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Nolan Poe

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Is an engineer morally responsible for harm caused by their creations?

I am currently on the path to become a mechanical engineer. I don't have exact numbers, but I'd estimate that about a half of all engineering work goes into weapons. This is based on anecdotal evidence I have gathered in my home town and is most certainly up for debate. If I am correct, though, I will probably end up designing instruments of death and destruction at one point in my life. If I work on a gun that kills an innocent man, woman or child, I don't know that I could sleep soundly ever again. I don't know that I could explain to the victim's mother why I made something so lethal. My worst nightmare is sitting on my deathbed thinking of nothing but those I helped kill. As Peter van Uhm explains, they can also be instruments of peace, I find that less than consoling considering the potential for misuse. I would appreciate thoughtful responses. It's easy to answer "no" but please consider the emotional aspects as well.

Topics: engineering war
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Closing Statement from Nolan Poe

This question had a variety of answers. Most agreed that weapons and weapons development were necessary. Some urged me to stick to what I feel is best, regardless of what the world and its nations want. A few suggested that I had already decided, which isn't true per se. The default scenario is for me to go about my career with little regard as to what my work will be used for. The reason I asked the question is because I was uneasy with this and curious about how others had rationalized it, if at all. I'd like to thank everyone for responding and helping me figure out what to do with my life.

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  • Feb 7 2012: Hi Ed,
    Massive military might? Massive military surprise on their side and a massive intelligence, survelance (sp) and planning failure on the part of the U.S. History shows that the Allies had already swung the tables on the Japanese by the time we nuked them. The Nazis were also near defeat or defeated (I don't have my dates). And we were working with the Soviets (they were on our side).

    Blame and responsibility are tough verbs to throw around. Blame and responsibility would go to the President and advisors. Perhaps the designers would just get the responsibility tag. Forgive me for what I have done, because I know not what I've done....some sort of religious proverb?

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