Military science: Masters of war
On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Four months later, the United States kick-started a new venture: the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Nestled within the Pentagon, just steps from the office of defence secretary Neil McElroy, ARPA was the nation's first space agency. But its writ was much broader. As Sharon Weinberger describes in her fascinating and absorbing history The Imagineers of War, this team of experts was tasked with anticipating “the unimagined weapons of the future”. Weinberger's account, based on extensive and meticulous research, reveals surprising twists in the recent history of the age-old entanglement between knowledge and power.
Today, DARPA (the D for 'Defense' was added in 1972) is best known for a series of high-tech devices, including stealth aircraft that can evade radar, and ARPANET, one of the earliest working computer networks that anticipated the Internet. Behind the glistening space-age gadgetry, however, Weinberger reveals a much more complicated history, of an agency often buffeted by large shifts in geopolitics, federal policy and old-fashioned turf battles. Most importantly, she uncovers surprisingly low-tech roots for some of DARPA's most famous tools of war.
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WNU Editor: A book review on the story behind DARPA.