Posted by Trent Telenko on 23rd August 2013 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
I have written in my columns on the end of WW2 in the Pacific about institutional or personally motivated false narratives, hagiography narratives, forgotten via classification narratives and forgotten via extinct organization narratives. Today’s column is on how generational changes in every day technology make it almost impossible to understand what the WW2 generation is telling us about it’s times without a lot of research.
Consider the difference between using a rotary phone land line communications and wireless smart phone internet device simply in terms of daily conversation and ability to know things. It is hard for the “100 texts a day smart phone generation” to get in the head of someone who has such a radically different, available daily, tool set.
Now take for a second example how we deal with computers in the 21st century versus how they dealt with them in 1940’s. World War 2 (WW2) computers were mechanical analog devices that predicted ballistic trajectories. How friction worked was very important to their use. Friction is the amount of force needed to start and keep something moving when in contact with something else. If you look further into the world of friction, you will see it categorized as either “static friction” or “dynamic friction.” It takes more force to overcome a “static friction” than a “dynamic friction.” In other words, a slight vibration made WW2 computers work better. The name for doing this is “Dither.” When you check out the word “Dither” in Wikipedia, you will see a reference to mechanical analog computers in aircraft. The vibrations of planes while airborne reduced the friction between all the gears in the mechanical analog computer making it run smother. This was taken advantage of with the Norden bomb site. Which was a 1940’s high tech mechanical analog computer.
“Dither” also showed up in the case of WW2 anti-aircraft (AA) guns. There was a small electric device with an off center weight on it that kept the gun platform jiggling to reduce the friction, so when gunners were aiming the gun, it could respond faster. A similar device was added to the mechanical analog fire control computers — also called “directors” — that aimed the guns. All that induced vibration was “dither.” Having the gun platform and associated directors jiggling just a little with a “dither” was important to improving AA gun system performance.
In the age of electronic digital computers, the term “dither” and it’s meaning in context with its associated technology has been largely forgotten. (See the once common phrase “Quit dithering!”) That “dither” and analog mechanical computer example is one of the things I am running into in my WW2 writing project.
The fact is that many of the technologies used in late WW2, like the “Aerial Tramway” device in the photo above were taken for granted in the reports of the time, but have huge differences in understanding today when “the smart phone generation” looks at what the “slide rule generation” is talking about.
Recently, my understanding of both the logistics and how fighting would have unfolded in General Douglas MacArthur’s proposed Kyushu land campaign, had the A-bomb failed to get Japanese surrender in August 1945, just changed radically away from the established narrative — “It would have been a mutual blood bath the Japanese had a chance to win.”
When I got the 81st Infantry Division’s 1944 Peleliu and 1945 post-Peleliu Operation reports and then looked up the military history of WW2 Tramway and Cableway technology. That research changed my understanding of what the “Slide-rule generation” was saying. A completely different narrative of possible events emerged, simply from understanding what that technological tool kit meant in context.