6 Modern Armies Who Seriously Tried To Win Wars Using Magic
To win at war, you can't simply rely on brute force and strong words -- you need science to make that force more brutal and those words come with drone support. But science doesn't just mean bunsen burners and dorks in labs coats, it can also mean otherworldly wackadoo more befitting of the adventures of Scully, Mulder, or Merlin.
Yes, plenty of modern armies have dipped their toes into the decidedly unscientific field of pseudoscience so they could just magic away their enemies. That's why, for instance ...
ISIS Keeps Chasing A Terrifying Superweapon (That's A Scam)
ISIS is the closest thing that the world currently has to a bunch of supervillains, so it's only apt that they are dedicating an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy towards acquiring an actual superweapon capable of annihilating the world as we know it. Fortunately, they're more like the Bebop and Rocksteady sort of bad guys, because they kind of suck learning from past mistakes.
Case in point: ISIS really wants red mercury, which is the terroristic equivalent of a rickroll -- and they're only the latest in a long line of evildoers to fall for it.
This substance is never going to make you cry or hurt you.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, rumors began to spread about an experimental substance known as "red mercury" developed by the USSR. On its own, red mercury is said to be a harmless compound, but when combined with conventional explosives, it's capable of generating enormous nuclear bomb-sized explosions. Or rather, it would, if the concept of red mercury didn't violate all of the laws of chemistry, physics, and, fuck it, let's throw in biology just because it's that unnaturally stupid a scheme.
But this didn't stop ISIS. In 2014, midway through their sell-out Calpihappetite For Destruction Tour, they tried to place an order for $4 million of red mercury from a local weapons smuggler. And just in case the smuggler (rightfully) didn't know what they were looking for, they sent him some pictures of it on WhatsApp.
The only photos ever sent through WhatsApp that contained zero penises.
Not wanting to be the guy to tell ISIS that they're a bunch of fucking morons, the smuggler eventually told them he had found someone with the connections to get their hands on some of the magic dust. Only this other, totally not-made-up person wouldn't sell to ISIS. They had standards, you see, and a Canadian girlfriend to impress.
This failure is basically pretty much the exact same story for every other dumbass terrorist group who have tried to get their hands on this mythical compound. In 2013, a group of domestic terrorists was arrested in Turkey after touting their totes-real red mercury on social media (which is where ISIS got the above photo from, by the way). In 2006, the Tamil Tigers tried to acquire a cache of the material as part of their long-running secessionist crusade against the Sri Lankan government. Osama bin Laden even wanted to get his hands on this Armageddon-helper back in 1999, only to be undermined by the "nuclear novices" that he'd sent to negotiate on his behalf.
"You didn't get the red mercury? Oh well, time to drown my sorrows in HeadOn and internet dick growth pills."
Like any good training camp legend, the properties of red mercury always change from retelling to retelling. We know this because the Department Of Energy tracks every red mercury rumor they can find. Over the years, they've seen it advertised not only as nuclear bomb viagra, but also as a type of impenetrable anti-radar paint, a chemical weapon, a super-explosive in itself, and presumably one of the eleven herbs and spices that make up KFC's secret recipe.
In The '70s, The CIA Held Tryouts For Psychic Warriors
You might be aware that the CIA spent most of the '70s poking wannabe psychic warriors with sticks and asking them to kill things by thinking really, really hard. This Stargate Project was established to investigate, quote, the "potential for psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications." But now it turns out that this project wasn't only a burden on the U.S. taxpayer, but also on the nation's stockpiles of cutlery.
According to recently released documents, one of the "psychics" that they put through their paces was Uri Geller, a guy who inexplicably became world-famous for his psychic spoon-bending shenanigans. Over a period of eight days in August 1973, the CIA tested Geller's remote viewing abilities by locking him in a soundproof box and asking scientists to draw randomly selected words from the dictionary. Geller was then asked to pierce the veil between the physical and the metaphysical, and determine what they'd drawn. Or guess. Mostly just guess.
"Also, maybe we shouldn't have made the soundproof box out of glass."
And the results? Actually, weirdly successful. The CIA concluded that Geller had "demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner." That said, there were some tests where Geller's mental powers got wonky and, as the CIA noted, these often corresponded to times when skeptical observers were watching the experiments (which is a pretty creative way of saying Geller wasn't so magical when there were grown-ups in the room).
"And now, I'm invisible!" "Shut up, Uri."
The British Had A "Build-A-Death-Ray" Contest
In 1934, after having had their asses handed to them in the last war due to the invention of long-range aircraft, the British government founded the Committee For The Scientific Survey Of Air Defence (CSSAD) to study ways of repelling enemy attacks from the air. Rumors soon emerged, however, that the Nazis had begun developing a (massive quotes) "death ray" capable of wiping out everything they didn't like. In response, the CSSAD opened the floor to suggestions about how to develop their own death ray.
"Put the death ray in a secluded hollowed-out volcano. It'll look cool, plus Churchill needs space to run around naked."
Because it's unethical to test experimental superweapons on people, the design contest had only one stipulation: their supposed death ray had to be capable of killing a sheep from a distance of one hundred yards. Why a sheep and not a cow or pig? Because fuck sheep, that's why.
One team got very, very close to the prize by figuring out the precise amount of energy that such a weapon would need to fire in order to destroy a plane/kill a wool-covered enemy. However, since nothing capable of generating that much energy existed at the time, the project was abandoned, to the presumptive pleasure of sheep everywhere. (Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army temporarily held their own Deathstravaganza, awarding $10,000 to the first person who could kill a goat using nothing more than weaponized radiation, because everything is slightly different in The Colonies.)
The British Hired An Astrologer To Predict Hitler's Next Moves
A key element to winning a war is being able to predict your enemy's moves. After all, figuring out their triggers, strategies, and when exactly to send that "suck it" greeting card is a great way to keep them on the back foot. But what if your foe isn't guided by logic, but instead is some nutjob who believes star signs and tarot cards will tell him how to maneuver battle fleets? Well, the only way to figure out someone who listens to soothsayers is with a crackpot soothsayer of your own.
And then your foe hires another soothsayer, and so on and so on, until the whole damn Pentagon smells like an incense store.
As we've previously discussed, Hitler wasn't a very good tactician. He led his armies based on superstition and crazy-logic, making any attempt at psychological analysis on par with trying to solve a magic-eye picture. Then, British Intelligence discovered that Hitler regularly met with Karl Ernst Krafft, a world-renowned astrologer. But what could they do with that?
Enter Louis de Wohl, an astrologer who had been spending the war thus far creating fake astrological reports and distributing them through Nazi Germany as a way of demoralizing the population. When he heard about Hitler and Krafft, however, he approached the Special Operations Executive (also known as the "Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare") with an idea: using his totally-real astrological powers to astrologically analyze Hitler, allowing the SOE to learn what he'd be advised and, therefore, give them a hint about what crazy bullshit he'd do in response.
"That Hitler guy is trouble. Trust me, I'm psychic."
Despite resistance from some higher-ups, de Wohl was permitted to divine the random advice given to Hitler and, in 1942, delivered his magnum opus, a report. A Survey Of 1943 covered the month-by-month horoscopes for Hitler for the entirety of the following year, as well as those for several other major players including Goering, Churchill, and King George VI.
It could have worked, but de Wohl had made too many enemies -- mainly by spending his days walking around London dressed like a soldier and telling everyone about his super secret military project. De Wohl was canned, along with any hope of seeing his work come to fruition. It also turns out that Hitler wasn't a fan of listening to Krafft, making this whole debacle worthless.
So Many Militaries Love "Dowsing" (AKA New Age Goofball Magic)
Dowsing is the mystical art of using a specially attuned receiver to "tap into" spiritual energies and point you towards whatever you're looking for (it's usually water, though). It's the new age equivalent of that scene in old cartoons where the intoxicating fumes of a cooling pie on a windowsill can summon Yogi Bear floating out of the woods. And though it has no scientific backing whatsoever, that hasn't stopped countless militaries from using dowsing to try finding enemy hideouts and bombs (or usually water).
It's nonsense, of course. The power isn't in the rod. It's in your heart.
As we've noted before, it emerged that the Iraqis had spent millions of dollars on a device known as the ADE 651, a fancy piece of bomb-sniffing technology that consisted of nothing more than a molded piece of plastic, an anti-theft tag, a metal rod, and some good vibes, brah. All of this would seem a lot more hilarious if those devices weren't sold as being perfect for checking cars for suicide bombs at security checkpoints. You can probably guess how well that went. Since then, the "inventor" of the ADE 651, Jim McCormick, was imprisoned after being found guilty of fraud (and clearly wasting his talents not shilling red mercury).
We'd argue that other countries are more sensible, but Estonia used dowsing rods to detect roadside bombs ahead of a visit to the country by George W. Bush in 2006. The Marines also had "marked success" with dowsing during the Vietnam War; using straightened-out coat hangers and antennae, soldiers were able to ferret out everything from enemy tunnels and traps.
Dowsing found traps everywhere! Because there were traps everywhere.
When the military heard about these successes, they subjected dowsing to a battery of experiments that, unfortunately, couldn't prove anything about its effectiveness because the results were too inconclusive. So really, who can tell if dowsing isn't a perfectly valid way of conducting investigations? (That was sarcasm, it's scientists. It's always scientists.)
The Nazis Were Obsessed With A Spear That Guarantees World Domination
Remember the bad guy Red Skull from Captain America? Well, it turns out that the only unrealistic thing about him was his death mask of a face. All those mythic artifacts he liked to chase around the world? The real Nazis loved that shit.
They invaded Russia because they heard the Tesseract was in Siberia.
Red Skull's relic-hunting HYDRA gang had a real-world counterpart: the Ahnenerbe, meaning, "Inheritance Of The Forefathers." The Ahnenerbe was tasked with recovering just about anything vaguely magical or mystical that might help save the Third Reich a tank or two while taking over the world. In Iceland, they looked for Thule, a magical land that Hitler and his Nazi pals genuinely believed was the birthplace of the Aryan race and, uh, mind-reading giants. Also on Hitler's magical shopping list were a yeti from Tibet, the Ark Of The Covenant from Ethiopia, the Holy Grail from Languedoc and, most importantly, the Spear Of Destiny -- also known as the Holy Lance. We're started to think he only bombed London so much because they wouldn't give him Excalibur.
The only magic they discovered was chocolate under the foil.
The Spear Of Destiny is what religious historians named the spear that pierced Jesus's side and finally sent him back to live at his parent's place. The Spear has supposedly passed from ruler to ruler, including Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa, King Alaric of the Visigoths and Charlemagne, who (supposedly) fought 47 battles with the Spear and immediately died upon dropping it. Legend has it that the holder of the Spear has the power to shape the fate of the world -- until he stops being the holder of the Spear, whereupon he falls down dead as a doornail and gets rejected at the Pearly Gates for being the unholiest of butterfingers.
Think about it: If Jesus had died of diabetes, Hitler would be chasing a mystical pot of honey.
As you've already surmised, that's a pretty sexy story for anyone with dreams of world domination and the ego to back them up. Even Napoleon tried to get his hands on the Spear. But Hitler was the first to think he actually obtained the mythical sharp stick. Of course, all he had found was some expensive Austrian knock-off, though that did not stop him from planning to use it to become Holy Roman Emperor of Nuremberg, the place he held to be the spiritual center of Nazidom. When, in 1945, General Patton's men snatched the Spear for America, Hitler spent little time grieving his loss, because he died in his bunker not long after. Guess some legends are true after all, even if the artifacts aren't.
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