Wuhan flu, drones and the run up to World War 3

This editorial appeared in the Spring edition of the paper Salisbury Review Magazine. The Summer edition is due on the 8th of June. Hurry while stocks last!

You will find pictures of my relatives in various rooms in our house: Kate who died aged nineteen of the Spanish Flu, Jim aged 23 blown apart by General Kressenstein’s guns at the second battle of Gaza, William his father who volunteered aged 40 for the Western front and a poison gas platoon and came home in 1919 out of his mind. Two other sisters, Floss and Luce, survived never to marry or have children because there were no men. My grandmother Bella lived until 1963, remarking occasionally over the top of her Daily Telegraph, ‘The only good German is a dead one.’ It did little to cover the horror of it all. Like a family who set out for a drive on a summer’s afternoon they were to be victims of a terrible road crash, one moment talking and laughing, the next their bodies scattered dying or wounded on the road.

1914 was preceded by a fabulous period of peace and prosperity. One day everything was normal, there was ample food, lots of work, crime was at a minimum, new houses and roads were being built. Then the mad generals on both sides sounded their war drums and millions of men rushed to their deaths. Afterwards came plague, that camp follower of war, in this case the Spanish Flu, killing more than the millions who died at the front.

It was a war of the machines, machines which killed so efficiently and in such vast numbers that the generals lost control. One side might lose 19,000 men in a morning, the other 20,000 and on and on until after four years one side ran out of food and men. Yet, unlike our modern machines, theirs were not very complicated; bigger guns, better bullets, stronger metals for their barrels, heavier machine guns, mass produced rifles, string and paper aircraft, telephones, steel boxes on tracks called tanks, mines and poison gas.

The most important invention was the chemical toilet so millions of men could be packed into trenches disease free while they awaited death.autonomous drones that can choose their targets without reference to their human masters, is going on apace. Such machines do not have to fly. Mechanical creatures that can scramble over ruined landscapes in search of human prey will be the inevitable consequence of advances in biomechanics and artificial intelligence. Only happening in America? No. If you are a mad general in China and Russia you won’t need permission for any of these, indeed your masters will demand much worse. We have already had Novichok, Russian for ‘The Newcomer’.

‘Worse’ means further advances in military bacteriology and virology. Scientists have learnt a lot about manipulating viruses from Covid 19, itself the product of American and Chinese carelessness and laboratory mishandling. How about a virus that can sniff a spike protein on the surface of your cells, that seeks out your race, or a protein that if adjusted makes you just ill enough to stay alive and eat but not get up?

We should by now have had enough of machines. Covid was brought to us by a machine, the passenger jet, an unforeseen side effect of moving 4 billion people each covered in one and a half kilograms of viruses and bacteria around the world every year. Far from freeing us to travel anywhere it has locked us shivering in our houses. Are we going to sit waiting behind our masks for another technological blunder to destroy us while the scientists who invented it tell us to stay in our homes? There are many unknowns in a world overburdened with people. How long will it be for the West’s top soil harrowed by vast machines to degrade beyond fertility? Some say 60 years.

I write this on a spring afternoon. After a year of lockdown London’s air has become breathable, its rivers are clear, you can hear birds rather than the whine of aircraft. The crocuses are out. Will a time come when the latter don’t return? Is this the year we must choose: technology, the way of death, or Nature and the way of life?

Myles Harris

The Salisbury Review — Spring 2021

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