Jerome Wiesner was the laboratory director who first sought out Noam Chomsky, recruited him to MIT and in this way decisively influenced his career. In this article, Wiesner summarises his own military career. It is followed by a photo from Los Alamos showing another important figure at MIT, General James McCormack.



A TRIBUNE editorial [June 1], entitled "Professor Wiesner’s Dream World," questioned my ability to be objective on the issue of anti-ballistic missile deployment. You kindly concede my technical competence in the matter but state to at my advice regarding the current ABM controversy is suspect because of my "naive and credulous trust in the peaceful pretensions of the Russians."

The information you provide, including quotes from my writings, hardly presents an accurate or complete picture of my involvement with national security affairs thru the years, or supports the contention that I base my arms limitation proposals primarily on trust.

Because an important aspect of your argument was my opposition to certain weapon systems, I would like to amplify the record you printed. In 1951 I was a member of the group that developed plans for a continental air defense system and then persuaded the department of defense to build it.

In 1953, as a member of the Von Neumann committee, I helped get the United States ballistic missile program established in the face of strong opposition from the civilian and military leaders of the air force and department of defense

In 1954 I helped invent and promote the distant early warning [DEW] line which provided essential warning against bomber attacks for both strategic air command and the air defense command. I was also a proponent of the Polaris missile system, the ballistic missile early warning system, and the satellite reconnaissance systems.

In 1957 I worked on the Gaither panel, and in 1958 when President Eisenhower asked the President's science advisory committee to study the technical aspects of the then current arms limitation proposals in including the nuclear test ban treaty, I participated in those efforts. These two experiences convinced me that safe alternatives to the arms race were both vitally necessary and possible.

Since then I have supported a number of schemes to stop the arms spiral that I thought were entirely safe, and the Pugwash proposal you treat with such sarcasm and call my “dream world” is one such.

You correctly described my limited deterrent proposal, but you misunderstood it. I proposed that the United States and the U.S.S.R. limit their missile forces by agreement to a level in the 200-500 missile range. I believed then and I still believe that such an agreement is in the interest of both nations.

Contrary to your interpretation, I have never proposed arms control arrangement in which United States security depended upon trust or upon a perception of the intentions of the Soviet Union leaders. A safe missile limitation agreement is a dream world that was accessible to the world in 1960, still is, and is well worth striving for.

One last point. You state that I have opposed the Minuteman III and Poseidon missiles. I have not, tho I am against the deployment of multiple warheads on them, for I don't believe that they are needed at this time and would, in my view, escalate the arms race.

JEROME B. WIESNER, Provost, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1969


Los Alamos.jpg

Between 1955 and 1965 one of the more influential administrators at MIT was Air Force General James McCormack (in uniform standing next to Robert Oppenheimer).

Before coming to the university, General McCormack played a crucial role organising the US's post-war nuclear arsenal. He also worked on the hydrogen bomb, telling his political masters in Washington that 'if all of the theory turned out, you can have it any size up to the sun.'

When he became a Vice-President at MIT in 1958, General McCormack continued to supervise various research projects at the university including the Center for Communication Studies with which both Wiesner and Chomsky were involved.*


Here is the announcement in Technology Review, April 1966, of Chomsky's attainment of a named professorship:

Technology Review June 1966.jpg

The following article on more weapons development at MIT was nothing exceptional in the Technology Review in the 1960s. MIT's deep involvement with the US military continued into the 21st Century as shown by this piece of publicity:



* Hewlett, R.G. and F. Duncan. 1972. Atomic Shield: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Vol.2, 1947/1952. Washington: AEC, 65, 172, 408-9, 548; Rhodes, R. 1995. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, New York: Simon and Shuster, 379; The Tech, 4 October 1957, 1 and 21 October 1958, 2 and 20 October 1965, 1; Kay L. 2000. Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code. California: Stanford University Press, 300-2.