This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my new book, War at the Speed of Light. Enjoy!

The devastation of war is always about energy. This statement is true historically, as well as today. For example, most of the massive destruction during World War II resulted from dropping conventional bombs on an adversary. To understand the role energy plays in this type of devastation, consider the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japan launched 353 bombers and torpedo bombers in two waves from six aircraft carriers.[i] Their bombs and torpedoes incorporated Trinitroanisole, a chemical compound.[ii] The vast devastation caused by unleashing the energy in Trinitroanisole’s chemical compound resulted in sinking twelve ships and damaging nine others.[iii] The attacks also destroyed one hundred and sixty aircraft and damaged another one hundred fifty.[iv] Over two thousand three hundred Americans lost their lives during the attack.[v]

A near-perfect example of energy’s devastation is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. These bombs were different from those that preceded them. They derived their destructive force from nuclear fission or the splitting of atoms. In simple terms, it requires energy to hold an atom together. A fast-moving subatomic particle causes the atom to split into its subatomic particles, termed nuclear fission, releasing the energy binding the atom together. We know from Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalent formula E = mc2 that even a small amount of mass (m) converted to energy (E) yields an enormous amount of energy. The reason for this is that mass is multiplied by the speed of light (c) squared (i.e., times itself). The velocity of light is a large number approximately equal to 186,000 miles per second. Doing the math yields an enormous amount of energy from a relatively small amount of mass. Examining the bombs demonstrates this point. Each used fissionable material measuring less than two hundred pounds yet unleashed the devastation of fifteen to twenty thousand tons of TNT.

I know it is unusual to think about destruction as related to energy, but that is a fact of war. From the first caveman that used a rock to kill an adversary to a sniper’s bullet, it all has to do with energy. In the case of the rock and bullet, their kinetic energy (a function of their mass and velocity) inflicts wounds. Think of any weapon, except biological and chemical weapons, from the earliest of times to the present, and you face one inescapable conclusion; it relies on some form of energy to carry out its mission.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you are aware that the Starship Enterprise and its crew did not use anything that resembled conventional weapons, such as guns or nuclear weapons. Also, the Enterprise did not have traditional armor plating. In the science fiction series Star Trek, we see the crew using handheld phasers, which could be set to kill or stun. The phasers, set to kill, are a fictional extrapolation of real-life lasers. When set to stun, the phasers are comparable to real-life microwave weapons that have a stunning effect.[vi] In place of missiles, the Enterprise fired photon torpedoes. These are similar to the missiles military warplanes and warships fire, except the warhead is not a conventional or nuclear explosive. The photon torpedo warhead consisted of antimatter, which has the destructive property of annihilating matter (i.e., converting it to energy). Lastly, in place of armor plating, the Enterprise used a fictional force field to shield the ship, which is similar to the real-life Active Protection Systems[vii] deployed to protect US military vehicles. In essence, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek exposed its viewers to directed energy weapons.

1 Mark Parillo, Why Air Forces Fail: the Anatomy of Defeat, (The University Press of Kentucky, 2006): 288

[ii] Mark Chambers, Wings of the Rising Sun: Uncovering the Secrets of Japanese Fighters and Bombers of World War II, (Osprey Publishing, 2018): 282

[iii] The Library of Congress, “The Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941,” http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/wwii/jb_wwii_pearlhar_1.html (accessed December 17, 2018)

[iv] Library of Congress, “The Japanese Attacked”

[v] Library of Congress, “The Japanese Attacked”

[vi] David Martin, “The Pentagon’s Ray Gun,” CBSN, February 29, 2008, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-pentagons-ray-gun

[vii]  Allison Barrie, “’Force field’ technology could make US tanks unstoppable,” Fox News, August 2, 2018, https://www.foxnews.com/tech/force-field-technology-could-make-us-tanks-unstoppable (accessed December 18, 2018)