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The Relationship between Military and Civil Technology: A Historical Perspective

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The Relations between Defence and Civil Technologies

Part of the book series: NATO ASI Series ((ASID,volume 46))

Abstract

Our understanding of the relationship between military and civil technology is bedevilled by lack of evidence and apologetic argument. In this paper I suggest there are good historical reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs. The dominant view of technology in the West is strongly influenced by liberal thinking. Although liberal thought has changed in many ways since the nineteenth century it has failed to accommodate the increased importance of military technology and its place in the economy. The nineteenth century liberal position was that military technology was corrupt; by the Second World War the view that all technology was economically progressive became dominant. It is in this context, I argue, that the idea of spin-off acquired its importance. After the Second World War it was argued that the military had pioneered the best means for developing modern technology, which could and should now be applied to the civil sector, but this did not affect the underlying view of technology. I contrast these views with recent historical work on military technology in its relationship to the civil economy, which show how military technology has been shaped by the institutions which created it. The understanding that all technology is shaped by social, economic and political factors is a necessary first step to unravelling the relationship between civil and military technology, both in history and today.

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References

  1. See, for example Norman Angell’s, The Great Illusion, (London, 1909).

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  2. M.J.B. Davy, Interpretative History of Flight, Second edn. (London: HMSO, 1948),

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  3. M.J.B. Davy, Interpretative History of Flight, First edn. 1937, pp.130–131.

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  4. Ibid., p.139.

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  5. A.M. Low, Modern Armaments, (London: The Scientific Book Club, 1939), p.256.

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  6. Sir Henry Dale, Foreword to J.G. Crowther and R. Whiddington, Science at War, (London: HMSO, 1947).

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  7. J. Herf, Reactionary Modernism, (Cambridge, 1985).

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  8. Frank Turner, ‘Public Science in Britain, 1880–1919’, Isis, (1980); D.E.H. Edgerton, ‘Science and War’ in G. Cantor et al., Companion to the History of Science, (London, forthcoming).

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  9. J.D. Bernal, The Social Function of Science, (London, 1939).

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  11. See for example: J. Staudenmaier, Technology’s Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric, (Cambridge, Mass., 1985).

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  13. See, for example, his account in ‘Command Performance: A Perspective on Military Enterprise and Technological Development’, in Merritt Roe Smith, Military Enterprise, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1985), pp.329–346.

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  14. M. Kaldor, The Baroque Arsenal, (London, 1982).

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© 1988 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

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Edgerton, D. (1988). The Relationship between Military and Civil Technology: A Historical Perspective. In: Gummett, P., Reppy, J. (eds) The Relations between Defence and Civil Technologies. NATO ASI Series, vol 46. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-015-7803-5_7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-015-7803-5_7

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Dordrecht

  • Print ISBN: 978-90-481-8312-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-94-015-7803-5

  • eBook Packages: Springer Book Archive

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