By 1944 it became obvious the tide was turning against Imperial Japan in World War II. However, the Japanese troops fought fanatically and it looked like the Allies were going to take severe casualties if the fighting required an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.
Therefore, scientists sought various ways to bring a swift end to the conflict. Perhaps the most unusual among them was proposed by Harold O. Whitnall, a professor of geology at the Colgate University, New York.
In an article published in the magazine Popular Science in January 1944, he proposed no less than dropping bombs down the craters of Japan’s numerous volcanoes. The motives for such a strange-sounding scheme were twofold.
Firstly, he believed the Japanese had a deeply-ingrained fear of volcanoes, and noted they placed shrines at the base of each one, hoping to ward off eruptions. Seeing a volcano attacked, with lava and ash spewing out of it in a premature eruption, would therefore cause panic like almost nothing else could.
Secondly, the attack might trigger a chain of earthquakes, which would cause untold material damage – not to mention high civilian casualties – to the country and severely disrupt its war effort.
Whitnall was aware his plan would be met with much derision, but he dismissed such “ultraconservative” scientists, calling them out for lacking the courage to try out new ideas. His plan did manage to reach President Roosevelt, but was never seriously considered.
Whitnall was not the only one to come up with the idea of bombing a volcano. There were also proposals to do this in order to stop an eruption, but it quickly became obvious that the force required to stop such an eruption was equivalent to a powerful nuclear device and that even then the effect would be unpredictable. However, bombing the area around a volcano has been done a few times, but this was in order to divert lava flows rather than prevent the eruption.