now every nation will render itself immune from attack by my device or by a device based upon a similar principle.

At present we suffer from the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age. The solution of our problems does not lie in destroying but in mastering the machine.

Innumerable activities still performed by human hands today will be performed by automatons. At this very moment scientists working in the laboratories of American universities are attempting to create what has been described as a “thinking machine.” I anticipated this development.

And unless mankind’s attention is too violently diverted by external wars and internal revolutions, there is no reason why the electric millennium should not begin in a few decades.

Excerpted from Liberty, February 1937