Dec 7th….The day Pearl Harbor was attacked. The day that the United States was thrust into World War II. It is a day that shaped an entire generation. This began somewhat of a chain reaction all through American society and culture. It spawned many books and movies that retold this fateful day. Some of these were good and some of them were bad (we are looking at you Ben Affleck). But, there was always one overriding message in all of these retellings: the American spirit shone through. Our Armed forces stood up as one. They collectively went to avenge and defend their country and their fellow brothers in arms. There were volunteers to join the Armed Forces lining up around the block of any recruiting station, just days after the attacks. Our factories, research, and development all immediately went into over-drive.
One interesting by product of this happening, American factories never scaled back once the war was over. America stepped in to a global vacuum after the war. Americans helped supply and rebuild much of the war torn world. This, of course led to other long term issues of war and strife, but that is a blog for another day.
As many of you may already know, Pearl Harbor could have been much worse. The American aircraft carriers were not at port. These carriers ended up being the single most important ship of the war. Had they been there and sunk, WWII would most likely have gone drastically (or even tragically different).
America also had a fledgling technology called radar. While this was not used to quite the effect it should have been, it still provided an advanced warning that was not available only a few years earlier. It has since gone on to become an extremely important technology in not just armed forces applications, but also in our air traffic control, weather, and geological fields.
This was not the only innovation that came out of World War II. Jeeps became the standard for light transportation and support vehicles in this war. The basic design behind these vehicles carries on to one of the most popular car brands on the road today. And of course, the atomic bomb was also developed and used to devasting effect.
It could be argued that the jet engine was the single most historical and culturally significant innovation that came from WWII. This technology was used sparingly in actual combat. After the war was completed, this technology went on to change many aspects of both military and civilian life. The jet engine paved the way for us to see and visit countries, and it revolutionized the way we do business. Because of the jet engine, American culture spread very quickly (for good or for bad) throughout the world.
But was it more of a significant innovation than the atomic bomb? It is an interesting discussion, partially because both are so closely related. They were both used so thoroughly by our armed forces and politicians for many years, even still to this day.
All this being said, I would like to introduce one more piece of technology that I feel give them both a run as being the most vital, important, and culturally significant innovation that came from WWII. This technology definitely got a much slower start out of the gate. It was used in only one specific way for so long that some of you out there might not realize that it was first developed during WWII. The technology I am referring to is the computer.
The term “computer” was actually a reference to a group of mostly women who performed advanced calculations by hand. During the war, the armed forces developed machines for advanced calculations to use in ballistics and to determine trajectories. The group that had been doing these calculations by hand were now employed to program these machines. Obviously, these machines stayed locked away for military uses for some time before companies started working with this same group of people to develop these machines for other uses.
Computers stayed in the background as technologies like jet engines really took off (pun intended). It stayed like this until the personal computer was developed. This was the first stepping stone to the computer not just becoming a vital piece of our work life, but changing the way we live. The jet engine may have introduced us to communities from around the globe, the computer created an actual global community. Computers have also improved upon the jet engine and air travel in general. They make them more efficient and safer. This has in turn allowed the price of airline tickets to be more affordable and used more widely.
December 7th, will and should always live on in the collective memory of the American people. As it has been so eloquently put, it is “a day that will live in infamy”. We also should not forget the tragic loss of life on this day, but the entirety of the second world war. I give my heart felt thanks to all that were there, and all that continued to serve, and all that serve today.
I also give my thanks to the men and women who used technology to help win that war and then bring this to our everyday lives. They, and all those that have come after (both civilian and military), are an ongoing example of bravery, brilliance, and determination. I, for one, take pride in those who have come before, and I hope that this generation will continue to strive to help make this world a better place.