I have something to consider next time I take a look at the aging phone system with the ire of a frustrated millennial — looking for the next Silicon Valley “heroes” to come in and save me with some easy, yet functional technology. I rarely acknowledge the lead up to these technologies, but of course using my B.A. in History as I do sometimes, when I do consider it, I take it too far. Much of our technological advancements we utilize on our day to day livelihoods is the result of wartime government spending on research for weapons technology and improving the usage of said weapons.
With my rosy cynicism (“WHAT IS AN OXYMORON, ALEX?”) sorted out, I move beyond the industrial military complex and focus on the numbers problem. Demographic statistics is far from my specialty, but I will say through my anecdotal experience, most of us have some sort of ancestral elder who served/was involved in some rather direct way to the war effort of WWII. This is true around the world, just take a look at the numbers of casualties in Russia or China. Dan Carlin, from the Hardcore History podcast described this numbers thing in the context of China casualties during some attacks as something that you assume was a rounding error.
Everything surrounding the military feels this way to me some days — and here’s another example, the number of people involved in the Manhattan Project:
Here’s the picture that was provided in a tweet:
That bomb was going to happen. The government was willing to go to lengths that haven’t been seen in most people’s lifetimes to ensure it. There were similar efforts when going to the moon — an estimation of 400,000 people puts it in the same realm, but of course the much more wholesome goal of going to space might add more collateral to that total. I could keep clicking and linking Wikipedia articles that talk about the amazing numbers of people who were involved in some of the projects of research and development the nation has undertaken, but I pity the reader.
One more political note: let these facts stand as evidence against the “it’s too complicated/expensive/impractical!” exclamations for any social services that the government is asked to provide. Those constrictions aren’t something that the federal government is usually contained to — unless they choose it.
The reason I bring up these historic feats is because of the numbers advantage they have. If only 1% of the people involved in these projects were effective contributors to their success they would still outsize many large enterprises. Just like Carlin suggested about the Chinese casualties — this feels like a rounding error. What modern mass involvement is there to create such a breeding ground for new technologies that can catapult some young talent to rebuild my telecom infrastructure? Am I asking too much of the number of people who have a vested interest in this area?
Yes. I am.