The November/December 2006 issue introduced a new feature to the magazine: the essay. Freeman Dyson’s remembrance of his time spent working for Britain’s Bomber Command in 1943-1945 (“A Failure of Intelligence”) prompted many letters.
I was a rear gunner flying Lancasters in 300 (Polish) Bomber Squadron, which flew alongside Britain’s Royal Air Force and operated out of Britain. Reading Freeman Dyson’s essay brings back many memories, not all of them pleasant. I share some of Dyson’s views on the ruthlessness of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, commander in chief of Britain’s Bomber Command. My expression of the revulsion I felt when ordered to bomb Chemnitz, Germany, the day after Dresden was burnt–and after being told that the refugees from Dresden were filling the streets of Chemnitz, where there was no room in shelters–nearly got me court-martialed!
The night flying in “streams” was deadly! That is when we could have used an additional half-dozen eyes. The sight of glowing exhaust manifolds bearing in on you made your “fighter affiliation” exercises pay off. And on cloudy nights, the fear of collisions was such that at the end of each “leg,” the planes in the stream would, before turning, switch on their navigation lights for a moment. It looked like a Christmas procession.
The Operation Manna flights, wherein Allied bombers were used to feed people in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in 1945, were a blessing. I participated in four such flights. Recently, when I was talking to Delft University of Technology professor Hans Blok over dinner, the subject came up. I found myself describing the feeling of seeing hundreds of people on the roofs and balconies, waving flags and waiting for food. Professor Blok smiled, then floored me: he was one of them.
The Freeman Dyson essay took me back 62 years. In 1944-‘45, I was in charge of a small Eighth Air Force radar unit in England, France, and Germany. It was part of the Micro-H system for guiding American and English bombers to their targets in Germany. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the fleets of bombers and other aircraft that flew over the channel when the weather cleared in late December 1944 to support our troops in the Battle of the Bulge.
While in England, I made the acquaintance of a navigator who flew in a Lancaster bomber. I have sent him the Dyson essay; it has brought back memories of those harrowing days to him.
Freeman Dyson’s essay really struck a chord with me. Perhaps that’s because a part of the essay reports on the effectiveness of electronic countermeasures used during World War II–a subject that aroused my curiosity long ago.
As a lieutenant in the United States Air Forces in England during the war, I enjoyed working on extra-secret radar countermeasures, but I was never able to tell whether or not my efforts were producing the desired results. Although Dyson studied the Royal Air Force, I think his results also apply to the countermeasures used by the USAF.
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
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.
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.
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
Your piece about Princeton University computer scientists hacking a Diebold voting machine (“How to Steal an Election,” November/December 2006) demonstrates a problem with a particular electronic voting machine but doesn’t articulate the corollary: voting security must be simple enough to be understood by the poll watchers who safeguard the vote count.
With paper ballots, volunteers at polling stations follow an easy procedure: verify that the ballot box is initially empty, watch the voters place ballots in the box, and watch as the box is opened and the votes counted.
With electronic voting, poll watchers must instead ensure that the voting-machine software has not been tampered with. Volunteers might know nothing about computers but must protect against fraud by hackers, employees of the voting-machine manufacturer, and the government officials operating the polling stations.
Electronic voting isn’t just an abstract computer security exercise; it must be secure when its guardians are nontechnical volunteers.
I paid special attention to Simson Garfinkel’s article about using technology–in the form of a chip that, roughly speaking, does for a car what a flight data recorder does for an airplane–to “spy” on his wife’s (and his own) driving behavior (“Spying On My Wife,” November/December 2006). I had recently been cited for “careless” driving because of an accident caused by a driver who made an aggressive lane change and slammed on his brakes. The “physical evidence” led the responding police officer to conclude that the fault was mine. The other driver had a chance to do the right thing by telling the truth and accepting the blame. Instead, he shifted the blame to me through a false statement.
I paid a small fine and the deductible on my insurance, a small price compared to the other driver’s loss of the respect of his three passengers. If Garfinkel is ever “at fault,” I would hope that he would do the right thing rather than, as he claims he would, deliberately lose his chip–and his self-respect as well.
John W. Mohr
Saint Charles, MO
In Praise of Print
I’m just writing to provide some positive feedback on your decision to keep the print edition and, moreover, to add essays to it (“From the Editor,” November/December 2006). I’m convinced that if the technology of written media had somehow developed in reverse, after centuries of reading articles on the Web, we would have heralded the invention of the printed magazine as a revolutionary breakthrough. Portable, high contrast ratio, resolution beyond the limits of human vision, and the ultimate in a tactile, flexible interface. Technology Review would be filled with articles trumpeting the end of the drudgery of scrolling through pixelated articles shackled to heavy devices, and humanity’s liberation by the invention of “multilayer nano-imprinted organic media.” It would spawn a print bubble in the stock market. Too bad such a good thing suffers from being invented too long ago to be sufficiently appreciated. But I say, Keep it.
Jonathan R. Birge
A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of
The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.
It will soon be easy for self-driving cars to hide in plain sight. We shouldn’t let them.
If they ever hit our roads for real, other drivers need to know exactly what they are.
This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy
The stunning image was made possible by linking eight existing radio observatories across the globe.
The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus
The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.