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Our November story on technology’s failure in Iraq inspired a lot of mail.


As a retired U.S. Navy officer and a communications subspecialist, I have an issue with the title of your article about the U.S. military’s use of high-tech communications systems in Iraq (“How Tech Failed in Iraq,” TR November 2004). Technology did not fail; some systems and equipment failed. There were inadequate channels, or the equipment was misdeployed. That doesn’t mean the technology failed – only that different equipment should have been used. The article indicated that at the battle of Objective Peach, “old-fashioned training, better firepower, superior equipment, air support, and enemy incompetence” were the factors involved in the decimation of the Iraqi forces. However, it should be kept in mind that current “oldfashioned” training is the result of technological advances: better fi repower, superior equipment, and air support capabilities. These factors improved and enhanced results, which made the enemy appear incompetent, as they were not at the same technological level. To imply that the technology failed is misleading.
Lt. Comdr. Howard B. Mirkin
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Bangkok, Thailand

Thank you for closing the article as you did – with the reminder that ultimately, it is physical armor, not information, that is needed to protect troops in the fi eld. I served in the active component as an armor officer and am now a reserve-component officer (quartermaster) running an IT consulting business. I was taught that nothing will ever replace boots on the ground. The intellectual debates between advances in technology and the need for ground troops who close with the enemy – a phrase common to all combat-arms missions – have gone on since the beginning of warfare. The comment about the alpha geeks and breakdown in command and control during the Iraq War led me to believe that a change in the organizational structure of military command might be favored.
Capt. Paul E. Lima
U.S. Army Reserve
Collegeville, PA

This story is part of our January 2005 Issue
See the rest of the issue

How is the incident described in this article conclusively a technology failure? It sounds more like a human failure than a technological one. How did spotting and reporting three whole brigades require anything more advanced than, say, WWII-era technology? It seems reasonable to assume that a maneuver element “at the very tip of the U.S. Army’s final lunge north toward Baghdad,” approaching a key strong-point like that bridge, would’ve had some sort of reconnaissance available to it. If any air assets were available before 0300, they could’ve wrapped a note saying “Enemy in strength approaching objective” around a rock and dropped it on the battalion’s position, dropped flares, sent a courier – something. I won’t say there aren’t problems with the technology, but from this article, I can’t tell whether this is a reconnaissance failure, a communications problem, or command and control breakdown.
Bill McClain


I live in Texas and have presided over an election using Texas’s version of an electronic voting machine. It worked well – much preferable to previous methods of voting. While it is true that other states have had problems with such machines, the answer is not to have the government own, maintain, and control them (“Technology and Democracy,” TR November 2004). The recent Chavez election in Venezuela demonstrates the problems with a state-controlled system. Suitable standards should be established utilizing the best technology presently available. While it’s essential to count the votes correctly, a more serious problem is ensuring that only
U.S. citizens, having the proper documentation, be allowed to vote once, and only once, in each election. The proper use of technology can help us toward both goals.
John McCulloch
Austin, TX

I disagree completely with the contentions in Jason Pontin’s editorial. Neither technology nor free-market economics is to blame for the expected chaos in voting; the system itself stinks. Dead people casting votes, illegal aliens doing balloting, and even multiple voting, regardless of electronic balloting – these are the documented facts of an increasingly corrupt system. However, the U.S. is still better than most other countries. Printing receipts of individual ballots for a paper trail is completely regressive; if a more logi cal and pertinent paper trail is wanted, keep paper ballots instead. Electronic voting is supposed to eliminate paper, not increase it! The solution: better election process procedures to deal with the cause of the system’s massive corruption. Dealing with the mere mechanisms involved (balloting by any means) is useless and treats the effects, not the (true) cause of the problem. If any ballot were to be automatically connected to a valid and registered Social Security number that was electronically verified as accurate (to secure just one vote cast per authorized voter, per election), then that would be one method to secure proper balloting. Turning “electronic voting” into “a public utility, where the machines are owned and maintained by the state” will simply codify, rationalize, bureaucratize, and institutionalize the corruption within a corrupt system.
Joe Settanni
Windsor, CO


While I have no doubt that we will have the storage capability that Rodney Brooks cites in his column (“The Other Exponentials,” TR November 2004), I question the need for such capacity given another premise in the column, namely that we will “live always connected broadband lives.” Given the ability to stream content through the Internet to smaller, lighter devices, is there really the need to keep the content locally? I would be just as happy if the playlist on my iPod made a connection to iTunes and streamed the songs to the player on demand. I have already made such a transition: I am using several hundred gigabytes of storage attached to a wireless router to serve all the computers in my home. The individual computers no longer need to have huge amounts of storage.
Donald Hawk
King of Prussia, PA

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