5 Bonkers Supervillain Plans Real Governments Actually Tried
Governments back dumb plans all the time, but they tend to be on the more boring side of stupid. Yet every so often, an otherwise-sane government will ask, "What if we zapped some cops into the internet like Freakazoid so they could hunt down hackers?" or "What if we fought climate change by firing a big pair of sunglasses at the Sun?" You might think we're joking, but based on the stories we're about to tell you, it will only be a matter of time.
The American Plan To Bomb The Sky
Back in the 19th century, a civil engineer named Edward Powers wrote a book claiming that it usually rained after the Civil War's larger battles. Ignoring the obvious explanation (God was crying), Powers theorized that the noise from all the explosions agitated clouds into releasing the rain they were hogging. That sounded dubious even for a time when the solution to every medical aliment was whiskey, but there was a drought on, and an important senator was getting hosed on his ranching investments. And so, in 1891, Congress allocated money for the most American experiment imaginable: "What if we bombed the sky until it did what we want?"
Unsurprisingly, every actual scientist refused to have anything to do with this. So the buck was passed downwards until it hit a patent lawyer, Robert G. Dyrenforth.
Dyrenforth commandeered a section of Texas prairie and began a three-pronged assault on the great blue yonder. First his men fired mortars at the clouds. Spaced between them were kites carrying bundles of dynamite, which were detonated via an electrical charge. Behind them floated a line of explosive hydrogen balloons, which had a tendency to break free and drift wildly across the plains. After blazing away at the sky for some time, Dyrenforth decided to up the noise level by packing local prairie dog holes full of dynamite. Because if you're going to pick a fight with Mother Nature, why half-ass it?
Somehow, the plan to gun down the rain failed to work, although that didn't stop Dyrenforth from claiming that it totally did. He was foiled by the only real meteorologist on the expedition, who published a scathing report in Nature. Although the real tragedy was that the 19th century's greatest pyrotechnics show was witnessed mostly by a few baffled cows and some shell-shocked prairie dogs. But if anyone out there is writing a western, remember that it's historically accurate to have your heroes stumble across a bunch of civil servants flying huge explosive kites in attempt to bomb the sky.
Argentina Built An Island Fortress For A Mad Nazi Scientist's Fusion Generator
In 1951, Argentina's Juan Peron proudly announced that they had built the world's first fusion generator, a "small sun on Earth." Limitless cheap energy would soon be available in every store, sold in "in half-litre bottles, like milk." So why aren't we all tipping back pints of nuclear fury? Because Argentina had in truth pumped hundreds of millions into a ludicrous scheme run from an ex-Nazi scientist's fortress.
Let's back up. Having some pet former Nazi scientists was all the rage in the '50s, but the Americans and Soviets had snapped up all the good ones. Peron showed up to the metaphorical adoption agency late, realized all the von Brauns were gone, and was left with a third-rate aircraft designer named Ronald Richter, who wildly misrepresented his credentials to persuade Peron to fund a fusion generator. Every real scientist in Argentina knew this was ludicrous (it's still well beyond our abilities today), but Peron was buoyed by the baffling belief that a former Nazi engineer must know what he was doing. After all, they famously won that war thanks to sound resource allocation and decision-making.
And so Peron spent a significant portion of Argentina's budget on building Richter a massive, heavily guarded complex of giant concrete megastructures on Heumel Island, conveniently located in the middle of a mountain lake in the Andes. Yes, while most mad scientists have to choose between a mountain lair or an island lair, Richter scammed his way into both. It's never a sign of good science when your lab looks like something James Bond should be jet-skiing away from.
Richter's eventual bizarre claim to have achieved fusion was debunked immediately after Peron announced it, and in deeply humiliating circumstances for everyone involved. The Soviets actually woke up one of their own German scientists at 3 in the morning to assess Peron's claim, but when he heard Richter's name, he told them not to worry, because the guy was a fantasist. Further investigation revealed that he had never published any scientific papers, and his PhD thesis had been publicly disavowed by his university. Do you have any idea how badly you have to suck at science for the Nazis to think you're a quack?
The embarrassed Argentinians quickly leveled most of the lab and tried to pretend the whole thing never happened. They also threw Richter in jail for fraud. After his release, he settled down and became a chicken farmer, but continued to insist he had the ability to create tiny suns. No one listened, possibly because he refused to learn Spanish, which he described as a "language for monkeys." A friendly tip in case an undead Juan Peron is a regular reader: Maybe do a background check before giving a fraudulent racist all of your money.
The British Plan To Grow A Gigantic Hedge Across India
In the mid-1800s, the British imposed a brutal salt tax in northeast India, which had few sources of salt. Since you kind of need salt to live, all the British had to do was seize control of salt production and then gouge the locals for everything they had. The tax caused incredible suffering over the years, but it was also very lucrative, which we can surely all agree is a fair trade. However, the British had to contend with smuggling from the salt-rich south and west of India, where the tax was much lower. So they decided that the only logical solution would be to grow a giant hedge of thorn bushes all the way across the subcontinent.
And boy did they ever commit to their plan, despite the fact that it sounded like it came straight out of Sleeping Beauty. By 1878, the Great Hedge stretched for over 1,100 miles. It was supposed to be a living hedge 12 feet high, 14 feet thick, and bristling with thorns, but the British couldn't get it to grow properly everywhere, and at least half of it was nothing but a pile of dead branches. But they kept at it, eventually growing 500 miles of living hedge that was patrolled and maintained by an army of 12,000 customs officers. This elite squad of gardeners had to combat storms, brush fires, parasitic vines, insects, rats, and ingenious criminal schemes like "throwing stuff over the wall." What half-mad mastermind could have come up with such a devilish countermeasure?
You may be detecting the problem, which is that fairy tale solutions are impractical to implement in reality. And sure enough, the British got the hedge up and running ... only to quickly abandon it, partly to reevaluate their tax schemes and partly because using nature itself to go to war against salt smugglers was too weird, even for them.
The U.S. Army Tried To Stop A Volcano By Bombing It
In 1935, Hawaii's Mauna Loa erupted, threatening the town of Hilo with its lava. Admittedly, that's an average Tuesday in Hawaii, but famed volcanologist Thomas Jaggar was determined to teach that lava a lesson it wouldn't soon forget.
Luckily, there was a nearby U.S. Army Air Corps base, commanded by a young George S. Patton, who of course later became famous for wearing ridiculous pants while standing in front of a big American flag. At Jaggar's prompting, Patton ordered his planes to take to the skies and bomb the erupting volcano. The hope was that the explosions would collapse the volcano's underground vents, blocking the flow of lava to the surface. It wasn't so much "mad science" as "Screw it, let's give it a shot" science. But it was one hell of a shot; Patton deployed a squadron of biplanes to swoop down and drop 20 600-pound bombs. The explosions, of course, sent molten lava hurling 200 feet into the air to burn holes in the planes' wings.
When the lava stopped a week later, the operation was declared a huge success, even though everyone not involved agreed that it was a complete coincidence. But it looked cool, so wasn't it all worth it? Possibly not, since some Hawaiians were convinced that the bombings had angered the volcano goddess Pele into cursing the pilots, six of whom died in a midair collision a short time later. So remember, kids: Bombing volcanoes may sound cool, but it comes with a terrible curse. Don't be pressured into it!
The Soviet Plan To Reverse Ocean Currents And Melt The Arctic Ice Cap
A huge chunk of Russia is under permafrost (for now, ha ha we're doomed). During the Soviet Era, this repeatedly held up certain economic development plans, for all reasons you'd expect, from workers routinely getting frostbite to yeti rampages. This put the Soviets at a big disadvantage compared to the United States, which has a much smaller percentage of unusable icy wasteland (looking at you, Minneapolis).
So the government backed research into warming up the country. They considered a number of plans, including "covering great areas of the Arctic with black powders such as coal dust" and "covering the water surface with a monomolecular film." Those never went ahead, because spraying coal dust on polar bears was a touch too on-the-nose reckless, but the plan that got the most traction was even weirder. And that, of course, was to simply melt the entire goddamn Arctic ice cap.
The idea was to build a massive dam across the 55-mile Bering Strait, blocking the flow of cold water from the Pacific. The warmer waters of the Atlantic would then heat up the Arctic and gradually melt the ice, eventually leaving the North Pole completely ice-free. Presumably the blueprints included a little doodle of Khrushchev sharing a celebratory bucket of Corona with a tanning Santa.
Now, obviously this wasn't going to be a solid physical dam. That would be crazy. It would have been a chain of huge underwater fans. Once the propellers got going, they would blow the Pacific water out of the Arctic, literally reversing the ocean's currents. That sounds ludicrous in an age in which we're happy to merely pollute the Arctic into nonexistence, but in its day, the idea even got some traction in the U.S. JFK called it "certainly worth exploring."
They never went ahead with the plan, but not because Captain Planet kept appearing to blast the engineers. It apparently fizzled out due to cost concerns and questions over the international cooperation required to block the Bering Strait. And to think, we now have all the American-Russian cooperation necessary, only to be told that we're actually supposed to save the ice.
For more, check out 4 Shockingly Outdated Policies Of Modern Governments:
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