Created By: Topazan on April 3, 2011 Last Edited By: Topazan on May 15, 2011

Atomic Pacifist

Technology that the inventor(s) intended for peaceful and/or constructive purposes is weaponized.

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Trope
A well intentioned Gadgeteer Genius who creates horrifying weapons without thinking of the potential.

Heavily overlaps with Reluctant Mad Scientist. Related to Misapplied Phlebotinum, although who's doing the misapplying depends on your perspective.


Examples:

Film
  • In the horrifically bad movie Danger! Death Ray the scientist creates a death ray, yes a DEATH RAY, intending it to be used "for peaceful purposes only" Needless to say when MST 3 K got ahold of the film they had a field day mocking the absurdity of this concept.
Live-Action TV Literature
  • Leonard of Quirm from Discworld. Most of the time he doesn't even think of the military applications of his inventions, but even when he does, he's convinced that no one would be evil enough to use it.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Jedi Search, Han confronts an incredibly naive Imperial weapons designer about the projects she's worked on. Projects with names like Death Star, World Devastator, and Sun Crusher. Did she really think that these would be projects with peaceful applications? Yes.
  • In one of the Wiz Biz books, Wiz creates a spell that repels magical creatures for the country folk long terrorized by various monsters. To his horror, someone alters it to create a spell that kills magical creatures, and the villagers start aggressively using it on every creature in their path including neutral or friendly ones.
Video Games
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Otacon intended the Metal Gear he designed to be a defensive weapon, somehow not realizing that it could fire nukes.
Real Life
  • The inventor of the Gatling machine gun hoped it would reduce the overall size of armies by mechanizing warfare (in a strange and rather depressing inversion of the Luddite's fallacy).
  • Nobel created dynamite for mining applications and realized he was being treated as an arms merchant.
  • Robert Oppenheimer, and indeed many scientists on who worked on the Manhattan Project later regretted developing the atomic bomb. This may not count, though, considering that they knew they were creating a weapon that was meant to end the war.
Western Animation
  • In The Venture Bros. pilot episode "The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay", the Venture family travels to New York City, where Dr. Venture is presenting his newest invention to the United Nations. Dr. Venture explains his new invention, the "Oo Ray". He cheerfully melts a model city in demonstration and is completely mystified by the audience's negative reaction. The U.N. representative hosting the conference scolds Venture, who fails to see any violent applications for his gadget, and apologizes to the crowd. A general then cheers Venture up greatly by buying a hundred Oo Rays for the Army (though Dr. Venture clearly has no idea what use the Army could make of his invention).
  • In one episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the LGM present a variety of new inventions. Both Buzz and the LGM dismiss the 'Quantum Trash Compacter' as having no defense applications, but Zurg later steals it and uses it to collapse their planet's sun.

Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • April 3, 2011
    INUH
    In Metal Gear Solid, Otacon intended the Metal Gear he designed to be a defensive weapon, somehow not realizing that it could fire nukes.
  • April 3, 2011
    Bisected8
    • In Real Life several weapons were invented with more peaceful intentions;
      • The inventer of the Maxine machine gun hope it would reduce the overal size of armies by mechanising warfare (in a strange and rather depressing inversion of the Luddite's fallocy).
      • Noble created dynamite for mining applications and realised he was being treated as an arms merchant.
      • Tanks were originally intended as mine and other obstacle sweepers rather than direct combat vehicles.
  • April 3, 2011
    Fanra
    Tanks were originally intended as mine and other obstacle sweepers rather than direct combat vehicles.

    The History of the Tank refutes this statement. Design ideas for tanks varied, but in general the idea was a combat vehicle.

    As for the name of this trope, "Atomic Pacifist" seems to me to indicate more someone who is willing to use all kinds of weapons except for nuclear ones. This is Truth In Television, as international outcry is met when any nation considers using nuclear weapons. The USA is/was considering nuclear "bunker busters". Much like the 1899 Hague Conventions, which prohibit Bullets Which Expand or Flatten Easily in the Human Body, such restrictions often seem strange, when war is mass killing.
  • April 3, 2011
    Bisected8
    There's reasonings behind most bans actually; Nukes leave the area irradiated (and are powerful enough to destroy everything if a nuclear comflic got out of hand), bio-weapons risk mutating and causing a pandemic, chemical weapons are needlessly sadistic and damage the environment nearly as badly as nukes, expanding bullets kill and leave fragments in survivors when a normal bullet would just as easily keep the victim out of the fight (the same reasoning against allowing Shoot The Medic First).
  • April 3, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Jedi Search, Han confronts an incredibly naive Imperial weapons designer about the projects she's worked on. Projects with names like Death Star, World Devastator, and Sun Crusher. Did she really think that these would be projects with peaceful applications? Yes.
  • April 3, 2011
    Topazan
    @Fanra - Well, like I said I'm open to suggestion on names. I was trying to snowclone Martial Pacifist, but yeah, it probably Needs A Better Name.

    @Bisected8 - I've been trying to verify the machine gun example, are you sure it wasn't Gatling you were thinking of?
  • April 3, 2011
    Fanra
    In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Jedi Search, Han confronts an incredibly naive Imperial weapons designer about the projects she's worked on. Projects with names like Death Star, World Devastator, and Sun Crusher. Did she really think that these would be projects with peaceful applications? Yes.

    In Darths And Droids, they call the Death Star the "Peace Moon". The idea is that after the Trade Federation destroyed the moon around Naboo, the Republic decided to replace it with an artificial one, thus restoring the tides and other issues lost with the moon.
  • April 3, 2011
    BlackDragon
    In a partial real-life example, Nikolai Tesla created his Teleforce DeathPeaceray with the specific purpose of putting an end to war. It's unlikely that it would've worked out that way if it had actually been used... so maybe it's for the best that the plans were seized by the government after his death he never completed it.
  • April 3, 2011
    Sackett
  • April 3, 2011
    Fanra
    Note that this trope is an sub-trope of Misapplied Phlebotinum.

    "Nukes For Peace" is an interesting name because it invokes Atoms For Peace.

    Which is actually another trope: Mundane Utility.

    Note that Atoms For Peace program built the first nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakistan. And now Pakistan has nuclear weapons and Iran is getting close. Nice Job Breaking It Hero. Or more like greed overcoming common sense.

    So I don't think Nukes For Peace is quite right.
  • April 3, 2011
    Topazan
  • April 3, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    This is more the invention than the scientist itself.

    How about Death Ray For Peaceful Purposes?
  • April 3, 2011
    Fanra
    • In The Venture Bros pilot episode "The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay", the Venture family travels to New York City, where Dr. Venture is presenting his newest invention to the United Nations. Dr. Venture explains his new invention, the "Oo Ray". He cheerfully melts a model city in demonstration and is completely mystified by the audience's negative reaction. The U.N. representative hosting the conference scolds Venture, who fails to see any violent applications for his gadget, and apologizes to the crowd. A general then cheers Venture up greatly by buying a hundred Oo Rays for the Army (though Dr. Venture clearly has no idea what use the Army could make of his invention).
  • April 4, 2011
    Topazan
    @Dragon Quest Z - Yeah, I guess I can see that. Still, almost every example that's been added here is already there. Well, I guess we can continue adding for now, cross that bridge when we come to it.

    That's a good name, but it seems a little long.
  • April 4, 2011
    MidnightRambler
    Real Life example: Albert Einstein himself was horrified at seeing his work used to build nuclear weapons.
  • April 4, 2011
    fulltimeD
  • April 4, 2011
    Wynne101
    • Robert Oppenheimer, and indeed many scientists on who worked on the Manhattan Project later regretted developing the atomic bomb. This may not count, though, considering that they knew they were creating a weapon that was meant to end the war.
  • April 5, 2011
    Topazan
    @fulltimeD - Hmm, Neutral Scientist fits Reluctant Mad Scientist more than this, and the other one could just as well be about accidents caused by scientific research, which might be another trope.

    How about Man Of Science Not Of War, or Ploughshares To Swords, or Tractors To Tanks?

    @Wynne101 - The only reason I'd hesitate to include that example is that in some ways the atomic bomb did provide a deterrence to war.
  • April 5, 2011
    dalek955
    I vote for Man Of Science Not Of War. Could stand be shortened, though.
  • April 6, 2011
    Sceptre
    I'm surprised Oppenheimer is not in the OP.
  • April 6, 2011
    Earnest
    See also For Science.

    Regarding the Venture Brothers example, the pilot has a very different characterization of Doctor Venture than the series proper, in which he knowingly and gleefully makes horrifying weapons and devices (or ordinary ones Powered By A Forsaken Child) for profit.
  • April 6, 2011
    Fanra
    the pilot has a very different characterization of Doctor Venture

    Yes, they've changed a few things along the way.
  • April 7, 2011
    Topazan
    How about a different quote from the Michell and Webb sketch? To Help Mankind Not Too Destroy? Or Created To Help Mankind?
  • April 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Actually, Einstein was the one who came up with the idea to use nuclear physics for nuclear weapons because he knew Germany had already started work on them and would rather the US have them first.
  • April 8, 2011
    Topazan
    So noted.

    As a title, how about Industrial Death Ray?
  • April 14, 2011
    Fanra
    Actually, Einstein was the one who came up with the idea to use nuclear physics for nuclear weapons because he knew Germany had already started work on them and would rather the US have them first.

    I highly doubt this. If you are talking about the famous Einstein-Szilard letter to FDR, many nuclear physicists (and science fiction writers) considered the possibility of nuclear weapons. Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner approached Einstein to sign the letter because Einstein was famous and would get FDR to pay attention to it, while Szilard, Teller and Wigner were only known to fellow physicists.

    I know of no source that said Einstein "came up with the idea" to use nuclear physics for nuclear weapons. In fact, in 1934 the idea of chain reaction via neutron was proposed by Leo Szilard, who patented the idea of the atomic bomb.
  • April 14, 2011
    neoYTPism
    ... I guess I misinterpreted the history of it then. NVM.
  • April 22, 2011
    Topazan
    Two things keep me from launching this:

    1. It Needs A Better Description, but I can't think of how to expand the one we have.

    2. We're still not decided on a name.

    Any help is appreciated.
  • April 30, 2011
    Darthcaliber
    In the horrifically bad movie Danger! Death Ray the scientist creates a death ray, yes a DEATH RAY, intending it to be used "for peaceful purposes only" Needless to say when MST 3 K got ahold of the film they had a field day mocking the absurdity of this concept.
  • May 11, 2011
    Luc
  • May 11, 2011
    Speedball
    The Genesis Torpedo in Star Trek II The Wrath Of Khan was intended to reformat a lifeless planet into an Earthlike one. However, if such a device were detonated on a planet that already had life in it, it would kill everything on the world as it reformatted it.
  • May 11, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    The Nobel example is probably the Trope Maker, and possibly even the Ur Example. Based on that, I suggest the title Dynamite Syndrome.

    Also, as for the Oppenheimer example, it does count, as "ending the war" certainly qualifies as a peaceful endeavor... Though I don't think the project Manhattan team had the Cold War in mind afterward.
  • May 11, 2011
    Deboss
    The Real Life section goes at the bottom of the examples list.
  • May 11, 2011
    jaytee
    I still don't see how this isn't Reluctant Mad Scientist. DQZ said that Reluctant Mad Scientist was about the inventor and this was the invention, but that distinction isn't reflected at all in the description of this trope. I'm not even sure that it would be a valid distinction if it existed, since the idea of this trope is linked intrinsically with both the inventor and the invention.

    Given the high level of overlap and the lack of a real distinction, I say we fold what we have into Reluctant Mad Scientist and just tweak that article to encompass anything that is covered here but not there (if there is anything).
  • May 11, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Light example from Watchmen: Rorschach uses his grappling gun (designed by Nite Owl II to climb walls) as an acual gun, shooting a cop in the chest. Nite Owl is quite upset when he hears about it.
  • May 12, 2011
    Topazan
    I guess I'm not sure I understand what Reluctant Mad Scientist is. The examples mostly seem to reflect this trope, but to me the description makes it sound more like it's talking about someone who's apathetic to how their inventions are used, who's only goal is to continue their work, and who's detached from humanity. This trope implies that they do care how their work is used.

    Maybe someone who understands that trope better can help clear up the definition.
  • May 12, 2011
    Rolf
  • May 15, 2011
    Topazan
    So what should I do with this trope? Anyone else want to weigh in?
  • May 15, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Sir Charles Hedgehog intended the roboticiser to be used to help people with medical problems (I think it was more specific than that, not sure what exactly though) but when Robotnik took over...
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