Even if you don’t think you do, there’s a good chance you know at least some of the lyrics to the Edwin Starr’s anti-Vietnam song, War.
“War, huh, yeah,” the song starts out, “What is it good for?”
Well, as it turns out, war is actually pretty good for innovation, including the invention of many common items, services and technologies that we seemingly take for granted on a daily basis. Here are a few that you likely wouldn’t be too happy if they went missing from your life:
Be it blasting a bunker half a world away or taking weird aerial footage of your friend’s wedding, flying drones are becoming a big part of 21st Century life.
Interestingly enough, the birth of drone operation runs almost parallel with that of aviation itself, particularly combat aviation.
During the 1st World War, the airplane was just becoming part of military operations, be it for scouting missions, bombing or shooting down other aircraft. Near the end of the war, a couple of Americans had an idea: What if you could remotely pilot an explosives-laden airplane into an enemy target without killing one of your own men in the process?
Enter the “Kettering Bug,” which was little more than a torpedo mated with an engine, biplane wings, and remote steering components, with a target strike range of 75 miles.
While the first test was a complete failure, the “Bug” would effectively be the first drone (and cruise missile), though it’s existence would remain a secret until World War II.
Today, drones are used for everything from dropping bombs to delivering packages, with personal-use versions capable of aerial photography once considered unobtainable for the average person.
Ah, the power of mold! While this great medicine was invented in the late 1800s, it wasn’t until World War II that the widespread use of Penicillin became common practice, often to treat wounds, infections and.. Of course, sexually-transmitted diseases.
Using it’s industrial might, the United States became a penicillin-producing powerhouse, and was one of the first two nations (along with Australia) to make it commercially available after the war.
5: The Power of Microwaves
The fastest way to heat a meal short of tossing it directly into a fire, there are few homes in America that don’t have a microwave oven. However, the microwave oven would be a thing of imagination had it not been for a candy bar and a World War II invention known as “radar.”
In 1945, American engineer Percy Spencer was working near radar components when a candy bar began to melt in his pocket. Putting two-and-two together, the microwave oven was born.
In addition to heating food, different wavelengths of microwaves have been used to watch weather conditions from space, see through clouds and even allow police to see how fast you’re going.
None of this, of course, would have happened, without a man (with an appetite for candy) standing in close proximity to a wartime invention used to track incoming threats.
4: Paramedics and Life Flight
If you or a loved one ever survived an injury or illness due to fast medical care, you may have a long line of military medics and corpsmen to thank for that.
While the ambulance has been around for some time, it wasn’t always as efficient as you would think. Most of the time, ambulance drivers were little more than orderlies tasked with driving you to the hospital, where doctors would treat your wounds.
On the battlefield, however, medical advancements began to take on a more intensive role, both in trauma care and getting someone to a field hospital in a hurry. By the Korean War, wounded troops were being flown to hospitals, as seen in the iconic American TV series M.A.S.H.
It wasn’t until the Vietnam War, however, that paramedicine and aero-medicine as we know it took true form. Through advanced trauma care and dedicated medivac platforms, the survivability rate of the average wounded GI was greatly increased, particularly in comparison to previous American conflicts.
Around the same time, doctors and scientists back in the US began to take note, and released a study in 1966 that revealed seriously wounded troops in Vietnam had a higher survival rate than people injured in car accidents in California. The study attributed the higher survival rates to trained medics who could provide immediate care both at the scene and en route to the hospital, where a patient would receive more advanced care.
Not long after, the “paramedic” was born, and there were plenty of Vietnam veterans returning home to continue saving lives. In the early 1970s, a television show called Emergency! (which was the story of two paramedics, one of which being a Vietnam veteran) helped push the term “paramedic” into the mainstream lexicon and spread awareness about paramedicine across the entire country.
As for Life Flight, lessons learned in the Vietnam War were instrumental in creating dedicated civilian aeromedevac corps, particularly the work of dedicated military medical helicopters (known as “Dust Off”) in Southeast Asia.
3: Cargo Shorts
Once the staple of the 1990s and early 2000s, cargo shorts and pants are now the lower-torso wear of choice for dads, outdoorsmen and dudes sporting beards and guns. As predicted, the cargo pant came about as a way for British soldiers to carry more ammunition and equipment on the battlefield. Not one to shy from borrowing ideas from its cousin, the American military quickly adopted cargo pockets for its own uniforms, and the tradition continues to this day. In fact, the US military apparently has an obsession with pockets, seemingly adding a new one with with new generation of battle uniform.
Sadly, most Millenials can’t read clock, let alone a map. Because of this, even the most anti-military of young adults owe a debt of gratitude to the Armed Forces, who invented an intricate navigation network that most people can’t seem to live without.
In the late 1970s, the Department of Defense replaced radio-based navigation systems by throwing enough navigation satellites into orbit that a fairly reliable network was established. This enabled the military to not only navigate, but keep tabs on where friendly units were located and give accurate positions for missile launches. This idea gave rise to the Global Positioning System, or GPS.
President Ronald Reagan -who loved anything that was both military and space-related- ordered GPS to be available to civilians once the network was completed, though it would not be until the 1990s when top-quality GPS signal became mainstream for consumer use.
1: Duck Tape
You might call it “duct tape” or “duck tape” (depending on where you shop), but most military personnel call it “100-mile-an-hour tape.” Used for fixing just about everything, the rubber-based adhesive is most commonly imagined in it’s silver color, but has its origins wearing olive drab.
In World War II, a division of Johnson & Johnson (yes, the baby shampoo people) created a military-grade adhesive tape using long strips of plain cotton duck cloth. Originally in an olive-drab color, “duck” tape was used for a variety of purposes, from bandaging to keeping ammunition dry. Known for sticking under even the harshest conditions, the tape was also used to patch holes in military aircraft.
After World War II, duck tape donned a civilian silver color and was used to seal air conditioning ducts, as well as provide much-needed temporary (and sometimes permanent) repairs to broken everyday items.
When Vietnam broke out, the tape once again made a return to the battlefield, earning it’s “100 MPH” moniker after being used to repair and balance damaged helicopter rotor blades.
Going far beyond the bonds of Earth, the tape was also used in space. During the near-disastrous Apollo 13 mission, Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert were forced to improvise a carbon dioxide filter out of items found aboard their stricken spacecraft. Taking instructions from ingenious engineers on the ground, the three men fashioned a new life-saving filter, using the tape to keep the device together. On Apollo 17, the tape was used to make emergency repairs to a damaged lunar rover.
As terrible as war can be, such extreme situations can create a need for new and innovative ways to do things. Since “necessity is the mother of invention,” it’s only natural that many technologies developed in the heat of battle can be utilized long after the smoke clears and hostilities come to an end.
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