Harvey M. Sapolsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
The United States's world position changed dramatically during the twentieth century from that of being a large industrial power absorbed by its own vastness and rapid internal growth to that of being the world's dominant economic and military power, although unaware yet of the limits of its global writ. This new status not necessarily fully understood or even sought by its citizens, required significant changes in the scale and role of government in American society. Most important among these for US global dominance has been the role its armed services came to play in the development of technology. In turn, the American military has been and continues to be transformed by technology.
The United States was a late entrant in both of the World Wars that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, its unmatched ability to generate and project great military power in a relatively short time proved decisive in these conflicts, which were fought primarily far from American shores. Its army was built on a militia base called to national service for the war and filled out by conscription (Flynn 1993). The equipment needed to arm, train, and transport large expeditionary forces was produced rapidly via a mobilization effort that surpassed the output of all other participants (Harrison 2000 : 103). 1 The feat was a largely industrial one, with government allocating private industry the resources to produce vast quantities of weapons from pre-selected designs, often borrowed from allies (Holley 1983). Although there was a parallel mobilization of scientists and engineers that had more than an occasional spectacular success—the atomic bomb, for example—the wars were won on the assembly lines producing divisions, aircraft, and ships.
A series of confrontations with the Soviet Union over the future of a war-devastated Europe and Asia led to the reconstruction, in the early 1950s, of American military power which had been mostly demobilized after the Second World War. The resulting conflict evolved into a long-term ideological struggle that required a continuous if less than full-scale societal mobilization and a military strategy that would offset the large manpower