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Say they ask you to make a bomb

  1. Jan 20, 2010 #1
    Hi, I'm a junior in high school, and I've been aiming for a degree in aerospace engineering since middle school. But it came up in my mind that the aerospace field seems to be dominated by weapons. Maybe I'm just a naive kid, but I don't think I can stand watching a bomb I helped design fall down on someone and kill them. So what if I'm working at say, Boeing, and my boss tells me to design a weapon? Maybe I'm not sure how it exactly works, but I figure they would use their airliner engineers also as, say, missile engineers. Is there pretty much no way to avoid designing a weapon in the aerospace engineering field, other than working for NASA?

    Oh, and I don't care about rationalizing it by saying it's for defense. I know my conscience would bother me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2010 #2
    I doubt it, as totally different skill sets are involved. Honestly, I'm not so sure that their commercial plane R&D department overlaps that heavily with their military R&D department.

    NASA's not such a raw deal, as they offer a ton of graduate fellowships and the competition isn't crazy steep. You could also work for NOAA, which is a NASA offshoot, or smaller shops, custom shops, and companies that don't have defense contracts.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  4. Jan 20, 2010 #3
    get away your work plans first, finish your studies and get the degrees.
  5. Jan 20, 2010 #4
    I used to work for the air force research labs (WPAFB-AFRL) -- but I worked on systems in the sensing directorate -- that way if anything I developed was used on weapons systems, then at least the weapons systems would hopefully have a better chance of hitting their intended targets (NOT nearby civilian establishments, etc.).

    I worked on the optical systems of things at the most basic level though (developing lasers in regions of the spectrum where such sources did not exist) -- and almost all the research I did was "publishable," so it was essentially open to everyone.

    Of course your morals ARE something to think about when looking for a job that's the right fit. Study hard, do well in school, and you'll feel like you have more control when the job-hunt stage comes.
  6. Jan 21, 2010 #5
    It's pretty unlikely that your boss will come out of the blue and ask you do something totally unexpected. If you don't want to design weapons, just don't sign up for jobs that would have you design weapons. The hard part isn't when a boss suddenly comes in and asks you to design something, the hard part will be if you get into a situation where you either have to work for the defense department or have no job.

    Having said that, I don't think its immoral to design weapons. People have died from not have a weapon, and part of the reason my family ended interested in science, engineering, and finance, is that it is a bad thing to have your country invaded and fall into anarchy from having too few weapons.

    [q]Maybe I'm not sure how it exactly works, but I figure they would use their airliner engineers also as, say, missile engineers.[/q]

    They probably wouldn't. However one thing that you have to realize is that civilian applications have military uses and vice versa. If you design a better cardboard box, that's going to have military applications.

    I don't think it's possible to do anything without military applications.

    The trouble is that if you think deeply about things, the more complicated they are. If I were in a situation where things fall apart because we had too few bombs and weapons, my conscience would bother me about that.

    Conversely you can end up with non-defense related work that does cause a huge about of damage. I work in banking, and one thing that I have to remember is that bad finance and bad economics has likely caused more deaths than bombs ever did. If I designed a new mortgage product, that causes an economic collapse, which triggers a depression, which causes extremist politicians to rise to power, thereby triggering another war (i.e. what happened in the 1930's), then my conscience would bother me.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  7. Jan 21, 2010 #6
    As others have said, this isn't true. What you do depends on the decision you make in companies like this. Are you saying you want to design planes, satellites or..? The roles that you might imagine within an industry such as aerospace are almost guaranteed to be much more complicated/far less clear-cut that you can understand just now. It takes the collaboration of hundreds of engineers of many different types to realise aerospace projects.

    Because companies that design things like this on an international scale tend to be very, very large it means that when you sign up you'll generally be pocketed into something very specialized - they don't just move people to projects of a nature that is totally unfamiliar to them. Then, if you want to move to a different department, thats up to you (of course, there is always the possibility that it'll be that or no job).

    As an example, SELEX Galileo is one company that I have looked at in the past - they are part of both the defence and electronics industries. When I attended presentations on the types of roles available within the company, it was put to me that there will be jobs working on certain parts of, say, commercial satellites - the jobs involve working on one very small part of the overall picture. For example, I spoke with an engineer whose job it was to test a few different pieces of electrical components that would be going in to a satellite. That was all: a team will have designed it, and he made sure that it does what it was supposed to, and this is the job that he has done for years.

    The defence projects (as with all of the projects) were available for those who indicated an interest.

    (for the record: I don't work in the industry - but not because of any reasons related to this thread :) )
  8. Jan 21, 2010 #7


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    Airliner engineers aren't missile engineers but the military/civilian overlap is much more direct: some helicopers and planes are dual purpose - an airliner makes a great troop transport or in flight refueler.

    If you work for GE and build jet engines, the overlap is even broader: the workhorse LM2500 powers ships, planes and power plants.

    Whether it is a real moral objection or just a general queasiness, you'll want to be selective about who you work for but it does not rule out aerospace in general.
  9. Jan 21, 2010 #8
    Unwilling to build a bomb, but willing to build the plane that delivers the bomb? We are all interconnected.
  10. Jan 21, 2010 #9


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    Pretty much anything that you do, starting from waking up in the morning, contributes to killing others. A few people, a lot of animals, a lot of trees, a lot of plants, and a lot of microbes.
  11. Jan 21, 2010 #10
    Refer to a holy book; it will answer why you should be making a bomb. And you wouldn't be troubled by your conscience.

    As already pointed out, not harming others would be equivalent to living in seclusion.
  12. Jan 21, 2010 #11


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    Is it just killing people with weapons that bothers you, or would you feel even more guilty if you were designing something like cars, which kills more healthy people per year in the US than war?

    Or, is it just people being killed by your active participation that bothers you, not the people killed by your passive withholding of action? (the railroad switch scenario where most people would let half a dozen people die rather than activate the switch that would divert the train onto a track that would kill only one person).

    The ethics part of any profession you choose is something you should always consider. As they say:

  13. Jan 21, 2010 #12
    You just convinced me to commit suicide.
  14. Jan 21, 2010 #13


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    Do you realize how many parasites depend upon you for their lives? What's going to happen to your bedbugs, head lice, body lice, crab lice and scabies after you die?

    You'd actually cause the death of this cute little hair mite?

    http://i.ehow.com/images/GlobalPhoto/Articles/5142386/257515-main_Full.jpg [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  15. Jan 21, 2010 #14
    Well, going as far as a jet engine is too board to be morally objectable to me. I'm just concerned about designing anything that is made only to kill. My real concern was finding a job not designing weapons, and then ordered to design on. Looks like it's not an issue :)
    Haha you're having too much fun with this :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. Jan 21, 2010 #15


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    Lets say you are the biggest pacifist out there. You find a job that is totally not in defense. There is always an instance when your actions, or lack of actions, or your existence alone, contribute to a great extent to someone else's demise. Thats just how it is. You may not be 100% responsible (as in pulling the trigger), but you are certainly responsible. This should get the actuaries out there really excited.

    Consider a simple scenario. You drive a car to work = polluting the air, emitting green house gases, increasing demand for oil, funding terrorism, depleting natural resources, spending taxes on road repairs, increasing congestion, increasing stress level of others (thus decreasing their lifespan).. the list goes on. And in additon to all this, you are constantly rolling the dice, with probabilities of hitting someone with your car, of being hit by a drunk driver, of aliens abducting you, etc.

    Lets say you ride a bicycle = you increasing my stress level because you are making me nervous when you riding on the road next to me, you endangering the public when you riding on the sidewalk, you are consuming aluminum, steel, oil for rubber, paints, etc.

    Lets say you take public transport = you are congesting the public transport system, making it dangerous for other riders as they now are at higher risk of being robbed, you are making cops nervous because you are in their space, you are contributing to the public transport system which pollutes the city, uses enormous amounts of electricity for subways, contaminates the soil water when accidents happen, and overall destabilize the surrounding buildings contributing to erosion, structural defects, cracks, etc - once again, endangering lives of others. Thank you very much :rofl:
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  17. Jan 21, 2010 #16


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    So if you design a bomb and it's used, you do all of those things AND kill people with the bomb.
  18. Jan 21, 2010 #17


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    I do believe it is an individual accounting system. You can run a table of death probabilities that you contribute to regular people around you on a daily basis, while designing a bomb adds a certain percentage (lets say 10% for your design of the bomb, 20% from the pilot who dropped the bomb, 30% from the commander who gave the order, 20% from the analyst who put together the threat assessment, 20% from those who made the plane not fail on approach to the bombing, etc). You are still individually responsible for every person's demise on this planet. For some people your contribution is minor (maybe around 1%), for some a major 20%. Just because you dont know about it does not make you innocent :biggrin:

    Come to think of it, you may not be 100% responsible for killing someone even if you shot them in the head. Ultimately this person in 4 dimensions somehow came about to be within your path of destruction. How this person got there is a factor. Ultimately you may be 99% responsible if it was deliberate, thought-out premediated kind of murder. If he was there during a robbery - at the wrong time at the wrong place so to speak, maybe you are 98% responsible. And if this person is not an intended target, you are looking at a lesser guilt as you may not have even meant to kill him in the first place, but someone's constant bitching about cigarettes lured him out of the house to buy them. The person sending this guy on a cigarette run is probably guilty a whopping 40%, 50% on your clumsy shooting, and at least 10% for the guy who sold you the gun, the bullets, the opportunity, etc.

    Heck I'm sure you could even conclude that your parents just by the mere existence and uniqueness contributed to the deaths of those people you've contributed to the deaths of.

    Lets say you used to know a person, and this person killed someone. What makes this person who he is is the collection of memories and experiences that are in his head. You may have made up 5% of what this killer knows of the world around him. Your discussion, your thoughts and the way you've treated the person all contributed to what made him who he/she is, either positively or negatively. And ultimately your thoughts may have been integrated into his own thought process, and if you told him "all life is sacred," or something along those lines, then he may've hesitated or even not killed the person he intended to kill.

    And now we come full circle to the matter of fate. Perhaps all these probabilities were there the second you've been conceived, and your entire life was meant to contribute to someone else's demise. You can use the math to fit any crazy theory, be it 'string' theory or fate theory, the concept is the same
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
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