Coming Out of the Close
VietnamEdwards offers an astounding description of the American "Operation Igloo White," effected during the Vietnam war, to prevent enemy troops and equipment from being moved along the Ho Chi Minh Trail:
The sensors -- shaped like twigs, jungle plants, and animal droppings -- were designed to detect all kinds of human activity, such as the noises of truck engines, body heat, motion, even the scent of human urine. When they picked up a signal, it appeared on the ISC1s [Infiltration Surveillance Center in Thailand] display terminals hundreds of miles away as a moving white "worm" superimposed on a map grid. As soon as the ISC computers could calculate the worm's direction and rate of motion, coordinates were radioed to Phantom F-4 jets patrolling the night sky. The planes' navigation systems and computers automatically guided them to the "box" or map grid square, to be attacked. The ISC central computers were also able to control the release of bombs: the pilot might do no more than sit and watch as the invisible jungle below suddenly exploded into flames. In most cases no American ever actually saw the target at all.Edwards shows that the kind of thinking leading up to this remote, hands-off, human-out-of-the-loop sort of military system (which was ultimately a tremendous failure) is the same thinking that allowed us to believe in the impossible fantasy of "Star Wars."
Edwards also notes that Operation Igloo White represents the way America approached the entire Vietnam War, as well as being indicative of the entire Cold War -- operated through closed systems and computers.