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The first major European client of my consulting firm, Bonner and Moore, was Union Rheinische Braunkohlen Kraftstoff (URBK), in Wesseling, Germany. URBK operated a refinery and petrochemical plant built around a German synthetic-fuel plant from World War II. The layout of the original plant was a T, with the power plant at the bottom of the T and the high-pressure reactors at the intersection of the two legs. The top leg consisted of product purification units. After about three years of my association with URBK, enough trust had developed between us that they showed me their production records from the war.

What became clear to me was how effectively the plant withstood the many bombing attacks by British and American airplanes. These attacks concentrated on the center of the plant, which consisted of the high-pressure units and their associated compressors. The vessel and piping walls of these units were so thick that bombs had little effect. Only near the end of the war was an attack directed at the control room of the power plant. This attack by B-25s finally shut the plant for the remaining months.
Joe F. Moore
Houston, TX

One facet of war that Dyson’s essay underlines is the enormous reduction in casualties, including civilian casualties, that has been brought about by the application of technology to the battlefield. Smart bombs and missiles, unmanned drones, and satellites and information networks enable the application of both offensive and defensive power with casualties that pale beside those in previous conflicts. One casualty is a tragedy, but we can be thankful that when it’s necessary to defend or project the nation’s interests with armed force, it will be with far less human cost than previously.
Mike Boylan
Houston, TX

I was surprised that the renowned scientist Freeman Dyson omitted the key facts that determined why the United States, Great Britain, and Russia were victorious over Germany and Japan in World War II. It was because they fought to win as quickly as possible–and to reduce their own casualties by destroying the enemy’s ability to fight. Dresden wasn’t making cuckoo clocks. It manufactured war materials and was a major transportation center.

The idea that the bombing of Dresden was an excessive use of force, that it caused too many casualties among German civilians too near the end of the war, is nonsense. The war’s end in Europe came because of such drastic actions, just as the end of the war with Japan came because of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In all of history, no nation has been victorious by fighting a more gentle war than its enemy, as Dyson now suggests should have been done against Nazi Germany. The facts are that the victorious side in war has always used its power to win as quickly and conclusively as possible.
William Lyons
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY

One Laptop per Child?
No, the $100 laptop will not save the world (“Philanthropy’s New Prototype,” November/December 2006). Millions of $100 laptops already exist; you probably own one yourself–the four-year-old Dell collecting dust in your closet that won’t sell on Craigslist for $100–and it isn’t being used to save the world.

Government money comes from its citizens. If the citizens aren’t willing to spend their own money for the laptop, it makes even less sense for them to pay taxes so the government can act as a third-party laptop distributor.

The solution for impoverished countries is to reduce government and taxes, allow free-trade democracy, and let the population build its own capitalistic economy.
William J. Arora
Cambridge, MA

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