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Military Influence on the Electrical Engineering Curriculum Since World War II

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1 Author(s)
Barus, Carl ; Professor Emeritus of Engineering, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.

In World War II, the military discovered ``science,'' notably in the forms of radar and the atom bomb. Regrettably, physicists¿not engineers¿developed these technologies, for engineering education had not prepared that generation of engineers to cope with innovation. Since that war, academic engineers have found it increasingly easier to get research funds for military-related projects than for others clearly non-military. Indeed, military-related support has been so abundant that ideas with primarily commercial rather than military application have been subordinated unless they could be expressed in potential-military terms. The standard electrical engineering curriculum has followed the pattern of academic research support since World War II. Courses in electronics, communications, and electromagnetic waves have grown out of the World War II experience in radar and subsequent developments in electronic warfare. Computer development began in World War II and has since been motivated primarily by military needs. Space activity likewise has had military motivation from the outset. New curricular trends reflect these military purposes. True, there has been valuable civilian ``spinoff'' from these technologies, notably in the computer field. But one may ask whether military applications follow the available technology or whether perceived military needs drive the technology and hence the curriculum. If the latter is the case, we may be educating a generation unable to envision a world at peace.

Published in:

Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:6 ,  Issue: 2 )