Doomsday device  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A doomsday device is a hypothetical construction — usually a weapon, or collection of weapons — which could destroy all life on a planet, particularly the Earth, or destroy the planet itself, bringing "doomsday", a term used for the end of planet Earth. Most hypothetical constructions rely on the fact that hydrogen bombs can be made arbitrarily large assuming there are no concerns about delivering them to a target (see Teller–Ulam design) or that they can be "salted" with materials designed to create long-lasting and hazardous fallout (e.g., a cobalt bomb).

Doomsday devices have been present in literature and art especially in the 20th century, when advances in science and technology made world destruction (or at least the eradication of all human life) a credible scenario. Many classics in the genre of science fiction take up the theme in this respect.

After the advent of nuclear weapons, especially hydrogen bombs, these technologies have usually been the dominant components of doomsday devices. RAND strategist Herman Kahn proposed a "Doomsday Machine" in 1960 that would consist of a computer linked to a stockpile of hydrogen bombs, programmed to detonate them all and bathe the planet in nuclear fallout at the signal of an impending nuclear attack from another nation. The key aspect of the doomsday device's deterrent factor is that it would go off automatically without human aid and despite human intervention, providing a highly credible threat that would dissuade attackers and avoid the dangerous game of brinkmanship that brought the United States and the Soviet Union closer to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. With a doomsday device on the planet, neither side would suspect the other of launching a sneak attack in attempt to destroy the opposing country's infrastructure before they could retaliate.

For many, the scheme epitomized the extremes of the suicidal logic behind the strategy of mutual assured destruction, and it was famously parodied in the Stanley Kubrick film from 1964, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (while the alliterative term "doomsday device" has subsequently become much more popular, Dr. Strangelove itself consistently refers to such a weapon as a "doomsday machine").


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Doomsday device" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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