country and the world will be better off if the military reaches out
to gather even the off-the-wall ideas it could receive by asking scholars,
scientists, and engineers to focus and cooperate on the current challenges.
methods and mechanisms of warfare have altered radically in recent times,
and they will alter still further in the future. The country is singularly
fitted, by reason of the ingenuity of its people, the knowledge and
skill of its scientists, the flexibility of its industrial structure,
to excel in the arts of peace, and to excel in the arts of war if that
be necessary. The scientists and engineers of the country, in close
collaboration with the armed services, can be of substantial aid in
the task which lies before us.
Bush wrote these words in June 1940. They describe our national situation
since September 11 as well as they did in the early days of World War
II. And once again, the country's scientists and engineers can
be of substantial aid.
Roosevelt signed his name to Bush's words in the document authorizing
the establishment of what was to become the Office of Scientific Research
and Development (OSRD). By the end of World War II, the OSRD had enlisted
and supported scientists, physicians, and engineers nationwide to apply
their originality, special mind-sets, and skills to a new kind of warfare.
Radar, the atomic bomb, the proximity fuse, and penicillin were among
the novel contributions to the Allied victories by the OSRD.
that the bureaucracy, secrecy, and habits of the military establishment
walled it off from access to the most innovative scientific and technical
ideas. It was a two-way street, blocked in both directions. The military
could not, or would not, engage the most inventive and original minds
from the private sector, and the private sector had no route to reach
the military. Moreover, Bush believed that the lack of full communication
and cooperation between the branches of the military itself further
diminished their ability to respond to the war that he and the president
knew would soon engage the nation.
those streets for traffic was not easy. Bush schemed incessantly against
the several sectors of the military establishment most resistant to
cooperation with civilians and one another. He was determined to convince
the military that he and the president envisioned a cooperative effort.
He made it clear that the OSRD's job was to provide ideas and research.
It had no intention of taking over the development of weaponry or the
tactical and strategic responsibilities of the armed forces. Eventually,
he succeeded in fostering joint efforts between the military scientists
and engineers and those the OSRD mustered from the universities and
Bush and the American military know that we are once again faced with
a new kind of warfare. The tragic turmoil that Vannevar Bush foresaw
and hoped to avoid is already with us. In a commencement address at
Harvard in June 1941, he stressed that the power of an attack
rests very largely on surprise, and surprise in turn rests on
ignorance' (as quoted by G. Pascal Zachary in Endless
Frontier). We now know the horrendous price of ignorance and have
lost our chance at the head start that the earlier Bush obtained for
the country in 1940. But it is not too late.
scientists, and engineers who work in our great universities, industries,
and research institutions can, as they have done before, bring deep
understanding and original ideas to bear on our new challenges. They
can contribute much more than just novel ways of using technology. Many
are trained and experienced problem solvers whose approach to difficult
problems is to step out of the box because that is where
scientific and technical questions are most likely to yield. Others
are scholars with profound knowledge of fundamentalism of all kinds
or with comprehensive insight into nations that harbor terrorists. Our
fight against international terrorism will require their attention and
ideas if it is to succeed.
including those in the military, regardless of how skilled and dedicated,
tend to see new challenges in their customary frameworks. This is not
a criticism, it is simply the way most of us function. With every good
intention, the U.S. military will be hampered if it ignores the resources
of knowledge and ideas outside the government. It recognized this long
ago when it established the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA). An enhanced DARPA, reaching out more widely than it has in
the past, may now be desirable. However, a special organization, independent
as was the OSRD, might be the most productive way to help the nation
excel and prevail in the 21st century's arts of war.
and the world will be better off if the military reaches out to gather
even the off-the-wall ideas it could receive by asking scholars, scientists,
and engineers to focus and cooperate on the current challenges. If we
are to excel and prevail in our battle with international terrorism,
Vannevar Bush's prescription that our country should enlist the
ingenuity of its people, the knowledge and skill of its scientists,
the flexibility of its industrial structure should be as compelling
today to President Bush as it was more than 60 years ago.
Singer is president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the position
held by Vannevar Bush from 1939 to 1955.
Reprinted from the Washington Post