The cost of peace

Our anonymous blogger asks why, with so many more pressing challenges facing humanity, conflict remains the most potent spur for innovation?

I am sure that you, like me, have noticed that with conflicts come great engineering advances. Of course it doesn’t have to be outright war, international tensions and aggressive foreign policies both lead governments into bankrolling high end research.

Manned flight, that most apparent of technological barometers, provides plenty of examples. We need only look to the development of the bomber during the Second World War and immediately after for proof. The Avro Lancaster first flew in 1941, the first Vulcan in 1952. The Cold War followed immediately and before the 50’s were done the still born TSR2 was well under way.

Avro Lancaster: War has long been a spur for innovation

Come the peace though and engineering is seemingly put away in a drawer until humanity once more lurches towards aggression.

I really don’t know why this should be the case. As a nation or a planet we have constantly had the need to address difficult problems, problems where engineers may at the very least help facilitate a solution. Food shortages, global medical emergencies and so forth are a constant in the collective human experience.

Here in Britain today we have two issues that are all too apparent and which may have a common solution; a predicted shortfall in engineers and the creation of an adequate sustainable energy supply.

Do we have a concerted programme from the government to provide a long term future solution? Not that I can see. Pollution and energy have been high profile concerns since the 1970’s and yet what developments have there been over the past 40 years? Windmills have sprung up all over the place but from what I read these are mere sticking plasters and sops to public opinion.

There are proclamations and initiatives but none seem to create more than the merest of blips in the public conscience, nor any visible leaps forward. Myriad promising designs come along then seemingly disappear through want of funds or interest. Its not like there wouldn’t be riches to be gained from pursuing sustainable power generation as a national project, and yet there just doesn’t seem to be the will. Where is the dedicated equivalent of an NPL or RAE?

It occurs to me as I sit writing this on 11/11/13 that the best way to honour the dead is to expend the same energy spent arming them in making the world a better place. The end of a war should not only result in the beating of swords into ploughshares but also in the drive to create a much better ploughshare – and to do so in the memory of those who have fallen.