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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").
In popular culture
- The film Dr. Strangelove is a fairly literal satire of the Cold War. In it, the Soviet Ambassador, upon learning that the Americans could not recall a bomber set to deliver nuclear weapons inside the Soviet Union, informs the President that Soviet Premier Kisov had ordered the creation of a doomsday device.
- The film Doomsday Machine started in 1967 but not released until 1972 featured a Red Chinese doomsday device.
- In the film WarGames the United States' NORAD created a military supercomputer (WOPR) programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war, intended to eliminate the need for human intervention in missile silos.
- The conclusion of the movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes implied the detonation of salted bomb, marked with the Greek letters alpha and omega signifying the "beginning and end", Mutated humans had come to possess it and worshiped it as the weapon of their God.
- In the James Bond movie Moonraker, Sir Hugo Drax creates a doomsday device – a poison dispersed by satellites – to eradicate all human life on earth.
- Skynet in the Terminator films utilises the United States' stockpile of nuclear weapons in an attempt to end all human life on Earth in an act called Judgment Day.
- Throughout the Star Wars films, the antagonistic group called the Empire builds two massive spherical space stations, known as the Death Star, both of which are armed with a laser array mounted in the widely recognized concave structure on the upper left hemisphere which were both able to destroy a planet in only one shot. The only target annihilated was the Earth-like planet Alderaan, the home planet of Princess Leia.
- In The Bionic Woman, Jaime and a Soviet agent work together to defeat a computer that, ironically, would trigger World War III by a U.S. attack on the computer site. Jaime stops the radio jamming with barely enough time for the B-52 to receive the "abort" signal.
- In Quatermass and the Pit (1958), in part one a proposition is made by Colonel Breen to police the Earth with Nuclear weapons from an automated system on the Moon, should an aggressor nation wipe out the opponent nation with nuclear weapons they in turn would be destroyed by missiles from space, it was to be known as the dead man's deterrent.
- In Fringe, a large mechano-organic hybrid device has the ability to destroy universes.
- In the Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine", a conical planet killer goes on a planet destroying rampage. Captain Kirk speculates that the machine was created as a doomsday device, and used, thus destroying its creators and then going on a random path of destruction.
- A mixed occult/biological form of "doomsday device" was being prepared by Demona for use in the final Gargoyles three-part story arc called "Hunter's Moon", meant to destroy all humanity, but preserve Goliath and the Manhattan Clan, as well as all other living gargates.
- In Futurama, Professor Farnsworth is known to possess several doomsday devices.
- In the Simpsons episode "You Only Move Twice", Homer's new boss, Hank Scorpio, is a supervillain who, with Homer's help, develops a doomsday device, and threatens the UN Security Council unless they deliver an unspecified amount of gold within 72 hours.
- In Sonic SatAM, Dr. Ivo Robotnik made a doomsday device in the series' finale "The Doomsday Project".
- In Doctor Who there are numerous doomsday weapons. Particularly notable ones include the first appearance of one, the Time Destructor from The Daleks Master Plan, which works by accelerating or reversing the flow of time and is capable of devastating a planet, and the Hand of Omega, a stellar manipulator used by the early Time Lord Omega, which is capable of making a star go supernova. Another is one created but forgotten about by the former civilised natives of the planet Uxarieus which the Master tries to rescue for his own intentions but is ultimately foiled by the Doctor, who is temporarily freed from his Earth exile and sent there by the Time Lords, in Colony in Space. This weapon has gone into malfunction and was attributed to be the reason for the destruction of the previous advanced civilisation who inhabited the planet, and is now destroying the crops the Earth colonists are trying to grow in the 25th century on the same planet.
- In the chapter about the Cuban missile crisis of the TV series Secrets of War, a Soviet proposal for a Doomsday Machine is described. It would have consisted of a ship full of fissile material navigating the soviet waters, which would automatically detonate if it detected radiation levels associated with a nuclear attack on soviet territory. This was considered too risky for the Soviet leadership, hence the proposal was not accepted. (The 1986 Chernobyl Disaster proved Premier Khrushchev to have been all too correct in this supposition, as the radiation spill from the meltdown would have almost certainly been more than sufficient to detonate such a device.)
- In The 39 Clues: Cahills vs Vespers: Book Six: The Day of Doom, the villain, Damien Vesper, builds a "Machina Fini Mundi," or "Doomsday Device," which reverses the polarity of Earth.
- Ender's Game features the Molecular Disruption Device (MD Device, "Doctor Device", or "Little Doctor"), which is capable of annihilating an entire planet in one strike.
- "Dr. Strangelove's 'Doomsday Machine': It's Real". NPR.
- "Gargoyles Wiki - Hunter's Moon Part Three". gargwiki.net. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
- "Gargoyles Wiki - Operation Clean Slate". gargwiki.net. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
- Secrets of War Series 1 Episode 19 - Channel 7 Two
- The 39 Clues#Book 6: Day of Doom
- "How to destroy the Earth" — a scientifically rigorous albeit tongue-in-cheek "how-to" guide.
- "The Return of the Doomsday Machine?", Ron Rosenbaum, Slate.com, Aug. 31, 2007
- "Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine", wired.com, Sep. 21, 2009
- Doomsday device featured in the The Bionic Woman episode Doomsday is Tomorrow
- Channel 7 Two (Australia) - Secrets of War, Series 1, Episode 19