The military has no shortage of experimental weapons at its disposal, from the frighteningly destructive power of its "rail gun" to the crippling effects of its "pain ray." And according to secret Army documents acquired by Wired, the Pentagon in 1998 was interested in developing a non-lethal weapon capable of inducing seizures in enemy targets. "Amazingly," says Spencer Ackerman at Wired, "it was an idea inspired by a Pokemon episode." Here's what you should know:
Indeed. The popular Japanese children's cartoon sparked controversy in 1997 when an episode induced epileptic symptoms in 700 viewers due to non-stop flashing lights. According to the declassified army document, the idea for a "photo-induced seizure phenomenon" was born from that headline-grabbing incident.
How would a seizure gun work?
Basically, it would use invisible electromagnetic pulses to cause a victim's neurons to all fire simultaneously, causing him to convulse uncontrollably. "It is thought by using a method that would actually trigger nerve synapses directly within an electrical field, essentially 100 percent of individuals would be susceptible to seizure induction," writes the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center in the briefing. Such a weapon would, in theory, be effective hundreds of meters away and incapacitate unsuspecting targets for up to five minutes.
Why build it?
In the late '90s, the U.S. military "needed weapons like these because TV news had hamstrung the military's traditional proclivities to kill its way to victory," says Wired's Ackerman. According to the document: "You don't win unless CNN says you win."
Did the project ever go anywhere?
The document warned that the "effectiveness of incapacitating a human nervous system with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)" was never officially tested, says Ackerman, and thus the seizure gun never materialized. It's "probably for the best," says Rollin Bishop at Geekosystem. The military already has a "number of other perfectly legitimate weapons to use on folks already."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The big, gaping hole in the liberal policy arsenal
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The militarization of America’s police
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- A gay Mormon's complicated journey
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- House hunting: 7 beautiful homes in Georgia
Subscribe to the Week