I read a short story in school (2000/2001) about a device that disintegrates or destroys weapons. Having trouble remembering too many details, but I do remember the following:

  • It had something to do with the military, perhaps in a sort of post-apocalyptic or wartime situation. I think it may have even taken place on a military base.
  • One character has the device, and is discussing it with someone high-ranking figure in the military
  • At the end of the story, the device is activated, and all the weapons on the base or in the vicinity are destroyed. The high-ranking official shouts out something like "Grab anything- sticks, stones...!" (I can't remember the exact quote)

I have searched high and low on the internet and am beginning to feel a little crazy. It wasn't The Gun by Philip K Dick or Gun Without a Bang by Robert Sheckley, but is definitely in that same vein.

  • Welcome to the site. You have a good start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details, that would be great. Every little bit helps us.
    – amflare
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:18
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    Can you clarify "a long time ago"? For some people, that's 60 years; for others, that's 10.
    – shoover
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:56
  • Of course, shoover. Thank you for your suggestion, that's a good point. Post edited.
    – Katie H
    Dec 3, 2017 at 16:54
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    I have read a similar story, but in that story, it wasn't a device. A soldier realized that he could destroy all weapons (or make them stop working?) with the power of his mind. I don't remember who the author was, but I think that it was somebody famous, somebody like Bradbury, or Sheckley, or Asimov.
    – Litho
    Dec 5, 2017 at 12:09
  • Litho, that sounds more like the one I read. Though Ceasefire also sounds like it could be the one. It was so long ago now that I can't remember! If anyone yields anything from Litho's suggestion, let me know... I'm still digging around on the internet.
    – Katie H
    Dec 6, 2017 at 17:07

3 Answers 3


A Piece of Wood by Ray Bradbury.

In the story, a certain "Official" calls a sergeant to his office to suggest transfering him to "some other War Area" as he seems to be unsatisfied with desk job. The sergeant reveals that he has developed a device which can destroy the kinds of steel used in weapons and armor:

"It came to me, there's a Rust factor in the air all the time. Water vapor. I had to find a way to give steel a 'nervous breakdown'. Then the water vapor everywhere in the world would take over. Not on all metal, of course. Our civilization is built on steel, I wouldn´t want to destroy most buildings. I'd just eliminate guns and shells, tanks, planes, battleships. I can set the machine to work on copper and brass and aluminium, too, if necessary. I'd just walk by all of those weapons and just being near them I'd make them fall away."

The Official dismisses him as crazy, but then he realizes that his ballpen cap made out of a rifle shell has turned into rust, as well as his gun. He calls to the guard station to stop the sergeant:

"Listen, listen!" screamed the Official. "Go after him, get him, with your hands, choke him, with your fists, beat him, use your feet, kick his ribs in, kick him to death, do anything, but get that man. I'll be right out!"

  • 1
    I misremembered the part about "the power of his mind". It was a device after all.
    – Litho
    Dec 7, 2017 at 13:25
  • Good catch! Yes, this seems a better match than my answer. Dec 8, 2017 at 11:29

It's not a precise match, but I wonder if this is Cease Fire by Frank Herbert.

It's set in a battleground in the Arctic somewhere and follows a guy called Lawrence Hulser who is stationed in an observation post. While passing the time thinking he suddenly realises he knows how to build a device that will remotely detonate explosives.

The device is tested on an ammo dump where it does indeed set off all the ammo in a huge explosion.

The last part of the story is after the successful test when Hulser is talking to a general, General Savage. Hulser can't understand why Savage is cynical about his discovery until Savage says:

“So the next war will be fought with horse cavalry, swords, crossbows and lances,” said Savage. “And there’ll be other little improvements!” He slammed the red book onto his desk, surged to his feet. “Elimination of explosives only makes espionage, poisons, poison gas, germ warfare—all of these—a necessity!”

The story ends with a quote from a (fictional) book:

Many people labor under the misapprenhension that the discovery of the Hulser Detonator was made in a secret government laboratory. In actuality, the genius of Dr. Lawrence Hulser was first seen on the Arctic battlefields of 1972 where he conceived his idea and where that idea was immediately recognized.

  • Beecher Carson, The Coming of the Sword—A History of Ancient and Modern Wars—Vol. 6, p. 112

You may be thinking of "Report on the Barnhouse Effect", by Kurt Vonnegut. Framed as a report filed by the narrator with his superiors, it describes the discovery by Professor Arthur Barnhouse, who has developed the ability to telepathically affect materials, and chooses to use his power to destroy the world's stockpile of weapons.

"By my calculations, the professor was about fifty-five times more powerful than a Nagasaki-type atomic bomb at the time he went into hiding. He was not bluffing when, on the eve of "Operation Brainstorm," he told General Honus Barker: "Sitting here at the dinner table, I’m pretty sure I can flatten anything on earth--from Joe Louis to the Great Wall of China.""

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