Swords to Plowshares

Swords to plowshares is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications. An expression of this concept can be seen a bronze statue in the United Nations garden called ‘Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,’ a gift from the Soviet Union sculpted by Evgeniy Vuchetich, representing the figure of a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.

The phrase originates from the Book of Isaiah: ‘And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

The plowshare is often used to symbolize creative tools that benefit mankind, as opposed to destructive tools of war, symbolized by the sword, a similar sharp metal tool with an arguably opposite use. An ongoing example as of 2013, is the Megatons to Megawatts Program: the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the use of their contents as fuel in civilian electric power stations. Nuclear fission development, originally accelerated for World War II weapons needs, has been applied to many civilian purposes since its use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including electricity and radiopharmaceuticals.

The later use of nuclear fusion in weapons designs, supplied the ability to create new elements, such as einsteinium, which was key to explaining the r-process in nucleosynthesis. Electricity generation from fusion power will require further research before it can become as practical as nuclear fission power stations. One approach to this end is inertial confinement fusion, which follows the same mechanism to achieving a fusion power station, radiation implosion, as that which was originally developed for weapons use, the Teller-Ulam design.

In his farewell address, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, when speaking about the military-industrial complex stated: ‘Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.’

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