The United States in the World Arena: An Essay in Recent History

By W. W. Rostow | Go to book overview

PART II.
THE MILITARY EXPERIENCE: THREE DIMENSIONS OF INNOVATION

9. Science, Technology, and War

During the Second World War military practice became linked as never before to the world of science and technology. This special and hitherto remote world was, of its own intellectual momentum, entering an almost explosive stage of growth at the end of the 1930's. The problem of innovation and the society's capacity to generate creative intellectual performance and to organize it for public purposes thus became central to the maintenance of the national interest. Here, in the most concrete way, was a test of whether the national style was capable of yielding a performance which would protect the national interest.

The emergence of the problem of military innovation at the highest levels of American public life suddenly heightened the importance of questions hitherto of secondary concern in the society. What was the relation between basic science, technology, and military strength? What kinds of men were most effective in military innovation? How should they be organized and their thoughts related to national policy as a whole?

Although these questions entered American public life during the Second World War, their importance was heightened rather than diminished by events after 1945. It is worth while, therefore, to look at the experience of innovation during the Second World War not merely as part of the national saga but in the light of these persistent underlying questions.


THE SOURCES OF INVENTION

The relationship between basic science and technology and the development of new military instruments stems from the character of science and technology itself.

The history of a given branch of technology is reasonably consistent and shapely. From some new (or occasionally long-familiar) proposition in fundamental science there is an initial breakthrough in the form of a method or

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