Review of Accessory to War

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  • Analytical
  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening


Celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson remembers the exact moment when it dawned on him that, as an astrophysicist, he also was a contributor to the American war machine. It was April, 2003, and Tyson was attending the National Space Symposium – an event he associated, primarily, with scientific inquiry. Thus, when CNN images of bombs blowing up in Baghdad appeared within the conference hall, Tyson was shocked to see defense contractors hooting with joy – particularly when TV announcers cited their employers’ technology by name. The experience left Tyson considering a commitment to full-scale pacifism. But rather than check out, he chose to stay engaged. If indeed the same high-powered technologies and scientific discoveries that drove his field were also being used to wage war, what might the future hold? In this hefty tome, Tyson offers an engaging exploration of the past, present and potential future of space-based war. Though he is not entirely pessimistic, Tyson frets about the destructive power of the space weapons being designed in the United States, China and Russia. Too, he worries that the investment in space is skewed toward destruction rather than discovery.

About the Authors

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History and host of the radio and TV shows StarTalk. A best-selling author, he lives in New York City. Avis Lang is a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History.  


A Symbiotic Relationship

Together with co-author Avis Lang, Tyson points out that modern warfare is all about having the best technology. Whichever side knows the most and is best able to harness that knowledge is likely to come out ahead in an armed conflict. Science has long played a vital part in providing that edge. Biologists have made bacterial and viral infections into weapons. Chemists have created nerve gases and incendiaries. And atomic bombs invented by physicists played a key role in the Allies’ winning World War II.

The fact that science is hand in glove with the American war machine may make astrophysicists like Tyson uncomfortable, but theirs is a symbiotic relationship in more ways than one. Whether an astrophysicist is motivated by intellectual curiosity about Saturn’s rings or a Pentagon official wants intelligence about a bunker in a remote mountain area, both parties rely on the same NASA-funded infrastructure to pursue their goals. Astrophysicists don’t build bombs, but they do provide foundational knowledge for bomb-makers: Astrophysics analyzes thermonuclear explosions that destroy stars, and that inquiry can help companies that build thermonuclear bombs. Astrophysicists also are experts on orbits, trajectories and image analysis – all key factors in the militarization of space.

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