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The Soldier of the Future

Martin Hunter

This letter was submitted to the U.S. Army in response to the third MIT Soldier Design Competition for solving problems of the modern soldier.

Dear organizers of MIT’s Soldier Design Competition,

I am a pacifist. I hold a vision for the future where war between peoples, where person kills person, is no longer necessary. I hold a vision where trust and compassion, not fear and reliance on military superiority, are the currency of human relations.

But I am also a pragmatist, and know that this future, although possible, is a long way coming.

Today, I content myself with acknowledging the need for a change of course, and proposing some simple steps to move in that direction.

I know many of you must be squirming in your seats, thinking “Oh no, another darn liberal peacenik!” but I ask that you consider my words in good faith, not as self-righteous condemnation but as willingness to work together for a common good.

As a member of the MIT community, I am being challenged to “help the modern Soldier both on and off the battlefield.”

My first proposal is to define what that “battlefield” is. In my world, the primary “battles” facing the US, and humanity at large, are the fight against global poverty, preventable disease and environmental devastation. To ignore these evident and mounting problems is inevitably to foment greater instability and war in the future, from humans and nature alike. It is time to turn that tide, and the US is poised, as the materially richest and most powerful nation on Earth, to effectively lead the world in that direction.

In this light, I propose the following changes to the challenges presented by the U.S. Army to the MIT community:

Challenge 1: Universal Battery Charger (for military batteries)

Rather than narrowly focusing on the improved efficiency of military equipment, let us reward efforts to develop improved batteries for harvesting and use of renewable energy sources. Overdependence on imported fossil fuels is the obvious Achilles heel of the U.S. and world economies, and the sooner we move away from that, the less our leaders will cajole us into oil wars to sustain that addiction.

Challenge 2: Water Purification for Remote Locations

What a great idea, if only it were being applied to bringing drinking water to communities in dire need of it! Think what we could have done (and do!) for the residents of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, let alone for the millions of people living in extreme poverty worldwide without access to potable water.

These are but two examples of how our armies can redirect their effort toward the true, long-term defense of our national, as well as global, communities.

I know these changes may sound outrageously utopian and unrealistic, but I am not alone in accepting the need to address them. In her inaugural address, MIT’s President Hockfield stated that one of the greatest world challenges and obligations facing MIT was “our institutional responsibility to address the challenges of energy and the environment.” She added, “I believe that the country and the world may finally be ready to focus on these matters seriously. Again, it is our responsibility to lead in this mission.” Could the message be any clearer?

I understand that many in the U.S. military are Christians; in that context, I urge you to meditate on Jesus’ call to put away our swords, and to enact the miracle of compassionate giving. As we sow, so shall we reap. Let us take that courageous first step and open our hearts, our pockets and our imagination to truly give peace a chance. We all know what the alternative looks like.

Martin Hunter, PhD

Staff Research Scientist

MIT Spectroscopy Laboratory