in: Character, Military, Podcast

• Last updated: September 29, 2021

Podcast #235: The Curious Science of War

War has always been a catalyst for technological innovations. There’s nothing that will spur human creativity and ingenuity quite like figuring out how to kill your enemies more effectively, and how to keep them from killing you.

But besides refining the techniques of killing and defending against human combatants, militaries across time and culture have spent a lot of money and energy figuring out ways to make their soldiers more physically and psychologically robust to other kinds of battlefield perils as well: panic, exhaustion, heat exposure, and much more. Many of the discoveries that military scientists have made in this quest to make soldiers sturdier have benefited the civilian world as well.

My guest today on the podcast did a firsthand investigation of the fascinating history of military research and shared her findings in a highly readable and entertaining book. Her name is Mary Roach and she’s the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Today on the show, Mary gives us a look inside the military fashion departments that create uniforms that keep soldiers cool, comfortable, and protected from chemical weapons, all while still looking good, unpacks why diarrhea has always been one of the biggest threats in war, and discusses why conquering the need to sleep has been a goal of militaries around the world for ages.

Show Highlights

  • How the world’s hottest chili pepper led Mary to researching military science
  • The complex world of the military research industry
  • Why the military spends so much money on researching clothing
  • How the military uses cadavers to make vehicles safer in IED attacks
  • The war injury that most people don’t talk about
  • Why some soldiers need sex therapy
  • Why hearing is a big problem in war and what the military has done to solve it
  • Why the military spent $100 million on a stink bomb during WWII
  • Is the military trying to get rid of sleep?
  • How DARPA works
  • And much more!

Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast

ntGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War book cover Mary Roach.

Grunt is a highly entertaining and engaging read. You’ll get an inside look at a part of the military you didn’t know existed.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. War has always been a catalyst for technological innovations. There’s nothing that will spur human creativity and ingenuity quite like figuring out how to kill your enemies more effectively, and to keep them from killing you. Besides refining the techniques of killing and defending against human combatants, militaries across time and culture have spent lots of money and energy trying to figure out ways to make their soldiers more physically and psychologically robust to other kind of battlefield perils, like panic, exhaustion and heat exposure. Many of these discoveries that military science have made in this quest to make soldiers sturdier have benefited the civilian world as well.

My guest today on the podcast did a firsthand investigation of the fascinating history of military research, and shared her findings in a highly readable and entertaining book. Her name is Mary Roach, and she’s the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Today on the show, Mary gives us a look inside a whole bunch of cool stuff that goes on in military research. For example, inside military fashion departments that create uniforms that keep soldiers cool, comfortable and protected from chemical weapons all while still looking good. She unpacks why diarrhea has always been one of the biggest threats in war, and discusses why conquering the need to sleep has been a goal of militaries around the world for ages. A really fascinating show that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the military you probably haven’t seen before.

After the show, check out the show notes at for links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Mary Roach, welcome to the show.

Mary Roach: Thank you.

Brett McKay: You’ve written several books, a lot of popular books, about the science and research that goes on in different domains of life, like sex or the afterlife or human space travel. Your latest is called Grunt: The Curious Science of the Military. I’m curious, was there something in particular that led you down researching the research that goes on in the military?

Mary Roach: It was kind of an odd path to this book. I don’t have any background in military science or anybody in my family, but I was reporting a story in India on the world’s hottest chili pepper, the Bhut jolokia. That pepper, the Indian Defense Ministry had made a non-lethal weapon out of it. They had made sort of a chili bomb for dispersing crowds. I went over there to report on that, I went to the lab where they made this. While I was there, they were working on leech repellent. There was some other lab that had done some sort of telepathy work. I was like, “Wow, military science is way more interesting than just weapons.” I’m not a technology writer, so I wasn’t interested in covering weapons and Defense Department technologies, for various reasons. It didn’t appeal to me.

Anyway, that was where the seed was planted, from that trip. Then when I came home around that time, a retired Army pathologist had written to me. He’d read I think probably Stiff, and I brought up the topic of military science. I said, “I think access would probably be a problem.” He was very encouraging, and he said, “I think you should do it. You should try it. I can introduce you to people at the morgue in Dover,” which is a place that I had assumed would be difficult for a writer to get access to. It was a combination of those two things happening within a couple of months that kind of led me down that road.

Brett McKay: What’s interesting about your book, because when I think military research, I think DARPA and laser cannons. You highlight the military science that goes on that’s not involved with DARPA or developing next generation weapons. What I found surprising was that it seems like there was tons of different research branches in the military for very specific facets of military life.

Mary Roach: Oh yeah, like military entomology. I had never heard those two words put together, military entomology. You sort of assume, oh, military entomology, that’s something about putting little cameras on bees or something. In fact, it was like mosquito repellent, because sometimes the malaria kills more soldiers than the bullets and bombs. Maggot therapy. It was surprising that these disciplines existed and then doubly surprising to learn what was going on at them or in them.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and there’s like a research department that just is dedicated to military clothing. It’s intense.

Mary Roach: Oh yeah, yeah.

Brett McKay: It’s very intense what goes on there.

Mary Roach: Oh yeah, Natick Labs in Massachusetts, US Army Natick. It’s not just a lab, it’s like five labs. There’s the flame resistance lab and there’s the chemical shedding lab, and there’s the mosquito repelling part, and then there’s the, “How do you keep all this stuff from washing off? How do you get these things to work well together?” Then there’s the design studio. There’s actually fashion designers that have to put this stuff together. They’re really more like engineers than designers, but they’re definitely doing it with an eye toward, “Do soldiers feel okay wearing this?” If you feel like you look really stupid, it’s not good for morale. Uniforms play a role in morale, so that’s a concern. Just an amazing amount of work goes into this outfit that you see these men and women wearing when they’re walking through the airport.

Brett McKay: Is there any coordination between these different research departments, or is it pretty insular?

Mary Roach: There’s a tremendous amount of coordination. Like in the case of a uniform, if you do something to a textile to make it flame resistant and that counteracts its ability to shed chemical weapons or repel mosquitoes, or it makes it non-breathable, then everything kind of falls apart. All of these different technologies have to play well together. Everything is tested to work with other things, which is kind of the biggest challenge of it, is making sure one department’s development doesn’t mess up another department’s invention, if that makes sense.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that makes sense. Throughout the book, each chapter is dedicated to a different facet of military research. One chapter is about the research that’s gone on in making vehicles that can withstand blasts from IEDs in the wars that are going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. Can you explain how military research are trying to figure out what happens to the human body in a vehicle that sets off an IED?

Mary Roach: Sure, yeah. The military’s challenge with vehicles is that they show up with the vehicle from the last conflict, the last war, and frequently the weapons have changed. In Iraq and Afghanistan, like you said, first you had roadside bombs and then the insurgents started burying them in the roadway. The military needed a better vehicle, and the Humvees were really not cutting it. It was bad.

You’ve got these contractors who are saying, “Here, here’s my prototype vehicle. It’s great! It’ll save everyone’s life.” Well, how do you know that? Normally, like in the automotive industry, you can put a crash test dummy in there, but the crash test dummies for the automotive industry don’t work. Automobiles crash head-on, or it’s a side impact. They’re not designed for a blast coming up from below that smashes the bottoms of passengers’ feet and their pelvises and messes up their backs, which is what happens when you have a blast go off right underneath.

There’s certain things they knew right away they could do, like a V-shaped, or a double V-shaped chassis which would deflect the energy off to the side rather than slamming up into this flat chassis that would then transmit all the injury into the bottoms of people’s feet and their butts. There’s certain things that certainly would help right away, but in order to know what was really ultimately going to happen to people in the vehicle, they needed a crash test dummy. They’re actually designing one, which is a big undertaking.

The automotive industry did this work back in the ’60s, and it’s done with cadavers where to calibrate the dummy, you expose cadavers incrementally to different amounts of blast energy. There’s a big rig with a buried explosive out at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the cadavers are sitting in seats up on a platform. Then they’re autopsied after the explosion. It sounds really gory, but it’s not. If you watch it on video, it’s these two guys wearing full body Lycra suits sitting in chairs that look like they took a speed bump too fast. It’s only when you really slow it down, you see how … Everything happens so quickly that it’s too quickly for the body to respond, so you get tears and breakages in bones and things like that.

Anyway, so that is what’s under way so that hopefully when this mannequin or test dummy is completed, it would be a way to quickly evaluate a vehicle to make sure that the injuries to the people inside are going to be minor or non-existent, and not serious or fatal.

Brett McKay: The thing that surprised me is they use cadavers, like human cadavers, in the testing. I’ve always heard, okay, they’ve used like pigs because they mimic the human body, right? That was like, wow.

Mary Roach: Right. Well, yeah, pigs are closest to the human body, but they don’t move in the same way. If you look at slow motion footage of somebody sitting in a seat with a blast underneath, there’s a lot of flailing of the limbs, and a pig has really short limbs. For that kind of work, a pig wouldn’t really give you much good information. Their heads don’t move on their necks the same way. It’s a lot of flailing that happens really quickly and damages the spine and the limbs, and that wouldn’t work.

The automotive industry did the exact same thing in the ’60s using human cadavers, just going through at different speeds, what kind of injuries would this create? The test dummy only can tell you how much force or how much strain. You need the cadaver work to tell you, well, what does that force or strain actually do? Is it a minimal injury or is it a fatal injury?

The cadaver work has been a big deal. The military doesn’t undertake that work in a cavalier way. At this point, you now have to have something like six months of approval process, all the way up to Congress has to sign off on the use of a cadaver in anything that would expose the body to something like an explosion. Again, it’s like an explosion from … It’s not like you are dismembering a body, but it sounds ghastly and people kind of freak out when they hear it. Including generals.

Brett McKay: You talk about it in the book, like yeah, when the generals found out what they wanted, they were pretty reluctant to sign off on it.

Mary Roach: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Has the research made the vehicles better to withstand IED explosions?

Mary Roach: Yes.

Brett McKay: Since the start of the war?

Mary Roach: Yeah, I mean the Strykers and the MRAPs are way better than Humvees. A Humvee is fine if somebody’s just shooting a gun at you, but for RPGs and IEDs, they were not up to the task. Yes, these vehicles are much, much better. They’re much better. The problem is you can’t roll them out instantly. In the time it takes to test them, get them, procure them, people are being blown up. It’s not ideal, but it can’t really happen instantly.

Brett McKay: One of the themes you talk about in the book is that the military has gotten really good at saving lives. Injuries or wounds that would have been lethal twenty years ago, we can save that person now. As a consequence, we have more individuals with PTSD, amputations, individuals with prosthetics. Prosthetics have gotten a lot better because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which has helped civilians as well, but another injury that no one ever talks about but that the military is actually researching is an injury that is to a soldier’s genitalia. When I thought about it, I was like, of course that would happen if you were blow up by an IED in your vehicle. I’m curious, how widespread is the injury among vets in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to their genitalia?

Mary Roach: The figure that I was given, and I can’t remember, I think it was Operation Enduring Freedom. Anyway, it was like for 18,000 amputations, 300 genital injuries, so it’s still a small number. Obviously the first thing that gets blown up is your foot. The higher up you go, the bigger the explosion has to be. For a long time, and even now still, sometimes, but for many decades of military conflict, if the explosion was so big that it would reach the pelvic region, you didn’t survive. Now, like you said, people are surviving. It’s still a small number compared to more conventional injuries to the limbs.

Brett McKay: How does these sort of injuries affect a vet’s life after the war?

Mary Roach: It’s devastating in a variety of ways. Like the guy that I talked to who had stepped on an IED and he had damage to both legs, missing part of both legs, and some damage to the penis, specifically to the urethra, he said while he waiting for the medevac helicopter, he said, “I said this half-jokingly. I said, ‘If my penis is gone, just leave me here.'” He said, “I wasn’t serious, but on the other hand, I haven’t had kids and I want something to do that with.” They were repairing his urethra and they could have done this thing where they just thread it through the taint, the space between your penis and your butt, but then you’ve got to pee sitting down. That’s a big deal.

It’s easy to dismiss something like that, like, “Oh, big deal. As long as you can walk.” On top of that, how it affects your relationship. I mean it’s hard enough for families to get through the aftermath of a serious combat injury when it’s just relearning to walk, or getting used to prosthetics. When it also involves your sex life, that’s huge, and it’s too easy to dismiss it as a lifestyle factor.

It isn’t just genital injuries, it’s like if somebody’s lost part of both limbs and a hand. Well, what sexual positions work? How do you have sex? There are resources that kind of address this stuff in a really straightforward way, but there’s not a lot of people who are on staff at Walter Reed to share that information, and there should be. There should be a couple people, that’s just what they do. It should be that you make an appointment with this person who says, “You know, it’s going to take some adjustment but you can still have a great sex life. Here’s a couple things you could buy, here’s a couple things you could try.” Just talk about it in a matter-of-fact way. The military has been a little uncomfortable with that and needs to kind of get up to speed on making those people part of the staff and part of the process.

Also, the drugs that veterans take make it harder to get erections, the anti-depressants and pain killers. That does a number on your sex life too.

Brett McKay: One of the themes in your book seemed like the military’s gotten really good at keeping soldiers alive after a severe … They haven’t really spent much time like, okay, what after that? What do we do with these guys after that point?

Mary Roach: Yeah, exactly. It’s understandable that the priority is to keep them alive, but I think there may have been some underestimation of the long-term aftereffects and how important it is to address that.

Brett McKay: In your book, you were talking about how the military is experimenting with penis transplants. You mention in your book, it was like February 2016 they’re about to, but they actually did one. It wasn’t the military, it was some other group. That’s been done now.

Mary Roach: Yeah, it was at Mass General, Massachusetts General Hospital. Theirs was a cancer patient. The one that I wrote about in the book was at Johns Hopkins, I mean the cadaver work was being done. Their patient, and they have somebody who’s a recipient, who’s ready, he’s a veteran. I haven’t spoken to him. They were still waiting for a match. That hasn’t happened yet. Yeah, no, the first US transplant happened, I guess it was two weeks before the book came out.

Brett McKay: Did any of the military research or surgeries have an influence in it, or was that something completely cordoned off?

Mary Roach: Well, the cadaver lab that I went to where they were working out some of the details of which arteries to reattach, like which ones were the most important, those guys were getting some funding from the Defense Department. Obviously this is something that would benefit a lot of veterans. What was the question?

Brett McKay: Oh, I’m just saying I was curious, the folks that did the penile transplant not too long ago, did the military research play any role in …?

Mary Roach: Oh, you know, I don’t know whether the Mass General team had any Defense Department funding. I don’t know the answer to that.

Brett McKay: One thing I didn’t think about, I thought was interesting, was the research that the military does with hearing and hearing loss. There’s two problems there. You want to prevent hearing loss, because soldiers are around loud stuff all the time – guns, explosions, helicopters, jet engines – but whenever you put on earplugs, they can’t hear what’s going on around them.

Mary Roach: Yep.

Brett McKay: What’s the military doing to overcome that problem?

Mary Roach: There is a pretty cool thing called TCAPS, technical communication and protection system, which I’ve tried on and I want a pair. You could eavesdrop on people on the subway like across the car, and they wouldn’t know. It’s kind of cool. It’s this headset, it’s got communications built in so you can communicate wirelessly with someone overhead in a helicopter or someone back at the base, or just the other people in your unit who are forty feet away from you. It selectively amplifies quiet sounds like a human voice and it mitigates loud noise. It takes noises, kind of processes them and reproduces them either quieter if they’re loud, or louder if they’re soft.

It just makes all the difference, because if a firefight breaks out, if things go kinetic as they say in the military, the last thing you’re worried about is, “Oh, where’s my hearing protection?” That’s the last thing on your mind. You can’t predict when the loud noise is going to happen, and nobody’s going to wear hearing protection for six hours on patrol. They’re not going to wear that stuff because they lose their situational awareness, they can’t tell a car driving up behind them or somebody saying something to them from twenty feet away. They’re not going to wear it, even though they are given it.

Everybody should have this system. It would be great. Obviously it’s expensive and the priority has been Special Operations teams and people who need it most, but hopefully everyone who needs it will soon get it.

Brett McKay: The hearing loss issue, I never thought about that but that is a problem. You talked about how, I think it was a SEAL, saying he was with a bunch of his buddies, like, “This is the thing I hate the most. We’re sitting at a table and we can’t hear each other trying to have a conversation at dinnertime, or when we talk, we have to yell at each other.”

Mary Roach: Yeah, exactly. When I was talking to him, I was asking a lot of questions because I believe he was a sniper, I wasn’t entirely sure. I was asking him stuff about that, and he said, “This is the hardest part.” I thought he was talking about people and their stupid assumptions and questions. I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” It turned out he was talking about a loud restaurant. It was a dinner and there were a lot of people in a small room. He’s like, “You look around, look at these guys. You can see them, they’ll start to just go, ‘Uh-huh, uh-huh.’ Just nod, and they’ll withdraw from the conversation because they can’t hear anything.”

Brett McKay: That could also influence things like PTSD or some of the emotional trauma that might … They can’t talk. They can’t communicate with the outside world. As you said, they turn inward.

Mary Roach: Yeah, exactly. I would imagine you feel isolated enough coming back from an intense scenario like Special Operations, or any deployment, really. You feel apart from the average everyday people who surround you, and now you also can’t really hear what they’re saying in a loud room, or even in a quiet room. I would think you’d be even more isolated and depressed, so yeah, I would think it’s kind of force multiplier, as they say.

Brett McKay: Right. Another section you devoted the book to was the military’s expensive research project during World War II. It’s developing the perfect stink bomb, basically, is what they were trying to do. The amount of money spent on this is … I forgot what it was, it was like over $100 million in today’s dollar value. Why did they spend so much money on an object used by ninth grade pranksters?

Mary Roach: It was actually the OSS, precursor to the CIA, so we have to blame them for this one. I think because they could, because they had a big budget and it was the research director’s pet project. I think he thought, “This is quick and easy.” It was something specifically for … I made a reference to stink bombs in the title of the chapter, but it was actually a stink paste. A stink spray or paste that you would squeeze on surreptitiously as a citizen in occupied country like France, say. You would sidle up to some German officer and spray this stuff on his uniform. The idea was to humiliate and ostracize him, to ruin his morale. It was looked upon as a simple and cheap thing to get into the hands of motivated citizens in occupied countries.

It didn’t turn out to be simple or cheap. A tremendous amount of work. First of all, they had to figure out what is the most dastardly, awful scent? The original idea was something that would smell of a “very loose bowel movement,” to quote Stanley Lovell, the OSS research director. That morphed into something … They changed it to make it something unfamiliar. Horrible but unfamiliar, which would be also bewildering and alarming, so people would think, “Wow, that man really smells horrible and scary.”

Then they had all these problems with the delivery system. There was backfire, there was dribble, there was leakage in the warehouse. There’s just rounds and rounds of testing and reformulating and redoing the packaging. In the end, they never deployed. They never used them. They were in the catalog. It actually kind of amazed me that the OSS had a catalog. I would have loved to see that. I couldn’t find any copies of the OSS gadget catalog, but apparently there was a big demand for it. They made I think 200 of them. Never deployed them, never got them out because seventeen days after the final report, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and that was the end of the war.

I tried to find a remaining tube. I think they probably are somewhere in Aberdeen Proving Ground, somebody said they ended up, but I didn’t have any luck with those folks locating any samples. However, the Monell Chemical Senses Center did have a sample of it for me to smell, and it’s pretty awful.

Brett McKay: It smells bad?

Mary Roach: Yeah, it’s pretty awful. You wouldn’t want that sprayed on your jacket.

Brett McKay: Right. The other interesting thing I thought about the research with trying to find the stink that would demoralize people was, the other thing they ran into was like some cultures found putrid smells actually … “That smells pretty good.” Like sewage, people in Mexico are like, “Yeah, it kind of reminds me … It’s a pleasant smell.” Vomit, like, “Okay, that’s great.”

Mary Roach: Yeah. One of the questions they had, it was very specific. “Do you find this scent to be …” and one of the options was “wearable,” and “edible.” For dirty feet, vomit, sewage, there’d be at least 3%-10% in various cultures who would say, “Yeah, I’d wear that as a perfume. Yeah, I kind of like that.” To find something that was universally loathed and feared was a challenge.

They ended up with US Government standard bathroom malodor, which was a chemical compound developed to test latrine deodorants. You needed something that approximated a field latrine. This was in World War II. You need something that smelled that bad so that they could test the deodorizers. That was the winner that almost every culture couldn’t bear, or every culture, found it not only off-putting, but scary. In more recent stink, malodorant, non-lethal weapons works, that’s been the one they started with. Then they doctored it up with a few other compounds.

Brett McKay: Do they use stink bombs today in the military at all?

Mary Roach: You know, 1998 was the project where they were looking for the universally loathed scent, and Monell Chemical Senses Center did this work. They came up with something called Stench Soup. I have a sample in my closet that I haven’t dared to open, in a box, in a tube, double-bagged.

I asked the researcher, Pam Dalton, “What has the military done with this?” It’s your basic non-lethal weapon, as in clear terrain, get people out of a compound, disperse a mob. It’s that kind of a device. You can also use loud noise and flash-bang bombs. There’s various ways to do it. I don’t know where they’ve deployed this Stench Soup. She didn’t either. She said, “I gave them the formula, and what they did with it I don’t know,” so I don’t know if it’s used.

Brett McKay: The other area you talk about in the book is sleep. I guess the military has researched a lot about sleep because on the one hand, they want their soldiers to be able to go without sleep because sometimes battles can go on for more than twenty-four hours. At the same time, sleep degrades performance significantly. What’s the research going on there? Is the military trying to figure out ways to allow soldiers to go without sleep but still maintain peak performance?

Mary Roach: For a long time, up until quite recently, there was a lot of work into alternatives to caffeine. Compounds that might enable someone to stay awake without degrading performance. They didn’t really come up with anything. Right now, the drug of currency is caffeine. That’s where we’re at, after all these years. There’s something called … Oh, I’m going to mispronounce it because I didn’t –

Brett McKay: Is it Modafinil?

Mary Roach: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know whether it just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do or whether there were side effects, but you don’t hear about Modafinil much now. It’s coffee and Red Bull.

The priority now has kind of shifted to let’s try to protect sleep. Let’s find ways to work sleep into a soldier’s schedule, whether it’s like power naps or … Also, there’s been some work on … Circadian rhythm is interesting. Young people, when they’re awake and when they’re sleepy, it shifts over the decades. When you’re a teenager or in your 20s, you tend to be wide awake till midnight, 1:00 in the morning, and you want to sleep in till 9:00 or 10:00. When you’re in your 60s and 70s, you’re nodding off at 9:00 and waking up at 5:00. Unfortunately, the military tends to have early wake-up calls. Whether it’s boot camp or combat, you’re getting up at dawn or earlier. It’s been really hard for young men and women, because they’re just not built for that schedule. There’s been some work done pushing the wake-up call during training a little bit later, allowing them to stay up a little later and sleep a little later. They’re going to stay up anyway. They’re all just lying in their bunks wide awake.

Brett McKay: On their smart phones.

Mary Roach: On their smart phones, exactly.

Brett McKay: You did mention, I guess they thought about this idea, there’s some animals that can stay awake, like one part of their brain stays awake while the other part sleeps. I guess ducks do this, they can keep an eye out?

Mary Roach: Yeah.

Brett McKay: They thought, well, maybe we can somehow do something where we can get soldiers to be able to do that.

Mary Roach: That was a DARPA idea. DARPA tends to be just the outside-the-box, futuristic brainstorming entity. There was a paper I came across that talked about, “What ways could we modify the human body? What way could we learn something from research into animals, and could we apply this in any way?” One of the things they talked about was animals that sleep with one hemisphere of the brain and are alert with the other. Marine mammals, because they have to swim to the surface to breathe, while they sleep they’re still doing that. They’ve got part of the brain awake. Some ducks and geese, I think it was also geese, they all sleep in a group and the ones on the perimeter seem to be sleeping with half the brain and looking out for predators with the other half.

Somebody mentioned, “Oh, what if we cut the connector between the brain so that people actually have independently functioning brains? We could train them.” Nobody’s advocating doing that at this point. DARPA funded some research into the mechanism in these creatures, so that’s as far as it went.

Brett McKay: Just DARPA being DARPA.

Mary Roach: DARPA being defense … What does DARPA stand for?

Brett McKay: I don’t remember.

Mary Roach: Defense Advanced Research P-p … Authority, I don’t know. I’ve dealt with DARPA very little. Initially, when I started the book, I thought, “I will be living at DARPA,” but DARPA is kind of an office that funds university work. They don’t really have their own labs.

Brett McKay: Their own labs.

Mary Roach: Yeah, so they fund various things, a lot of it out of the realm of what I was covering.

Brett McKay: You were covering sort of more like –

Mary Roach: Weapons.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you were covering more of like the everyday stuff that affects soldiers right now.

Mary Roach: Exactly. The human experience of deployment and combat. The right now, yeah.

Brett McKay: Mary, this has been a great conversation. Where can people learn more about Grunt?

Mary Roach: Oh, the website,, but there’s tons of articles and reviews on the internet they could check out, or just go blindly buy a copy.

Brett McKay: All right. Go to Amazon, just click Buy Now. Mary Roach, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Mary Roach: You bet. My pleasure.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Mary Roach. She’s the author of the book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. Also make sure to check out the show notes at, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at If you enjoy the show, I’d appreciate if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps us out a lot.

As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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