The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on March 7, 1971 · 103
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · 103

Boston, Massachusetts
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 7, 1971
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LEARNING A-15 Boston Sunday Globe March 7, 1971 1 Can a serious, t. r moral, pipe-smoking liberal find I success and happiness heading MIT? t jpeaRing .or aejense-matea worn "1 J t.i: r f i i i uwn j veneve i snouia use my position m tins institution I to subvert a policy of the government, even if I disapprove. ' . . . That's where mv moralitv takes me. . . . We have a J. social responsibility despite individual ernment action. "Many don't believe this, but some of us who have responsibility for MIT still do." I For Jerome Wiesner By Victor K. McElheny Globe Staff i ' Jerome B. Wiesner, who was " chosen Friday to be the next presi- dent of the Massachusetts Institute of J Technology, has lived a lot of his life in public meetings, attempting to j communicate in , a relaxed, pipe-5 smoking, receptive and yet intensely I serious way about such things as the " nuclear weapons we might acciden-i - tally use to wipe ourselves out. c The 55-year-old Wiesner, who served as President Kennedy's science adviser and has crusaded for disarmament inside and outside the . " government since 1958, has led such a public life that he is one of the best-i r known figures ever named to a uni-l versity presidency., ,. I A wide-ranging commitment to ; liberal causes and identification with , ' the lingering magic of the Kennedy i " administration when all things i seemed possible and frequent, if ' fairly optimistic, warnings about the dangers of runaway technology, have J combined to make Wiesner a power-ji ful symbol of the socially concerned J scientist who hasn't given up on the s American system yet HELD TOP POSTS - Thus, his .appointment, effective July 1, draws unusual attention even i beyond what comes from MITs I pre-eminent position among the tech-i " nical universities of the world, its still-considerable commitment to military research, its search for sig- nificant non-military tasks, and its rather moderate participation in the ( current agonizing on university cam- l puses throughout the world. J But even though Wiesner's com-t v' munity activities Which extend to his service since 1966 on the Water- town School Committee made his I - appointment popular with MIT fac-t ulty and students, they may have had ' less influence than his long service in such posts as director of the Research I Laboratory of Electronics, dean of science (1964-66), and provost under i i President Howard Johnson since 1 1966. These posts, and the wide ac-8 quaintance in the political and busi-j ness world Wiesner has acquired - through government and industrial ' - consulting and the formation in 1955 - of an electronics firm with MIT col- 2 leagues, are expected to equip him I for some tough years ahead. Money for science has been short fr in the United States for five years. The MIT campus alone gets some $50 million yearly in US research ' support, to say nothing of the $120 ! million yearly that flows to MITs j .two huge, defense-related agencies, i - Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington and ! Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, i One key problem Wiesner will ) have will be finding substitutes for " the $5 million yearly in general ! " "overhead" support contributed by Draper lab when MIT completes its ""divestment of the missile- guidance research center. This was decided on last May after nearly two I years of intense wrangling that occa- sionally broke out into disruptions, arrests and expulsions. f , CLUES TO APPROACH I Some clues to his approach to the ' ' problems inside and outside MIT I come from his numberless public ap- pearances. I One of the most notable of these 1 - was last May, after Johnson had an-' nounced the divestment decision to I the faculty. In the Little Theater be-:aeath Kresge Auditorium, Wiesner at Mil, he said: .i .. .. disapproval of gov was asked how he could reconcile his well-known personal abhorrence of the development of multiple-warhead missiles witih letting go of Draper, where the guidance for them is being developed, instead of holding on and throttling the work. Wiesner made it clear MIT never considered a unilateral shutdown of the missile-guidance work, which had been repeatedly demanded by activist groups. Any attempt " to do this would have led Draper staff members who thought the work was in the national interest to defect. The Department of Defense would certainly have furnished money for these men to continue working. ...,-r,' ' Besides, MIT always felt a "national responsibility" to maintain both Draper and Lincoln "in a viable condition . . . whether we operate them or not. We've never glossed this over." Then he added: "I don't believe I should use my position in this institution to subvert a policy of the government, even if I disapprove . . . That's where my morality takes me. ... "We have a social responsibility despite individual disapproval of government action. "Many don't believe this, but some of us who have responsibility for MIT still do." FEELINGS OF MANY "- Nonetheless, Wiesner added, the decision had been spurred by growing feeling at MIT against involve-. ment in the spiraling arms race. This opinion affected people whether or not they shared it." "We must be concerned about the survival and health of the institution. When an activity becomes intolerable to the majority, you have to respond regardless of what you think is right ... In time of peace, there is a certain abhorrence to weapons of death." Still, MIT tried to save as much of Draper as it could. The loss of "overhead" money could be crippling. All the economic pressures were keeping the lab. MIT didn't think it was "consistent with our other obligations" or the lab's own interest to sell it to one of the many companies that offered to buy it. So MIT "tried very hard to find some viable split in D-Lab, to keep the Apollo guidance program and the civilian transportation work." But it was not possible. "The guts of the laboratory is a group of high technology people who work on gyroscopes and accelerometers" for both military and civilian customers. The military groups could not have gone into the business world by itself. The Apollo people couldn't stay behind if the high technology people left. "You couldn't take all that mili-' tary work off and leave the high technology behind, and you couldn't take the high technology and leave Apollo behind." If the lab couldn't be split, couldn't it be "converted" by finding a lot of money for fascinating civilian tasks like air traffic control? No. The Dept. of Transportation had just taken on a big new commitment by taking over the Electronics Research Center that NASA was dropping. Just the day before, Wiesner had taken the same unvarnished approach with the faculty during a discussion of the complex divestment decision. CLEARING CLASSIFIED Although Lincoln Laboratory was continuing to evolve away from se ' " ' v , - If . i -'tt " 1 crecy and direct involvement with specific military weapons systems as required by MIT policy "We'll always have to tolerate a certain amount of classified work at Lincoln, although much less than at present." Wiesner stressed that there was no classified work on the MIT campus in Cambridge. One of his main aims as provost had been to get rid of what there had been. "We have steadfastly refused new classified contracts on campus." He said MIT was looking very hard for new research grants from private and government sources for on-campus studies, because this could help replace the "overhead'! money from Draper. , ; r" He warned the faculty of a severe money shortage that could become severe enough by 1971-72 to postpone salary increases. "If anyone doesn't think it's going to be a shock to the system, he's in for a surprise." With all these comments, Wiesner was reminding many people who admire his social conscience that he tries to operate in a world of political realities, whether pushing the 1963 Geneva test ban treaty through the Senate or working with his boss Howard Johnson to save MIT from tearing itself apart. But the social conscience had strong roots, starting with his boyhood in Dearborn, Mich., where his father ran a dry goods store and was constantly involved in local politics, and where Wiesner caddied at Henry Ford's golf club (and sometimes hitched a ride home with him). One class ahead of Wiesner at high school in Dearborn was Walter Reuther, who became head of the United Auto Workers and expelled communists from membership in the late 1940s. "We renewed our acquaintance periodically throughout our lives," Wiesner said. Reuther was killed in the crash of a private plane last year. "It was another contact with developing social problems." In an interview Friday, Wiesner recalled "going down after school to watch the fights between the UAW and the Ford goons. That made quite an impression on me." BROADCAST INTEREST Attending the University of Michigan in the depression, and continuing his boyhood interest in communications (he had strung a neighborhood telephone system, unauthorized), Wiesner worked at such jobs as bartender end music camp instructor in radio techniques. He also worked in the electrical engineering lab and as a cook and dishwasher in a local restaurant to get meals. As a graduate student, he was associate director of the University of Michigan broadcasting service. Among Wiesner's acquaintances at the radio station were Mike Wallace, now a CBS television newsman; AP executive Stan Swinton and the playwright Arthur Miller. Wiesner has continued an interest in broadcasting. He is one of two white members of the board of a Roxbury group challenging for the license of Channel 7 television in Boston. Joining the Library of Congress in the fall of 1940 as chief engineer of its recording and accoustical service, Wiesner participated in a little-remembered but significant development in American cultural history. This was the search by the folk-music experts John and Alan Lomax for authentic Negro folk singers one mm the oast of their discoveries was Huddie Leadbetter, whose release from a Louisiana prison they obtained). The Lomaxes were searching for one of the main roots of American music. The recordings, throughout the South, were the musical equivalent of the striking photographs of the American rural scene taken by the Farm Security Administration. - Wiesner said Friday he looks back now at this period as "one of the most influential in my life although I didn't realize it at the time. Working for Archibald Macleish (then Librarian of Congress) opened my eyes to the whole realm of non-science, non-technical problems." Some of the southern locales that Wiesner visited with Alan Lomax were seen by his wife, the former Laya Wainger of Johnstown, Pa., whom he married in 1940, when she joined a group of prominent northern women who quietly went to Mississippi during the troubled summer of 1964 (when three civil rights workers were murdered). BEGAN WITH RADAR. Mrs. Wiesner and her husband ' have maintained a strong interest in supporting black politicians running for office and activities in the black community of Boston. Wiesner's first contact with modern scientific development of military weapons came in 1942, when, recruited by physicist Samuel Goudsmit, a former teacher at the University of Michigan, he joined the Radiation Laboratory at MIT. This laboratory, headed by Dr. Lee F. DuBridge, President Nixon's first science adviser, eventually came to have 4000 employees for its work of developing the principles of microwave radar into hundreds of operational radar systems for the armed forces. Radiation Laboratory was one of the two scientific Olympuses of 1 World War II, the other being J. Robert Oppenheimer's laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., for developing the atomic bomb itself. Many physicists migrated from one to the other. Wiesner was one of these. After developing an airborne early warning radar designed to detect Japanese Kamikaze ("divine wind") suicide planes in a division headed by Prof. Jerrold Zacharias, Wiesner went to Los Alamos to help develop the instrumentation for the 1946 Bikini atomic weapons tests. By this time, Wiesner was thoroughly involved in the large group of American scientists who had taken part in weapons development and had seen what the benefits of large teams of scientists and engineers brought together with US Government funds might be in civilian research and development. FELT A DUTY These were scientists who felt a duty to contribute to the defense of the country, either by winning a war against men like Hitler, cr building a military strength to avoid a future war with Russia. They also felt a duty to work for controlling the awesome nuclear weapons they had helped create. And the scientists who had worked on microwave radar and computers during World War II could see their revolutionary implications. Soon after joined the faculty of MIT in the fall of 1946, he began taking part in seminars on the whole field of communications organized by r ' - f' ' ". 1 " l ' ' j , f - ' I " 4 - 1 i 1 J y ' - G . - is prologue the late Norbert Wiener, , the pioneer theorist of cybernetics. In interviews more than eight years ago with New Yorker magazine writer Daniel Lang, Wiesner recalled the seminars as an intellectual high point in his life. The seminars taught Wiesner that different types of communications have much in common. He told Lang, "Communication is dependent on symbols, for messages can be transmitted only by means of symbols that have an agreed-upon meaning, and this applies whether the messages are being transmitted between two devices, two human beings or two cultures." The word, "rain' Wiesner noted, means something very different to a nomadic Berber in the Sahara and an Indian farmer dependent on the monsoon showers. TRANSLATED IDEAS In the late 1940s, working with Dr. Y. W. Lee, Wiesner did important work in translating some of Wiesner's basic ideas into the practical problem of making radar and radio signals less "noisy." They invented a machine called an "auto-correlator," for searching signals for any non-repetitious information. Wiesner also worked on the problem of using the boundary between the lower part of the atmosphere, the so-called troposphere, and what lies above as a reflector for radio waves. Later, in the 1950s, the firm that ' he and Zacharias and others founded, first known as Hycon and later as Hermes, helped design and test the "tropo-scatter" radio system for NATO nations. Wiesner's scientific work led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1960. Nobel prize physicist I. I. Rabi, a division leader in the Radiation Laboratory, made these comments to Lang about Wiesner's contributions to electronics: . "Jerry is definitely one of the men who have raised electronics from a fairly primitive pursuit to one with philosophical value. Perhaps one might put it that Wiener preached the gospel and Wiesner organized the church. "Jerry's real strength, I think, lies in his ability to spot the potential importance of an idea long before others do. He wants to assist in the realization of the new physics. "I don't know that I would call his a creative mind he isn't likely to supply the things that are missing. But give him a chance at the components that are present and you can bet on him to put them in place, so keen is his organization intelligence." During the 1950s, when Lincoln Laboratory was getting started in response to such Soviet threats as an increased intercontinental bomber fleet and the development of thermonuclear weapons, Wiesner was repeatedly involved in development of defensive radar systems, such as the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line across Canada. He was involved also in the study headed by Dr. John von Neumann that resulted in the 1955 recommendation that the United States press forward with developing intercontinental missiles to carry hydrogen bombs. In 1957, Wiesner was named technical director of the large panel on US defense, named by President Eisenhower and headed by the late H. Rowan Gaither Jr., then chairman of the Ford Foundation (a job now held by one of Wiesner's predecessors, Julius A. Stratton, who . served 'on the committee that recommended j him to the MIT Corporation). The Gaither committee's report came to the twin conclusions that the US was lagging in construction of intercontinental missiles and that no absolute defense against such missiles could be built. t. IDEA FROM IKE. For many who worked on the studies, the implication of this was that arms limitation agreements between the US and the Soviet Union would have to become an integral part of defense policy. One aspect of the enterprise which particularly struck Wiesner was ia statement to the committee ,by , President Eisenhower: "Why don't you fellows work on this disarmament business? Nobody in the government will support me. The De- ! fense Department and the Atomic Energy Commission are always essentially asking for more." For the first time, Wiesner said,' he could see the "totality" of US defense and learn that nobody was "making an intelligent judgment" about the needs. , US intelligence, said Wiesner, wis poor and tended to attribute to the Soviet Union the power to do anything the US was doing. "We were jin an arms race with ourselves," Wiesner recalled Friday. j "The faster we ran, the farther we dragged the Russians along." The Gaither committee learned, said Wiesner, "that if you race somebody who is determined to stay in the rade, the more dangerous not safe the race becomes." ? And the US had so many different weapons systems "so much redundancy and so much safety" that' it could afford to take what looked lie risks in moving toward disarmaineat. CAMMUNICATIONS EXPERT j As an expert in communications, ' Wiesner found exhilirating challenges joining with numbers Jof American nuclear physicists and biologists in trying to talk frankly with scientists in the Soviet Union about disarmament. - While a member of the President's science advisory committee (PSAC) under his Republican predecessor as White House science adviser, Dr. George B. Kistiakowsky. of Harvard, Wiesner visited Russia tin March, I960.- j His companion on the trip wa3 Richard Leghorn, then president of Itek (the firm that eventually absorbed Wiesner's own company, Hermes). Wiesner returned to Russia in November, 1960 for one of the series of Pugwash gatherings of scientists (during which he and Walt W. Rostow helped negotiate the release of two US pilots shot down over east-er nSiberia). j Pugwash, the name of an estate in Nova Scotia where the first meeting was held in 1957, is an international movement that focuses on arms control and aiding poor nations. Its chief role is hair-down technical discussions where no political "face' is involved. . . Fears aren't absent from such meetings. Roger Revelle, now head of Harvard's Center for Population Studies, recalls that a leading Russian scientist almost walked out of a sts- sion in Baden, Germany, charging the Americans really didn't want a Au- I clear test ban. I WIESNER, Page A-18 j

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