Pro- and Antiwar Sentiments Clash Symbol of US Electronic Industry Is of Two Minds on Gulf Effort - a Letter from Silicon Valley

Article excerpt

SILICON Valley is a melting pot that stews on two separate burners. On one side is the military; on the other, the children of the '60s. Each has played a role in making the valley an economic powerhouse. The war against Iraq has heightened the ideological struggle over how the technology should be used.

"It's a struggle for the heart" of Silicon Valley, says Lenny Siegel, director of the Pacific Studies Center here in Mountain View, Calif.

A recent report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said that several American and foreign companies had sold military products to Iraq. Two of the electronics firms were in Silicon Valley: Hewlett-Packard (personal computers for Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission) and International Imaging Systems (electronic imaging and photographic equipment).

Of course, several valley companies sell to the United States military, too. "Ten chips in the Patriot," brags T. J. Rodgers, president of Cypress Semiconductor, one of the valley's hottest firms.

In its early years, Silicon Valley relied heavily on funding from the US military. Stanford University's Frederick Terman built up the engineering school after World War II with research and construction contracts from the Defense Department.

In 1956, Lockheed established its research arm for space and missiles here. A year later, its missile and space division started manufacturing in nearby Sunnyvale and became the valley's largest employer. Philco and Sylvania (now Ford Aerospace and GTE, respectively) also set up shop here. Home-grown electronics firms, such as Fairchild Semiconductor and Hewlett-Packard, made large government sales in their early years.

But the valley's commercial electronics industry has overshadowed its military business. Many of valley professionals, if not actively involved in the antiwar movement, were influenced by the Vietnam War, according to Mr. Siegel and John Markoff, coauthors of "The High Cost of High Tech. …