pigeon-guided missiles and ancient Chinese paddleboat gunships

I read Wikipedia so that you don’t have to. You can just stop by here to learn that …

1. During WWII, the behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner put pigeons inside missiles. The view in front of each missile was projected via a camera obscura onto the wall, and the pigeon was trained to peck at images of ships. Because the bird had an electrode attached to its beak, its pecks steered the missile toward its naval target. Skinner demonstrated that his prototype worked using the following film. The Navy brass, however, refused to fund the implementation stage.

2. Speaking of naval war, during the Battle of Caishi (1161), the Song forces successfully deployed ships described thus in Hai Qiu Fu (“Rhapsodic Ode on the Sea-eel Paddle Wheel Warships”):

The men inside them paddled fast on the treadmills, and the ships glided forwards as though they were flying, yet no one was visible on board. The enemy thought that they were made of paper. Then all of a sudden a thunderclap bomb was let off. It was made with paper (carton) and filled with lime and sulphur. (Launched from trebuchets) these thunderclap bombs came dropping down from the air, and upon meeting the water exploded with a noise like thunder, the sulphur bursting into flames. The carton case rebounded and broke, scattering the lime to form a smoky fog, which blinded the eyes of men and horses so that they could see nothing. Our ships then went forward to attack theirs, and their men and horses were all drowned, so that they were utterly defeated.[38]

3. On a more peaceful note, the family who served asĀ Grand Vizirs to the great Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad (including the most famous Caliph, Harun Al-Rashid) came from a long line of respected Buddhist abbots from the city of Balkh, now in Afghanistan.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.