November 10, 2005


The E-Bomb: How America’s New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change the Way Future Wars Will Be Fought. By Doug Beason, Ph.D. Da Capo. $26.

     Doug Beason is one of the people whose job is to think the unthinkable, then think of what to do about it.  He is Associate Director (Threat Reduction) at Los Alamos National Laboratory and has spent more than two decades working on directed-energy weapons – the stuff of light sabers and space battles, yes, but also a very real alternative and supplement to the weapons we know today.

     Beason’s The E-Bomb is an introduction to light-emitting weapons of all sorts, both offensive and defensive.  A chapter on “The World’s First Force Field” discusses a system called Active Denial, in which non-lethal energy is used to stop attackers in their tracks by heating their bodies to levels of extreme discomfort.  A chapter called “ABL: The Airborne Laser” discusses a weapon that could theoretically destroy terrorists’ weapons without the necessity of entering an unfriendly nation harboring them.  And there is much more here – seemingly the stuff of science fiction, but, according to Beason, very close to reality.

     The book is fascinating on many levels, from its initial timeline divided into “prelaser” and “postlaser” events, to its photos of the sites where energy weapons with such acronyms as MIRACL, EDL, SBD and THEL have been or are being developed.  Much of the work is classified, but Beason provides enough information to show that some agencies of the government have been working on energy weapons for years or even decades – and that certain types of these weapons are ready for deployment (Beason says they will soon be used in Iraq).  The book is also disturbing on many levels, partly because it is as easy to imagine directed-energy weapons used against us as by us, and partly because it is hard to know how our own government will handle any such weapons that are being or have been developed.  Government deployment of resources after recent Gulf Coast hurricanes, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, does not inspire a great deal of confidence.  Besides, as Beason points out, what keeps standing in the way of effective development of energy weapons is funding, which is needed consistently but – given our political process – is supplied on a hit-or-miss basis.

     In the end, it is hard to know quite how to react to Beason’s book.  On a strictly scientific basis, it is fascinating, showing real-world developments that have the potential, sometime in the future, to produce weapons analogous to those in science-fiction books and films.  On an ethical/moral basis, it has little to say about use of such weapons.  On a trust-the-government basis, it falls short through insufficient skepticism of those who would be charged with deploying any weapons successfully developed.  Beason’s enthusiasm for the lifesaving potential of energy weapons appears to be genuine.  Unfortunately, so is his naïveté about the motives and skills of those who would have to order their use.

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