Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Tech Change is at Its Greatest

I had the unique opportunity this past week to visit Minneapolis and be a part of their excellent World War II History Roundtable.  Yes, you ask, but what does that have to do with rapid technological change?  And why do you, Mr. Blogger, bring that up on this tech-change forum?

Well, hold your horses and I'll tell you.  Thanks to Don Patton and others involved with the roundtable, I had the opportunity to tour historic Ft. Snelling, where more than 300,000 young men were inducted into the service in WWII.  It was an old horse fort, established in the early 1800s when the area was Sioux territory, and was once the lodging place for Dred Scott, among other historical significance., fascinating...but hardly high-tech. 

But not far from there, I was treated to a restoration project that boggles the mind.  Inside a small, cramped room at the back of a lumberyard, a group of amazing people are meticulously restoring a CG-4 glider plane.  During the war, a couple of Minneapolis companies combined to build a bunch of these gliders...decidedly low-tech aircraft...but they were, in their own way, very high-tech in their design and operation.  The handiwork and craftsmanship used in these planes was astounding, as is the talent of the dedicated individuals who are restoring this one.

A little digression here, but later in the day, I got a glimpse of the "Greatest Generation" exhibit at the Minnesota History Center.  While there, we ran into an elderly gentleman being helped through the museum by his son.  And that man had actually flown one of the CG-4s during the war.

Anyway, it occurred to me just how much technology comes from something as destructive and horrible as war.  I often give presentations on submarines, and specifically about the Gato and Balao class boats that helped win the war in the Pacific.  At the time of their construction, they were by far the most technologically advanced war machines on the planet.  And they worked.  Over 50% of all Japanese shipping destroyed during the war was the result of the submarines, even though they were at no time any more than 5% of the total naval assets in the Pacific.

I also talk about how much a factor other tech developments such as radar were.  We came up with better radar than the enemies did and it made a big difference in the eventual outcome.  Heck, even VHF radio...previously thought to be virtually useless...helped submarine skippers work together in their wolfpacks without fear of the enemy eavesdropping.

Odd but true: when bad things happen, good things can come from them.  And sometimes the worst things are, the more we gain.

Don Keith N4KC

1 comment:

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Cool Post Don! Don't forget medical science which also advances by leaps and bounds on the battlefield or very nearby.