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In the Belgian comic book "De laatste Hollander" (en.: "The last of the Dutchmen"), an alien accidentally uses a WMD (a beam that lights up the entire country) to completely engulf the entire country of the Netherlands into a fiery blaze, killing anyone within, plus a small section of the North of Belgium, where according to the story only wealthy Dutchmen evading taxes live.

I currently have no knowledge of a WMD that only affects a single country, especially one as irregular as the Netherlands. This is alien tech obviously, but the WMD was meant to be used in a different star system, so it feels kinda weird that it managed to stick to a single country more or less, and not something like the entirety of Europe or even the world or only a single province or town in the Netherlands.

What I'm trying to figure out: assuming the following limitations, how could a weapon manage to hit ONLY a single country? I'm wondering about how the weapon would limit itself to a specific country and how the weapon would decide what to use as the limit.

  1. A single weapon with a single beam, mounted on a fighter-type craft;
  2. When fired, the weapon first lights up the entire area of whatever country it hits, taking into account all irregularities around the border as well as any major inland bodies of water and parts of the country extending far outside a regularized shape of the country. Then the entire area bursts into flame.
  3. The weapon is calibrated before firing, though calibration should not be used as handwavium here;
  4. The area to fire at was indicated by a crop circle with a specific design;
  5. Neither the designer of the weapon nor the weapon itself appear to have any knowledge about Earth politics or borders;
  6. Tech level can be anything futuristic.
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    $\begingroup$ A WMD that only affects the Netherlands? Frikandel! $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 21 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ So, I just grabbed a map off the internet, and was able to draw a circle on it that encompassed all of the Netherlands except its southern-most extension (Limburg), a tiny sliver of Germany, "plus a small section of the North of Belgium" and a fair chunk of the North Sea. The center of said circle is within the bay/ harbor (Markermere) northeast of Amsterdam, with a radius of about 90 miles/ 145 km. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary was required here. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck May 21 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ @cobaltduck In this case though, the weapon SPECIFICALLY and ONLY lit up the Netherlands. There was a panel with a large map of the Netherlands where all of the land and none of the sea was glowing, with the blaze igniting the next panel. It wasn't circular shaped, and it also included Limburg and Zeeland. so the weapon only and fully affected Netherlands plus a small strip along the Belgian/Dutch border of Belgium. $\endgroup$ – Nzall May 21 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Nzall did the map or the story showed what happened to the Baarle-Hertog $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY May 21 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY I can't remember, and I can't find the map anywhere online, so I'll have to check when I get home. $\endgroup$ – Nzall May 21 at 12:29
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The weapon use country specific electric/lighbulb/ power grid or any type of net designed by such country. This is Berlin more than 20 years after West and East merged. Nasa photo of Berlin taken in 2013

But that's not all! You know how trains are powered by electricy? Look at this map of railroads. enter image description here

So how the weapon works? It's designed to fry and start fire in energy network that is below delivered power. So when it's near the border the power drop down to level that is bearable for the transformers of the other country.
Also the point of input is calculated so it would deliver the load depending on the network capability not the geographical location. So for example for Holland the offshore turbines. You may also fry the rich in other countries if you know they buy the cheap, non-fuse, protected electric stuff (they are cheapskates running from taxes after all).

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  • $\begingroup$ What about all those Netherlanders who live off the grid - we're not going to let those hippies of easy are we ? :-) $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 21 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG We need to assume they will gonna burn in the aftermath. After all, it's not like they can call the fire department. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY May 21 at 13:46
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Are you familiar with the concept of grey goo? The weapon is not the beam, the beam is the activation signal for the nanites already dumped into the planetary atmosphere. Light as an activator/programming mediator for nanites has a long history in science fiction and makes sense for airborne, or surface adhered, nanobots. The calibration period is simply a matter of deployment and confirming the activation zone; after that pull the trigger and the nanites simply disassemble everything in the area they're programmed to go after. This has some interesting possibilities, like programming the goo to take down buildings instead of people, the death toll is still terrifying but not because the aliens deliberately killed anyone but because they don't care.

If you want to target the Netherlands altitude could be a key factor, most of the country is barely above sea level.

Border checkpoints; even without know what they're for they still form an obvious point of division along transport arteries. You can define a country's borders from the air by looking at where vehicles have to stop for inspection without knowing anything about the why or the how or the politics.

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  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't answer why does the weapon target a particular country if, as OP states, the aliens are not aware of Earth's politics. $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar May 21 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Cumehtar Question doesn't ask why only how a weapon could be created that can target one place to the exclusion of the surrounding area. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 21 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Cumehtar: The question is a bit vague. It asks how a weapon could be created to target only a particular politically defined area given no knowledge of politics. It’s actually not answered by any answer so far if you’re being strict. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 21 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Cumehtar Have a look at the new last paragraph see if that floats your boat. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 21 at 15:32
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The weapon is trans-temporal, and is actually aiming for a final state that satisfies it's user, in the example case the user want to hear the world media reporting 'The Netherlands has been completely destroyed, along with some other rich Dutch folk to the North', so (eventually) that's what the weapon gets to.

It works like so:

1: The weapon selects some random targets and puts them on it's target list.

2: The weapon starts a temporal loop of some form. Basically it's Groundhog Day for the gun.

3: The weapon destroys the things on it's target list using future space magic light rays.

4: The weapon asks it's user 'Is this result satisfactory?'. If yes, then it breaks the loop and all is good! From the user's perspective the gun just did exactly what it wanted! If not then:

5: The gun asks the user for feedback on it's target choices and the results that were created. If told 'You killed everyone, I didn't want that' for example, it will reduce it's target pool. If told 'There are some reports from over here that sound like a step in the right direction' then the gun will edit the target pool to be more in that direction.

6: The gun returns to the start of the loop with it's updated target pool.

Given a clever enough user/gun combo you could very quickly achieve the target state with absolutely no prior knowledge of the situation you're firing death beams into. Even with a dumber weapon but some clever optimisation algorithms you could whittle it down rapidly. If you really got bored you could go all Doctor Strange and just brute-force a solution, randomly picking target locations until the user is satisfied with the result.

Either way it doesn't matter, because the only thing in the universe that will remember the looping is the weapon. From the user's point of view they asked the gun to destroy the Netherlands (not knowing what the Netherlands was), the gun then blew some stuff up, then asked if they were satisfied with the result. They then checked the Earth news, saw that everywhere was reporting the total destruction of the Netherlands (plus a bit full of rich Dutchmen, so it probably counts), and told the weapon that they were happy.

There are arguments to be made about bootstrap paradoxes and the nature of time travel, but given that nobody really knows what's going on with time travel (ever) you can happily hand-wave that. It may also be worth putting in some form of infinite-loop detection or randomly occurring state resets to prevent the weapon becoming stuck, because nobody wants to be trying and failing to blow up the Netherlands for the rest of time. There are some well known algorithms for doing this in optimisation problems where local minima/maxima can be expected to occur, but I doubt anyone needs that level of detail on the operation of your time traveling super weapon.

So, yeah: Time travel. Because alien space death beams weren't enough of a technological advantage.

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Possibly the weapon's beam fires brief intense shots in rapid succession. Possibly at the distance it was fired from, each shot would vaporize the ground and any objects for a distance of several meters or feet underground, and would vaporize an area of several square meters or maybe several square kilometers.

Possibly when the alien came to Earth it acquired political maps and programmed the weapon's computer to destroy the entire surface of any country selected by the alien, so that it would be prepared in case of conflict with any country.

And since the destruction is accidental maybe the alien accidentally hit the "destroy" button and also the "Netherlands" button (or maybe the "country beneath us" button) and the weapon fired tens or hundreds or thousands of pulses very rapidly and blasted the entire Netherlands land area before the alien could stop it.

I guess this doesn't fit with the not knowing anything about Earth politics requirement.

Or maybe the weapon fired maybe a few dozen randomly aimed and spaced beams which because of the position of the vehicle at the time all happened to hit in the Netherlands and reasonably well spaced there. Each of the beams vaporized much land and underlying rock and produced a cloud of glowing incandescent vapor which spread out fairly evenly in all directions vaporizing or burning every object it touched until it cooled off enough. The areas devastated by those expending glowing gases would meet in the interior of the Netherlands between the initial blast sites, but in the areas beyond the outermost blast sites the glowing gas would dissipate and cool and become non lethal at approximately the borders of the Netherlands.

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