Deus ex machina?
If the problem posed by the modern artillery and machine guns was a technological one, maybe there could be a technological solution. Tanks, toxic gases, subterranean mines were just some of the new technologies that were invented to break the trench stalemate. But national scientific institutions were not alone in trying to solve the “trench dilemma”. The fantasy of amateur inventors, scientific journalists and illustrators was equally mobilized.
Their objective of science popularization magazines was not exclusively or primarily the description of the technological war as it developed in the trenches. The inventions that they presented were chosen for their unusual nature or for their promise of a swift resolution of the conflict. They had to be interesting to a public that was eager for war news. At the same time they had to describe a war that was orderly, not excessively violent and, most of all, solvable thanks to individual and national ingenuity.
In this page we can see some of the most fascinating examples of this “war of wonders”. The “trench unicycle” was patented in the United States as an (unlikely) race vehicle. The Popular Science Monthly editors, well aware of the commercial value of the European war, added a military application that the invention could hardly accomplish: its thin wheels would get mired in the no man’s land mud; its size would have made it an easy target for enemy fire.
A military application was often imagined for inventions and themes that apparently had nothing to do with the war. An article about the nature of gravity (presented as an electrical effect) is for example titled “Conquer gravity to conquer the war”. The illustration, printed in the first page, shows a cannon and a couple of German soldiers floating in the air, guarantees the reader’s attention, but the article has nothing to do with the conflict.
The "Automatic Soldier" is a good example of a recurrent theme in popularization magazines: the war of the future will be fought between machines. The Electrical Experimenter suggests that the trench dilemma could be solved by simply replacing the soldiers with turrets controlled wirelessly via radio waves. Armed with three machine guns, flamethrowers and gas, the turrets could retreat into the ground when not in use. Of course, as shown in the illustration, in order for the invention to work the German soldiers had to remain human.