The postwar period was all about decentralization. During World War II, we saw the destruction that could be wrought with a single bomb on a high value target. Cuz, you know, we dropped a whole lot of those bombs ourselves.
Previously, our missiles and bombers were manufactured in coastal cities like Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles, a natural extension of naval shipyards. After the Soviets developed nuclear submarines, coastal cities started looking like a very bad place to be.
The best way to avoid getting bombed is to have nothing worth bombing. President Truman established the National Industrial Dispersion Policy and awarded big defense contracts contingent on relocation to flyover states. Boeing moved B-52 manufacturing facilities to Wichita and Omaha. As far as nuclear attack targets go, Wichita ranks pretty low on the list. Most people can’t even find it on a map.
Then there’s ARPANET. Operating under the assumption that we would get nuked (so much optimism!), the military commissioned research into a communications system that would survive an atomic bomb. Yes, it would be terrible if we got blown to pieces and the Pentagon wanted to command a counterattack but the phone lines were dead.
Centralized switchboards and telegraph lines can be knocked down, but a distributed communications network routes around failure. The initial ARPANET was literally four modems connected through long-distance telephone calls.
Things tend toward centralization. Blame economies of scale and inertia. Today, 70% of global internet traffic passes through an Internet Exchange Point in Northern Virginia, where Amazon had its datacenter failure on Tuesday. And everyone’s crammed into the coastal cities again.
Given the imminent threat of nuclear war, I hereby urge President Trump to sign a new Dispersion Policy that relocates Google and Facebook out of the San Francisco Bay Area and over to Wichita. Palantir should be dispersed to an offshore oil rig. Hurry, national security is at stake!