The Best Defense

C.P. Snow (I) on radar, chaff and science in the years leading up to World War II

I finally got around to C.P. Snow's Science and Government, which despite its sweeping title is really a look at how two British scientists, Henry Tizard and Frederick Lindemann (also DBA Lord Cherwell) approached the questions of the military use of radar and chaff in the years before World War II. The book had been sitting in the pile for about a year and I needed something different to read after finishing a collection of Churchill's speeches.

Honestly, I was underwhelmed. I wanted more details and less speculative thinking.

That said, there are some good thoughts in the book.

  • "Tizard actually persuaded the [Royal] Air Force to base their defensive planning on the assumption that radar would work long before the stations existed as practical systems. This was an act of astonishing intellectual courage. Not only Tizard deserves the highest credit for it, but also the officers of Fighter Command."
  • "The lesson to the scientists was the prerequisite of sound military advice is that the giver must convince himself that, if he were responsible for action, he would himself act so."
  • In a closed system not subject to public scrutiny (in this case, top secret deliberations), "personalities and personal relations carry a weight of responsibility which is out of proportion greater than any they carry in open politics."

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