In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America
  • Nils Gilman
Jennifer Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. 288 pp. $42.00.

In April 1999, I visited the University of Texas at Austin to interview Walt W. Rostow, the development economist and former national security adviser to Lyndon B. Johnson [End Page 141] who is perhaps best remembered today as a leading architect of the Vietnam War. When the conversation turned to his activities in the three decades since he had left the White House, Rostow informed me that one of his ongoing passions had been working to improve conditions in the East Austin slums. This work, he told me, was "a direct extension" of his activities in the 1950s and 1960s. For some weeks I found myself imagining terrorized African-Americans scurrying to their basements to avoid Rostow's pinpoint napalm strikes.

Nevertheless, as Jennifer Light's book From Warfare to Welfare reveals, Rostow's twin embrace of military theory and domestic urban planning was far from unusual for American intellectuals of his generation. Light shows that urban planners of the 1950s and 1960s borrowed extensively from the techniques and discourse of "defense intellectuals" at universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, think-tanks such as RAND, and private-sector military contractors. Even as the defense industry competed with cities for federal dollars, several factors worked to bring military practices and urban planning together. On the "push" side was the defense industry's search for new markets. For aerospace firms such as Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas, "city planning and management quickly emerged as targets of opportunity" (p. 3). Light's story thus illuminates how the military-industrial complex systematically worked to embed itself more deeply into various aspect of the country's postwar political and economic fabric. On the "pull" side, several aspects of military technology attracted urban planners. First, military computer simulations promised state-of-the-art techniques for a profession long enthralled by modeling. Second, from the early 1950s, military theorists had been busy creating newfangled programs based on "cybernetics," a theory of communication and control that emphasized the similarities between organic and mechanical systems. A few years later, in the early 1960s, urban theorists and architects adopted cybernetics to conceive urban space in informational terms as a nexus between media space and physical space—a notion that eventually led to the description of urban spaces dense in information networks as "cybercities." Urban planners seeking a concrete basis for these theories turned to defense intellectuals who were pioneering the practical application of cybernetics.

Light's narrative highlights the changing nature of the urban "problem" that military specialists were brought in to help fix. The initial applications, in the early 1950s, addressed the external threat of nuclear attack, which was invoked to justify the "defensive dispersal" of populations and industry away from city centers and into the suburbs. By the early 1960s, however (perhaps in part because the hydrogen bomb had rendered defense hopeless), the target of defense intellectuals became "urban blight"—a deliberately sterile term with racial and political implications that Light fails to highlight. Finally, in the late 1960s, as race riots flared across the country, military techniques found favor as a way to combat the "urban crisis." Increasingly, technocrats viewed the American inner city as analogous to the post-colonial world. Because military approaches to dealing with the Third World had gained favor, this naturally spilled over into urban management. Although Mike Davis's controversial City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Verso, 1990) explored the militarization of urban life in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Light's book pushes this [End Page 142] story back several decades and shows that a militarized approach, far from being limited to Los Angeles, was also characteristic of planning in New York and smaller cities such as Pittsburgh and Dayton, Ohio.

Other than the recommendation about urban dispersal, however, the book reveals little of the substance of military theorists' advice to city planners. Although Light claims that these intellectuals "shaped . . . urban management practices...