Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Vannevar Bush & the Will to Believe

My copy of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century, Pascal Zachary's excellent biography of Dr. Vannevar Bush. It is a must read for anyone who wants to discuss Bush's supposed involvement with UFO's in the late 1940s and early 1950s (whether in relation to MJ-12, or the Wilbert Smith memo).

One of the best, and most relevant, passages can be found at pp. 345 to 347, describing Bush's departure from the Research and Development Board, and public service in general.

"Though Bush kept tight-lipped about his personal situation, journalists sensed that his departure signaled the end of an era in military research and in science policy generally. In the years since the war he had gained a growing reputation for conservatism and for a penchant for shooting down the high-tech dreams of military enthusiasts. Bush would never again formally advise any president or cabinet secretary. Bolder, younger research leaders were now consulted. These successors walked in Bush's footsteps to a degree, and many actually trained under him. 'There is hardly a field in the government's scientific front, from the Atomic Energy Commission down, where a Bush-trained man is not taking a prominent part,' wrote one journalist. 'The same is true of many scientific research efforts in universities and private industry.'

The nation paid its respects to Bush's contribution. 'President Truman spoke for the whole country when he paid warm tribute to Dr. Vannevar Bush,' The Cincinnati Post wrote. The New York Times added, 'The President was right in saying that his regret [at Bush's departure] will be shared by scientists and higher miltary officers.' The Kansas City Star celebrated the man 'who has been chief of staff for the technological side of our defense efforts since 1940.'

The press was respectful, even reverential toward Bush as they were to nearly all American leaders at the time. No newspaper or magazine supplied even a hint that Bush left government a broken spirit, bereft of influence, repudiated by military leaders whom he wished more than anything else to stand among. Indeed, just a few months before his health failed, one national magazine enthusiastically profiled Bush, calling him 'chief of U.S. brain power' and 'one of the most important men in America.'

The image of Bush as a tragic hero, cut down by his refusal to bend to the military's will, was not a story the press could either comprehend or nicely package. The sharp decline in Bush's clout among scientists and the Washington establishment, hinted at two years before by Fortune, simply did not square with the durable celebrity awarded heroes of World War II. Paradoxically, Bush was more celebrated now, when he lived on the margins of power, than he had been in 1944, the high-water mark of his influence on government. Few charted Bush's rapid descent. Only his circle of close associates - men such as Warren Weaver, Jewett, Conant and Compton - realized that Bush's audacious campaign to bring government under the full sway of experts had come to an end.

Bush's defeat and expulsion from power were predictable from one standpoint. It was not just Truman's aloofness from Bush that cost him his clout. Neither did the National Security Act of 1947, despite giving too much autonomy to the services and too little to department officials, doom Bush. His problem was personal. 'There isn't much middle ground about the way people react to Bush,' a journalist wrote in mid-1948. 'Either you think he's wonderful... or you hate him violently.' For a time, Bush's friends counted more than his foes. Then the tables turned. He had stoked the military's resentments during the war, and these resentments came home to roost. Too many military men and civilian scientists disliked him, if not for what he stood for then for his sometimes-imperious manner. Whereas other civilians, such as Edward Bowles, adapted to the military's existing institutional arrangements, Bush demanded 'coequal' status for civilians and a level of interservice cooperation that seemed unthinkable to the top brass. Neither could be achieved without a revolution in civil-military relations. During a deepening Cold War, this was not about to happen. Both soldiers and civilians were too stressed by immediate demands to overhaul the military's structure."

It should be obvious that the MJ-12 proponents, like Wilbert Smith fifty years earlier, simply accepted the public image of Bush that Zachary notes still existed in the late 1940s.

For Smith, this is understandable, as he was fed disinformation in 1950, at a time when the truth was still largely private - and certainly would have been unknown to a mid-level Canadian civil servant like he was.

But the MJ-12 proponents, and those modern ufologists who still treat the Smith memo as gospel, have had the truth placed in front of them for years now, from a variety of different sources, and yet still continue to ignore it.

Is their "will to believe" really that strong?

So it seems.

Paul Kimball

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