ac_hyper's writeup above describes the experience of working for an electronics company that subsists in part (if not a major part) on military contracts. The projects mentioned are, in some cases, dual use (Space Shuttle, et al). I'd like to offer a view from what some might call a step or two further down (or up) the ladder; working for an FFRDC, or a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. In short, a Think Tank. I have worked for several of these; most recently, The RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. I won't bore you with a description of RAND; go read the node if you're interested.

While at RAND, I worked on several projects, some classified, some not. I worked on projects that were in some ways entirely devoted to disarmament! I spend several weeks writing a fairly complex calculator that was used by conventional arms reduction negotiators in Vienna, Austria - it would keep track of the myriad provisions of the CFE treaty (Conventional Forces in Europe). Specifically, that treaty prescribed upper limits on various types of armor units. However, it wasn't only a limit by geography; each unit counted towards limits defined by:

Not just a piece of coding (and as such, it wasn't very impressive, I must admit), this was a research project that required the study of the current force levels, changes required to bring them into compliance, likely-to-be-implemented changes versus blue-sky changes, categorization of units (believe it or not, some of that was done by us) and knowledge of the force structures of each of the participating states.

As might be expected, I had little trouble coming in to work on that. I was working in the field I adored; I was working to reduce arms, and I was getting paid. Plus, I got to look at girls a lot (RAND is at the end of the Santa Monica Pier).

My next project, however, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. I was asked to design dispersal patterns and attack patterns for an as-yet-undeployed weapon, intended for use against armored columns. Here, then, was the other side of the coin. I was being asked to create information that would result in the most efficient (i.e. effective per weapon spent) destruction of armored vehicles, with crews in them, naturally.

I spent several hours in thought on the pier smoking a cigar before my first day on this project. I realize that's not much time, but I had been thinking about this ever since arriving at RAND, as I hadn't known at the time what I would be working on and the chances were it would be something like this.

Eventually, I stood up, ditched the cigar stub, dusted myself off and went in to work. Here's why, as best I can explain it. I don't claim these are justifications, nor that they justify me; merely that this was how I framed what I was doing. It is up to you to decide, based on your philosophy, if these reasons would work for you, or if you feel/believe/decide that I was wrong to continue. I salute your choice, either way.

Baldly, I continued to work because I believed in the project and the necessity of it. Not in the necessity of killing, but in the necessity of the ability and readiness to perform these actions - to destroy armored columns, in my case - and in the desire to ensure that if such events came to pass, that the men and women with whom I shared a nearer bond came home. I explicitly mean a shared bond of loyalty to the United States and its ideals, which, I realize, is a very personal thing.

I am too nearsighted, fat, and old to join the military and fight for my country. Nor, in fact, do I believe that all the fighting my country does is justified. However, I have training and skills which not only afford me a living, and which I enjoy using, but which (if applied properly and certain events came to pass) might, just might, save the lives of American servicemen and women on the ground. I am aware that the codicil to this is at the expense of others in the tanks. However, I try to remain active in the debate within my country about foreign policy, and I recognize (and hope fiercely) that I don't 'just get my way.' If it turns out that those against the war where these weapons may be used come out on top, then no matter what my personal opinion, it is my duty to ensure that the system operates as designed. This isn't to say the mob rules, nor that Bush should rule by focus group, nor that Bush should even be President (in my opinion). It means that to the best of our abilities, we operate as the Constitution tells us - and if we feel strongly enough that the Constitution is wrong, that we try like hell to change it. It provides for that.

It isn't the best of all possible worlds. It isn't even close. However, since it appears to me, personally, to be the best option out there, I'd prefer to preserve and perfect the one I've got. Change it if you wish; that's your right. Change it over my objections. But don't toss the idea of the system out because you're not getting your way.

In any case, sorry for the digression. This desire, to preserve and protect the system I've got, is what allows me to work in the fields I sometimes do. If you think that makes me a fool, or venal, or dangerous, or gullible, so be it- all I ask of you is that you, yourself, strive to change the system towards your preferred shape. If you can arrange an outcome where these weapons aren't needed, because the tanks aren't sitting across the line, I'll be first in line with you to campaign for their removal.

But in the meantime, I choose to walk the walls.

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