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The U.S. Military Considered Building Halitosis and Flatulence Bombs

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During World War II, the United States military considered taking a more natural approach to its weaponry—by releasing odors resembling those produced by the human body. (Hey: all’s fair in love and war.) 

German-occupied France was the intended test site for a stinky contraption which never bore its rotten fruit. Conceived by American scientists in 1945 and nicknamed the “Who? Me?” bomb, this unmade gadget now sounds like an April Fool’s novelty from Hell. Essentially, it was a small, handheld device that would have chipped away at Nazi morale by releasing an eye-watering stench modeled after human flatulence. 

For better or worse, the idea didn’t get very far. According to documents that were declassified in 2005, researchers abandoned the idea because “people in many areas of the world do not find faecal odor offensive, since they smell it on a regular basis.”

Those reports also go into putrid detail about several other scent-related weapons that the U.S. defense department toyed with—and hopefully stood upwind from. Among them was the never-built “Halitosis Bomb” intended to discharge an odor reminiscent of “severe and lasting” dragon breath. 

Another invention that never made it past the drawing board still managed to cause a major uproar. The unmistakable product of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, a so-called “Gay Bomb” concept was pitched in 1994 by the Air Force’s Wright Laboratory. 

Not even the most creative conspiracy theorists alive could come up with something this absurd. And yet, telltale government papers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in 2007 confirmed that Wright scientists actually asked the Pentagon for $7.5 million to help develop one. 

An explosive laden with some unspecified “aphrodisiac,” the bomb would render male enemy soldiers “sexually irresistible” to each other, a tactic that was deemed “distasteful but completely non-lethal.” Ultimately, the Pentagon rejected this proposal, though the fact that it was ever conceived in the first place sparked justifiable outrage among LGBTQ taxpayers. “It’s just offensive that they think by turning people gay that the other military would be incapable of doing their job,” said Geoff Kors of Equality California.

The “Ig Nobel Prize” committee—a group that salutes weird and/or amusing contributions to science—also weighed in by awarding the Wright Lab’s efforts with their tongue-in-cheek 2007 “Peace Prize.” Curiously, no one affiliated with the armed forces agreed to accept this illustrious honor in person. 

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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