Friday, July 21, 2017

Speaking truth to power has never been easy

Speaking truth to power has never been easy. It also gets harder every day.  

In the 1950s RAND corporation was established by US Air Force to help with answering strategic research questions the service had at the height of the cold war. Think about it: intentionally created in Santa Monica CA, one block away from the beach, in part so that the best minds the country had could be inspired by the serene atmosphere and would not be disturbed by Washington DC politics. 

One of the first questions RAND was asked by the AF was the placement of the runways at the US military occupied Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin in such way as to get fighter planes up in the sky fastest and still be able to win a dog fight with the Soviets upon early warning that Soviet planes were attacking. 

RANDs correct answer was that there was no feasible way for it. It had to be done very differently. US planes had to be in the air 24/7 or else they'll always loose on early warning that the Soviets were already up in the air. The answer was air-to-air refueling. 

Now that's a staple in today's AF. Back then it took 173 meetings at highest levels to convince those who asked what the correct answer was. 

In turn, Ronald Reagan pushed SDI on his generals himself, against their telling him it was impossible. Just as the AF and White House had been telling RAND scientists air-to-air refueling was impossible. 

The story doesn't end there. Of all people, the expert advisers to the services and the White House during those days in the 1950s were the most likely to understand air-to-air refueling and its benefits. Yet, they didn't. You must sit and wonder why. 

[I thank late Professor Paul Y Hammond, RAND Corporation pioneer, for part of the story and his great mentorship.]

Adrian S. Petrescu, Ph.D., J.D.

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