From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America, and: Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (review)
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Reviewed by
Jennifer Light From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003)
Nils Gilman Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003)

These densely written, heavily documented volumes describe the trajectories of two groups of Cold War elites in the United States. Each was a loose cluster of men (and judging by the contents of these books, there were scarcely any women) whose training and experience made them arbiters of ideas and programs from the late 1940s into the early 1970s. One group, the focus of Light's book, was composed of technicians nurtured by the enormous military establishment that first was created by World War II and then was reconfigured to face the assumed threat from the Soviet Union. The second group was composed of social scientists, less directly connected to the military establishment but still cold warriors, who grappled with the problem of a new world order by creating theories of modernization.

For the readers of this journal it is important to recognize that each group was deeply concerned with technology transfer. The technicians were very forthright about it: they intended to transfer their experience in managing defense programs to the governance of the troubled cities of the United States. The social scientists were less interested in applying their knowledge, but they saw technology transfer as a central consequence of the course of modernization that they had identified. Specifically, they offered to policymakers the optimistic assumption that postcolonial states and societies would join the modern world by effectuating the transfer of [End Page 187] industrial technologies from existing modern nations. In a sense, each group's measure of success depended on evidence of significant technology transfer, evidence that neither author finds forthcoming.

Jennifer Light's volume examines the apparently odd but compelling linkage of what she calls "defense intellectuals" to the growing recognition that America's cities had substantial and growing difficulties. She argues that "strategies for urban problem solving were heavily influenced by, and in some cases directly derived from, military techniques and technologies originally used against America's foreign enemies" (p. 7). She does not pay attention to the hard technologies, such as the military weapons acquired by city police forces (e.g., tear gas and armored vehicles) to respond to anticipated urban insurgencies, but focuses rather on the soft technologies created to manage global warfare—tools of planning, information gathering, analysis, and command.

One problem of cities was congestion. Growing populations and increased use of automobiles were creating density problems that city planners were concerned about in any case, but the atomic bomb established a new order of concern. The city-destroying power demonstrated at Hiroshima, from which the United States was unlikely to be exempt in future wars, created a compelling rationale for the dispersal of urban functions that defense intellectuals fostered, and that city planners quickly embraced. But the decentralization of cities that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s had far more to do with suburbanization, racial tensions, and deindustrialization than with urban planning.

Systems analysis, specifically in its close relationship to computerization of data, also had great appeal to those in city administrations who wanted more accurate and up-to-date information. Light examines two particular cases of the adaptation of systems analysis to urban planning. In Los Angeles, the use of machines for data processing had a history dating back to 1946, but in the mid-1960s, it was pushed to a higher level because of contracts with defense-related corporations funded in part by grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Light indicates that Los Angeles was susceptible to the overtures of local defense corporations aggressively seeking urban contracts because of a less favorable climate for military spending after the massive buildup in the 1950s. Not surprisingly, the result was that by 1970 the city's Community Analysis Bureau used computer analysis and computer simulations to identify the ideal solutions to the city's problems.

New York City was slower than other major American cities to adopt systems...