Oral History Transcript — Dr. Marvin Stern
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Marvin Stern; May 1, 1987
ABSTRACT: Family background; education at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institution, New York University (Richard Courant); works as engineer at Republic Aviation while a graduate student in mathematics at Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics; Ph.D. thesis on rolling up of von Karman vortex sheet (Kurt Otto Friedrichs). To Convair, 1954; Atlas development program (Hans Friedrich); origins of the University of California, San Diego; moved up to General Dynamics Research & Development division, 1958; organizing and filming the Convair Lecture Series (von Karman, George Gamow). Enters government committee work (von Karman, Courant); transition to Department of Defense; the Kennedy administration (Robert McNamara, Herbert York, Harold Brown); member of the Presidentís Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). Takes position as vice-president at North American Aviation; leaves as a result of Bobby Baker scandal, 1964. Starts non-defense division of Rand Corporation. Commercial contact with scientists in Soviet Union. Defense Science Board Task Force on High-Energy Lasers. Project 137 (Eugene Wigner, John Wheeler, Oscar Morgenstern, Marvin Goldberger); Project Bassoon (Nick Christofilos); A. G. Hill, James McCormack; origins of JASON (Charles Townes, Goldberger).
Aaserud:We are in Marvin Sternís wonderful home in Santa Ynez, California, on the 1st of May, 1987. Weíre going to talk about your career, particularly as it pertains to science policy advice and your involvement and experience with that, and even more particularly with your involvement in establishing JASON, when it comes to that. But first of all, I would like to start out with a little bit about your family background and your education. Then we can talk about your working career, as it pertains in particular to science advising and your experiences there, and then go to JASON at the end and talk about the more specific things in connection with that. So why donít we start with the beginning. Who were your parents and where did they come from?
Stern:My parents were immigrants. There was a flood of immigrants to the US after the Revolution of 1905, I guess, in Russia. My father came from what was called Russe-Poland, and my mother came from Austria, actually Romania. They met here in the States and got married. I come from an orthodox Hebrew home. I am not religious at all now, but Iím sure that contributed to some of my cultural heritage. My mother was one of eight children. They were very competitive. Fortunately one of my cousins got sent to college, therefore all of the cousins had to go to college. That was very fortunate. That was also the feeling of these immigrants at that time. Fortunately in New York City there was the City College of New York which was free. You needed about a 95 average from high school to get in, but still it was free. This was during the Depression. Everybody was poor. I worked, nights and weekends, you know, for 25 cents an hour and all that.
Aaserud:Your parents didnít have anything, in terms of education?
Stern:No. Oh no.
Aaserud:They met in the States?
Stern:Yes. They came over when they were in the early teens. We were sent to school for two reasons. The US was the land of opportunity, and one of my cousins was sent. The other thing thatís key to my personal history was that as a child I stammered a great deal. I had no guidance professionally. I had a little aptitude in mathematics, but I thought all one could do in math was to teach. So I did not study math. That was an error. In order to learn math, you should learn it when youíre young.
Aaserud:Which age are you talking about?
Stern:Well, all right. I went to college. I got into college when I was only 16.
Aaserud:Letís talk a little bit about where you grew up.
Stern:Oh, I grew up in Brooklyn, in a relative ghetto. I guess in elementary school and junior high school, one of my teachers stimulated me in algebra.
Aaserud:What did your parents do for a living?
Stern:Oh, my father ran a little dress manufacturing outfit. When he wasnít broke, that is. By broke, I mean, there was a terrible Depression and things like that.
Aaserud:So you had to find your own support early on in life, in other words.
Stern:Yes. There was this cultural heritage. They had no education, but they had religious training. Itís rather interesting. I was 17 years old, I was going to college. I used to have to travel on the subways an hour and a half from the end of Brooklyn all the way up to the tip of Manhattan to City College, yet before leaving home every morning, Iíd say my prayers for half an hour. What was interesting was, after a year or two in college, there was some kind of an Inquisition politically to try to curtail the funding for the City College. I found myself, I got sucked into, going down to picket the Board of Higher Education, which happened to be on the top floors of Hunter College in New York. I remember, I got relieved from picketing about 3 in the afternoon. I hadnít had my lunch. And I ran into the cafeteria, and there were all girls. I was a boy and they all stared. The only food that was left were some strips of bacon. I was too embarrassed to pass it up, because everybody had their eyes on me, so I ordered it, I ate it, and I survived, and there went my religious training!
Aaserud:How old were you then?
Stern:I was something like 17 or 18.
Aaserud:Did you have siblings?
Stern:Yes. I have an older brother, four years older. He got a doctorate of optometry degree. So my first educational mistake was, without counseling, instead of going into mathematics, where I had a little aptitude, I went into mechanical engineering, which was horrible. I got out of school and I go to work as a mechanical engineer. It was very horrible. So I started to do graduate mathematics in the evenings, while I was working.
Aaserud:What got you onto it? Why did you decide on engineering in the first place?
Stern:Well, without any counseling — I mean, thatís really a shame, you know. Nowadays I guess kids get some counseling in school, if nothing else. But I had none at home, none from school, and to my simplistic mind, engineering was something you can do somewhat analytic work in, without having to teach, which I thought I couldnít.
Aaserud:Was that because of the —?
Stern:— the stammering, yes. Thatís right. So several things. I started to study graduate math, merely because I was interested. I started at Brooklyn Polytech, and I got all Aís. I figured, oh oh.
Aaserud:Was there anybody in particular who put you onto this, fellow student or anything?
Aaserud:It was your own decision.
Stern:I canít remember. Thatís interesting. I just donít know why. But remember, I lived in Brooklyn, and so I went to Brooklyn Polytech. I had no information about it. Again, I took some graduate math, and I got Aís. I figured, gee. So then after about a year or so, I moved off to New York University. Courant had brought over with him from Gottingen some rather good staff. And there I did not get all Aís which is good. There I was competing with people who worked at the Institute. It was then the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics.
Aaserud:Was that evening studies too?
Stern:Oh yes. I only went evenings. Many or most of the other graduate students either worked at the school or things like that during the day. I held down a full time job. At this time I guess I was already working at Republic Aviation, Farmingdale, Long Island, and I was married. I already had two children. So I had a full time job, I had a family. I used to commute into Manhattan two nights a week, and compete with the other graduate students who were doing mathematics. I was doing relatively mundane engineering.
Aaserud:I started out with your background and didnít get your birth date.
Stern:January the 5th, 1923.
Aaserud:So you profited from your engineering education.
Stern:Well, I held a full time engineering job, as I studied graduate mathematics. So I started to do more and more analytic work in my engineering job. It was before the aircraft industry really was as analytic as it is today. So that was rather a novelty. I published a few papers, and then I remember, I solved a couple of problems which had some impact, as a result of which, at Republic they were awed, so they called me a mathematics consultant and let me do whatever I wanted. I did solve another one or two significant problems, so they suggested that maybe I should start a mathematics group. So I then picked some very outstanding young guys, and we did introduce more highly analytic stuff into the industry, and it was a lot of fun.
Aaserud:Was this after you started evening school at the university?
Stern:I was going to graduate school all the while, all the while. Also, I started to teach graduate mathematics on the side, for Adelphi College, for this, that and the other thing. So I had a full time job, raising a family, commuting into Manhattan a couple of nights a week to do my graduate work. I taught some graduate mathematics, and then on weekends I started to consult for Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute on some analytic work they were doing there.
Aaserud:There werenít many movies you went to!
Stern:I was very busy. I could never do that again, OK. All right, as a result of some papers I wrote, I then got an offer of a job in 1954, at Convair.
Aaserud:Iíd like to backtrack. The war experience, how did that affect you?
Stern:Well, for two reasons — one, I was doing relatively critical work, and two, I stammered — they didnít draft me. Itís interesting. I taught graduate math; I used to lecture for two hours in a row without stammering. Now, thatís a purely psychological thing. I was in charge, you know.
Aaserud:You never got any professional help in that respect?
Stern:No. Iím much better than I was as a kid for a lot of reasons. Itís mostly psychological stuff. By that I mean, it has a great deal to do with a feeling of self-confidence, I think.
Aaserud:How easy was it to get that kind of analytical work in a company at that time? How usual or unusual was that?
Well, at that time they didnít do highly analytical work. I happened to solve some problems. Well, when I was younger, I was rather aggressive. Again, itís not that they didnít do it; they didnít recognize where analytic work would be applicable. Let me just give you one example. I was working at Republic Aviation. They had the F 84 F. They had an RF, namely, a reconnaissance F 84 F, which took photographs. Procedurally, they would take the photos, they would land, they would be processed, and they would be handed over to a bomber and the bomber would go up. Well, somebody conceived of the idea, why donít they take a B-36, let out a drogue, a line. When the RF 84 F takes the pictures, let them hook them onto the line, let them get pulled up or reeled in to nestle against the belly of the B-36, open a door, hand out the film, process it aboard the B-36, and you save a lot of time. There was a dynamics problem with the F-84 at the end of a line coupled to the B-36. You get the coupled dynamics of the two aircraft, coupled by a line. So there were six degrees of freedom, all right? The Convair Fort Worth did the B-36. This was in 1952 or 1953. They had one of the first computers. It was mostly analog, I think. Yes. So they did this problem on their computer. I didnít have a computer at Republic.
So I thought, instead of solving equations, there is a mathematics, the Ralph Hourivitz[?] discriminant. Namely, you take the matrix of the coefficients of these simultaneous differential equations, and you could test whether any of the roots has a positive real part or not. If it had, that means the solution would diverge. That means, in reeling in the F-84, thereíd be instability, they would crash. I tested it by hand by this very simple analytic technique, and I found it would be unstable. Down at Convair they said it was stable. Well, what I did at Republic, I had the airport closed, requisitioned a fire truck, made a dynamically similar model at the end of a fish pole, raced down the runway and reeled it in, and damn it, the thing flew apart. They still didnít believe me. They actually flew the aircraft, and sure enough, when it got reeled up close, the F 84 F got into instability, and they cracked the cockpit shield — (canopy) whatever it is, the thing that goes over the pilotís head — up against the B-36. It was a near total catastrophe. So I went down to Convair, Fort Worth. Iíd never made trips like that before. What happened is, they had a wrong scale background machine. So it was things like that example that suddenly opened up, not just Republic, but the aircraft industry. Prior to that, it wasnít amenable to high analytics. Again, the recognition of a problem is a scientific process in itself. So I started doing more and more analytic work. I didnít know why Convair was interested in me. As it turned out, I started work at Convair in San Diego in June. Well I left the east June 12; I started to work on June 21, 1954. The reason they brought me in is, they were starting the first US ICBM, the Atlas. Thatís why they hired me.
Aaserud:We talked about that it was unusual in industry to do that kind of analytical work.
Stern:Yes, in that industry at that time.
Aaserud:What about conversely at the university? How common was it for a mathematics student to involve himself or herself in that kind of work on the side?
Stern:Now, what I did, I did the following. I taught some graduate math, mostly to engineers. For instance, I taught vector analysis, I taught theory of functions of complex variables, I taught theoretical hydrodynamics — those kinds of things that were higher level analytic engineering, if I may use those words. And it got interesting to the powers that were. So I also got others to do that, and I was involved in generating that kind of program.
Aaserud:This was at NYU?
Stern:No, I was working at Republic, so it was local Long Island colleges that we used — Adelphi. I met with the presidents of several companies. They started to realize the asset, the advantage of their staffs being elevated like this. So I got complete cooperation — Adelphi, Hofstra was also involved, I think — from the local colleges. So we set up and we taught this. In my case it was applied mathematics, all right? Well, there were other things that we took. Of course, among so many thousands of engineering professionals, there are always a certain number who wanted a little higher cut, you know.
Aaserud:What was the connection between your graduate work in mathematics and that kind of thing in mathematics?
Stern:Well, I was being educated, and as I learned, I passed on. Oh, another thing I did, thatís right, that reminds me. Remember I studied under Courant and Friedrichs. They had written this book, SUPERSONIC FLOW AND SHOCK WAVES. I donít know if youíre familiar with it. I started to teach a course in hydrodynamics and supersonics from a somewhat mathematical point of view to aerodynamicists at Republic Aviation, and the chief engineer, Alexander Kartveli, was an intellectually curious guy. He would come once in a while. Very stimulating, you know. That was my history of —
Aaserud:What was your dissertation on?
Stern:Oh, fortunately, I got away from having to write a Masterís thesis. One of my profs said I should collect some of the papers I had written and just turn them in, so that was good. My Doctorís thesis was on the rolling up of the von Karman vortex sheet. I did it under K. O. Friedrichs. It was just analysis stuff, thatís all. Nothing profound.
Aaserud:How did you choose the topic?
Stern:I think Friedrichs suggested it. He knew my background and I guess he suggested it. You see, von Karman had written or specified a simple representation of the trailing vortex sheet — I donít want to go into detailóoff of a wing going through the air. If you look when you paddle a canoe, if you look at the paddle going through the water, downstream already this begins to roll up, you know. So Friedrichs, who taught theoretical hydrodynamics or supersonic shock waves and mathematical physics, suggested I might look at that. A sheet itself is a surface of discontinuity, mathematically it is unstable. How does it roll up?
Aaserud:So it was physics involved in it.
Stern:Slightly. But we did mathematics. Unfortunately, this was another serious handicap in my education. I studied no physics and thatís pitiful.
Aaserud:You had no connection with the physics department at NYU?
Stern:None whatsoever. In fact, the physics department was uptown at Washington Heights, the graduate math was downtown at Washington Square. You know, Washington Square is what, about Eighth Street or whatever.
Stern:Yes, yes, so there was, in Courantís words ď??????Ē
Aaserud:Okay. There wasnít even anybody there to talk to about it.
Stern:Thatís correct. No, absolutely. Washington Square was where there happened to be the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, but also generally the School of Commerce, the School of Law, you know, those kinds of things. There was nobody from the physical sciences there.
Aaserud:So it was engineering and mathematics.
Stern:Not engineering. Engineering was uptown.
Aaserud:But you had some connection.
Stern:Oh, I had engineering.
Aaserud:Thatís what I mean.
Stern:But there was a void. I had no physics. Thatís a shame.
Aaserud:Then we can go on to your working life. You said that you moved to San Diego.
Stern:Yes. I came to Convair June 21, 1954. They were starting on the Atlas.
Aaserud:Did you apply for a job in the usual way?
Stern:Over the phone.
Aaserud:Over the phone, yes.
Stern:I was hired over the phone. Well, Iím sorry. Let me tell you more of my life, though. On Long Island, I had a full time job, I had a family, commuting to New York two nights a week to do graduate work, teaching graduate math, research consultant, and I was running around with my secretary, all at the same time. What Iím leading up to is, I ultimately got a divorce, and I wanted to move West. I was advised, that was the way to avoid continued emotional trauma.
Aaserud:You had counseling in connection with that.
Stern:Yes. And so I did look for something in California. How, I donít know, but I know I was interviewed over the phone, and based upon some of the things I had done. The intriguing thing is, here Convair was just starting the first US ICBN, the Atlas. I come out there. There was the business of security. It would take a month for me to get clearance. So the first day there, I happened to solve a problem. Thatís sort of what made my career. How it was, I was assigned to the dynamics group, the head of which was a former captured German scientist from the V-2, so he had this mental set.
Aaserud:What was his name?
Stern:Hans Friedrich. He had a doctorate I think in something or other. Since I had no clearance, he gave me a simulated unclassified problem, which really simulated a real problem that they were in a quandary about, namely, the Atlas. Its structure is unstiffened, and maintains its rigidity by internal pressure, so the skin is a membrane. Itís a stretched membrane. That is the way it can stand compression, because itís like a balloon, a cylinder — balloon. When they did vibration tests on the structure, they detected some modes of vibration that werenít supposed to be at those frequencies. The Ramo-Woolridge Company was just being formed, and they looked at this problem. It was considered a mystical problem, and they would have to assign it to Caltech for some years of research and blah blah blah. Well, I didnít know any of this, except I was asked to look at a pressurized cylindrical tank, vibrational modes. So what I did was take the classic mathematical mechanics of vibrating membranes. It was a tank, so you cut it and you have a curvature term thrown in. Other than the additional term or two to account for curvature, itís the basic Loveís elasticity. Thatís a classic. Loveís elasticity you may not be familiar with.
Analytically itís almost on a par with Lambís hydrodynamics. You know what I mean, itís good mathematics. So I made the problem analogous to almost a classic one with a few extra terms, and I solved for the eigen values. I got it, OK, within an hour or two, and I gave Hans Friedrich, ďThis is the formula for it.Ē So he looked and he said, ďNo, itís not.Ē So at the end of the day — he wanted me to work on it some more — I put it in my drawer. At the end of the day, I took it out, I gave it back to him. Iíll never forget. He opens his bottom drawer, he looks at the results of the tests, he looks at my formula, and he turns white. Things canít happen that way! You know what I mean, he had been brought up with a sense of order and structure, and this almost got to be an issue. He was very perturbed, because this was a difficult problem. And you donít do that to a difficult problem.
Well, fortunately, the one who headed the Atlas development program, who really conceived of it, was a guy named Charlie Bossart. He had a great deal of imagination. He was a Belgian by birth, and probably still resented the V-2 folks, because when the matter came to his attention, he spoke to me privately and explained how I must understand that Hans Friedrich thinks things have to be orderly and proper. So I said, ďOK.Ē Several things, one of which, I got taken out from under Hans Friedrich. Next thing, Ramo-Woolridge, in order to sell the need for their very lofty organization, was saying that this ICBM was qualitatively and technically so far advanced beyond what aircraft companies could do, that it needs an organization like Ramo-Woolridge, and blah blah. So the Vice President at Convair, since I apparently had done something, suggested, Why donít I go out and hire the top twenty scientists in the country as consultants, and we would thereby compete with RamoóWoolridge? That is how come I ran this twenty man consulting board, including Edward Teller and Hans Bethe. Can you imagine in 1954- 55, I was bringing these two together? And in between was George Gamow, who was best friends with each, and Courant, obviously, and von Karman and Bruno Rossi and Fred Seitz and Dick Garwin. You know, very outstanding, these people.
Aaserud:Before we talk about that, how common was it for a graduate from NYU in mathematics to go to an industry as you did?
Stern:Well, remember, I didnít go to the industry. I was in the industry.
Aaserud:Yes, you were already. Was that more important, do you think, coming from industry?
Stern:I canít answer your question for myself. Namely, I came up through this industry, and I acquired the mathematics. There werenít very many PhDs in industry at that time, at least not in the aircraft, aerospace industry. There were in electronics already, you know, radar and things like that, but in my end of things, very, very few.
Aaserud:Do you think the company considered your experience in engineering, rather than your PhD in math, when they hired you?
Stern:The existence of my background combination, and the fact that it was able to make contributions, was a little odd.
Aaserud:But there was a perception that it might be a fruitful combination.
Stern:Yes. Itís interesting. Let me pursue that. In San Diego, culturally — if I can use that word for analytic or scientific graduate training — it was a vacuum. So I started what I was doing out on Long Island. I started for the University of California. I taught a graduate math course. Then I got others to teach graduate this, that, and the other. So in addition to my job at Convair, I then was chairman of the UCLA graduate extension program at San Diego. Then, let me jump and continue along that line. In 1957 General Dynamics in San Diego had Convair. We had just started General Atomic, and we had a division of Stromberg-Carlson. In that year, we wanted to hire and bring in a thousand engineers and scientists into the San Diego area. I happened to be asked to go out and help try to recruit, and it was very difficult to recruit that many into this vacuum area. And it was expensive to run all around the country, you know, and then when you hire a guy, you have to bring him out, and blah blah blah. Itís expensive. So I had this idea, it would be cheaper to grow our own. I helped convince John J. Hopkins, who was chairman of the board. He anted up, the company anted up, a million dollars. We got the city of San Diego to donate the land. We went up to the board of regents, and we talked them into starting UC, San Diego. Very fascinating. We went to the board of regents about 1957, I think it was, 1957 going on 1958, just before Hopkins died. He died about 1958. It was interesting, then, how this got started. Herb York was named the first chancellor. I remember I went to a PSAC panel meeting. Oh, Iím sorry. Before Herb York went to become chancellor, early in 1961, he counseled with me. Then two years later, at a PSAC — you know what that is — panel meeting, he asked me to go to dinner with him in Washington.
Aaserud:You were on the PSAC panel?
Stern:Yes, I was on the panel. What he wanted to talk about, he had been chancellor now for two years, and he was thinking of stepping down. I said, ďOh, why?Ē Well, he said, as chancellor he was being bothered by the professors about their spots in the parking lot and the size of their offices and all that and it bothered him. I said, ďWell, Herb, why donít you hire an administrative assistant?Ē He said, no, he felt as chancellor he had to be accessible to the professors. I said, ďWell, Herb, why donít you become a son of a bitch?Ē He said, no, he couldnít do that. I said, ďYou step down,Ē and he did. Thatís an aside, but I had to tell it. OK, so that helped start, not help, it started UC San Diego. And it started from the graduate stuff. In fact, we started UC San Diego with a graduate school of science. We had all these lofty scientists as consultants to Convair and General Atomic, and they helped write the curriculum. So it began from there and then. Iím sorry, they helped write the curriculum afterwards for the undergraduates. So the undergraduate school of UC-San Diego started with a college whereby everybody, no matter what field, has to have a smattering of science, or you couldnít be educated otherwise. That is now known as Revelle College after Roger Revelle. But we started the graduate school with these very, very high level people kind of helping, and writing the curriculum, down below. And the school has done very well.
Aaserud:So the origin of the University of California San Diego comes from industry.
Stern:The graduate part, yes, for selfish reasons. Isnít that terrible? But we did it because it would be cheaper to grow our own, and we wanted to have in the area some kind of stimulus for people of the kind we wanted to attract. I then also helped write a graduate curriculum. Oh, there was another college out on Point Loma. It was a Methodist school. I donít remember. Then the graduate extension program before UCóSan Diego. We ran it. We used the classrooms at San Diego State College. So I was then asked, and I helped write the graduate and Masterís stuff for San Diego State, which is now San Diego University. And Jack Naish, who was executive VP of Convair, was a Catholic and he was on the board of a new Catholic school being built presumably to be the Notre Dame of the West; itís now called University of San Diego. Itís on the hill there, so he prevailed upon me and I helped write some graduate science curriculum for that.
Aaserud:Yes. Iíd like to get back to that, but obviously there was a crucial period between the time when you first arrived in San Diego, and the time when the university was established, when you established connections with the scientific world, so to speak.
Aaserud:You started to say something about —
Stern:— all these hot shots.
Aaserud:Iím interested in the circumstances behind your establishing that advisory group. That was much earlier, right?
Stern:That was like 1955-56. No, before that.
Aaserud:Thatís pre-university. That was independent of the university.
Aaserud:So why donít you say something about that?
Stern:But they were there. They helped get the university started.
Aaserud:How were you able to get these people together?
Stern:Well, I had a lot of help, you know. Oh boy. Well, there was this political nonsense; the company was trying to come back against Ramo-Woolridge, who was taking over the systems engineering and the technical direction of the missile program, working in conjunction with the Air Force. I had solved this one little problem successfully, against Ramo-Woolrige, who immediately came down and offered me a job, by the way. So one of the company vice presidents had some discussions with me, and decided on this what I will loosely call political course of action, namely, to combat them with a group of eminent scientists as consultants. Thatís not the same as raising the level of the engineering department, but it helps. The prominent name in 1954-55 was Edward Teller, you know. So immediately they made an approach to him, and he immediately brought in his junior associate Fred DeHoffman, and talked John J. Hopkins into starting General Atomic with Fred DeHoffman as the president. And so it was between DeHoffman and I to choose who were the key scientists, and I didnít know the physicists — only by name, you know. And we had Eugene Wigner, you know, you name them. I mean it was unreal.
Aaserud:How many were there?
Stern:Twenty. I think. I may have mixed that up with JASON, the twenty. But it was on that order, all right? Yes, probably the same number. Thatís interesting. OK. Now, Courant I had on there, obviously and von Karman. Iíll never forget one night at my home. I happened to overhear a discussion between Courant and von Karman, whom I happened to have at my home. They were discussing something about my future. I guess they were speaking German, but from Yiddish and what German I had studied, I was able to understand. And somehow they agreed that perhaps my major contribution would be, I would be able to organize and get science applied. Thatís not unrelated to the following story. was then offered to be moved up; well, this came a couple of years later, like 1958. I was then asked to move up, I was moved up from Convair to the corporate offices of Convair, but then in 1958 I was asked to move up to General Dynamics corporate. I guess I was the first fellow from a division to go up corporate, where Iíd be the executive in charge of research and development for all General Dynamics.
Aaserud:Thatís right. Your vita here says that you were that from 1954 to 1960, but itís 1958?
Stern:No, Iíll explain that. From 1954 to 1958 I came up through Convair. In 1958 I moved up to General Dynamics. I remember, that already would take me away from doing work. You know what I mean by doing work.
Stern:So I counseled very seriously with Courant. In effect, I said, ďLook, Iíve got a doctorate in math from NYU. Iím never going to be a great mathematician.Ē He was very polite, you know. I said, ďBut still, I do mathematics. Is it right for me to prostitute my training?Ē — thatís the word I used — and become —
Aaserud:— an administrator.
Stern:Whatever it is. His answer was immediate. He said that Karl Compton had asked him the same question when he was offered the presidency of MIT. His answer to Karl Compton, which he wanted to be the same answer to me, ďIf I could do good for the science, itís not prostitution.Ē OK, so then with a somewhat easier conscience —
Aaserud:Yes, so you decided to do it.
Stern:OK, so thatís part of this, what Iíll call cultural heritage, you know what I mean.
Aaserud:Before you prostituted yourself so to speak, how close contact did you have with this group of scientists that you helped to form?
Oh, I did something else with them. I mean, using them as a committee, reviewing major problems with them. Itís marginally effective on the big program. You know, too much of it was kind of show, I thought. Remember, I was still at Convair at the time. Convair had four operating divisions, Convair San Diego, Convair Pomona, Fort Worth and I donít know what, oh yes, Columbus — no, that was North American already. Another one; I donít know where. In all of our divisions, we had 25,000 people in the engineering departments. So I figured, if we could raise their levels slightly, we were doing a lot more than this pontificating with a group of 20 name scientists. So what I conceived of and what I did was the following. When Iíd have one or another of them out there alone, Iíd invite him to give a lecture on about a first year graduate level, about a Sigma Chi level, whatever the word is, to engineers, in their field. And I would bring in a group of 20, 25 guys who wanted to hear this. But I would have three cameras going, and this became a Convair lecture series, and I would lend the film around to all the divisions to be repeated, for groups of engineers, to stimulate them. Jerry Wiesner heard about this, and he borrowed these for MIT.
Thereís something about it I want to speak to. I remember, I once wanted to learn a little about relativity, and I struggled with one book or another. And then I read Einstein and it was a little easier. Itís a little bit better from the horseís mouth. You really understand it. Thatís from a book. From a lecture, itís even more so. There something comes through. For instance, when Edward gave one —. By the way, he wouldnít give one, I was told. But when I asked him, he did. During his lecture, he made a little mistake. A student asked him a question Ė- ďOh yesĒ — and he erased it and he fixed it. Afterwards Edward said, was it all right, do I want him to do it over? I said, ďNo. Making a little mistake — what have youóhaving a question — interrupt is almost a pedagogic technique. If I wanted to hire a Hollywood actor, Iíd hire a Hollywood actor. You know? I mean, itís these little things. For instance, von Karman — are you interested in this?
Stern:I donít want to bore you. Von Karmanís lecture — he had something on aeroóthermoóchemistry, what happens behind the strong shock wave? And he goes through it. I guess he noticed the students had been quiet or didnít understand. But he stopped. And typical of von Karman, he drew the following analogy. He says, ďLook, itís like when a boy meets a girl. They get a little hot, the temperature goes up, they get excited, and sometimes thereís a recombination.Ē Similarly, Gamow was talking on cosmology, I guess, and wanted to distinguish between chronological and genetic age. I remember, he suddenly stopped. He said, ďLook, consider a two year old. A two year old elephant, a two year old human, a two year old mouse. The two year old elephant is really a baby elephant. The two year old human is already walking and starting to speak. The two year old mouse is a dead mouse. A mouse lives only one year.Ē Thatís the analogy he used. So these things on film were very good. Thatís an aside.
Aaserud:Are they still around?
Stern:I donít know. Jerry would know. Jerry Wiesner borrowed them all for the library of MIT.
Aaserud:So theyíre probably there.
Stern:They may be. I had Bruno Rossi, Fred Seitz, very good guys. Oh yes, Courant gave something on calculus of variations, and spoke about blowing soap bubbles, you know — minimal surfaces.
Aaserud:Was that a pretty new concept at the time, in teaching?
Stern:I hadnít heard of it. I did it from an efficiency point of view. I had 25,000 people in the engineering departments, Iíd get lectures, can them, and ship them around. OK.
Aaserud:In the course of this contact with these scientists, was it that brought you to government advising interest?
Stern:Yes. Von Karman latched onto me, and started putting me on, getting me invited on, committees. I guess it was Oskar Morgenstern and Johnny Wheeler. I interacted with them both very well.
Aaserud:Were they also on the committee?
Stern:Got me into the 137.
Aaserud:Were they also among the consultants?
Stern:Oh yes. George Gamow and I participated. I helped von Karman organize, in the summer of 1956, this study for the Air Force, ďToward New Horizons.Ē We handpicked some 30 to 35 scientists, holed up on Cape Cod for the summer. And I ran the committees on space and ballistic missile defense in 1956. Thatís right. And it was then, in the first two weeks, my wife visited her folks on Long Island, so I was a bachelor, with George Gamow. We were drunk for two weeks. And we wrote a book.
Aaserud:That was PUZZLE MATH. I havenít seen that, but it would be fun.
Stern:Oh, there was something else thatís not unrelated. I donít know if you recall, but prior to the Sputnik, there was a trend in educational circles for kids to be well-rounded at the expense of scholasticism. In fact, there was an editorial in a local newspaper. Iíll never forget that. It got me very upset. He was emphasizing in the interview with this kid how wonderful it was. The kid literally, he said, didnít want to get high marks because if he got high marks the other kids wouldnít like him. And this got me very upset. So what happened is, from that mathematics group I ran at Republic Aviation; I hadnít realized, but different young mathematicians at that time had different aptitudes. To go to extremes, one of my guys was a number theorist. He couldnít visualize a straight line. You know what I mean. You know, they have these different aptitudes. So the way I would assign problems, we used to play with riddles, which were mathematical but had different kinds of reasoning. And from their aptitudes or responses to these riddles. I would know what problems they might be able to solve. So I took on that with Gamow, wrote a thing for high school kids really, just popular riddles or puzzles, with hidden degrees of analytic kinds of reasoning. Thatís what the book was.
Aaserud:Right. So what specifically was it that brought you into this committee work for government the first time?
Stern:Well, Iím not sure what the first was, but I know von Karman had me put on an Air Force Science Advisory Board.
Aaserud:That he was the chairman of then, yes.
Stern:Yes. He had me put on one. And then he had me invited over to Europe for an advisory group on aeronautical research and development of NATO. And after that, he had me stay in Europe and run around the universities, kind of evaluating their capabilities or what have you, in this field. So von Karman is the one primarily responsible for my getting involved in some of these. Courant too. I was on something in Washington. I remember Courant introducing me to Garrison Norton, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. He subsequently became head of IDA. And Courant was doing something with ONR, and Manny Piore was head of ONR or whatever. You know.
Aaserud:Yes, I know about that.
Stern:So I started to meet these people. Then there was some other exercise besides Project 137, where I met more international people. I met Solly Zuckerman somewhere. He was then Sir Solly, heís now a Lord. He was the science advisor to the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister.
Aaserud:In Britain, yes.
Aaserud:I asked about your first experience in government committee work, under von Karman.
Well, the first committee I was on I think was chaired by Ernie Plesset. Ernie had been head of the physics division at the RAND Corporation, and somehow or other, independent of all of this, I had already interacted with RAND and, in those early years, Hughes Aircraft, which had some very high caliber people. I had started to interact with them on both substantive matters and the training, but I seem always, now that I think of it, to have been interested in this training or raising the level of the engineers and giving them additional courses at the companies themselves and outside. So Iíd already had interactions with some of these people at RAND and some other people. The reason I mention RAND and Hughes is, Ernie Plesset was RAND. He was chairman of this committee and there was somebody from Hughes on it. There were some other people on it. And I guess I had developed a little bit of self confidence from having solved a couple of problems at Convair, so you know I spoke up that kind of stuff. And the 1956 thing was most interesting, that summer thing. Ballistic missile defense.
I remember, I gave the results to a group including General Curtis LeMay! Oh, something else happened during the summer, which pertains to the role of scienceóand sometimes irresponsible role. Let me remind you that in 1954 when we started the Atlas, the initial goal was five nautical miles accuracy. Let me digress now. During that summer of 1956, we had several people come up to brief us on this, that or the other thing. General Schriever, who was the first head of the ballistic missile development for the Air Force, came and brought Cy Ramo along with him, and they gave us some presentations. Ramo spoke about the possibility of significantly higher accuracy, one nautical mile, a half nautical mile, things like that. In order to achieve this, youíd have to do certain things with the guidance, certain things with the nose cone, reentry, materials, shape, blah blah blah. In the group we had for the summer, there were two names I must point out. One was Arky Kantrowitz. Arthur Kantrowitz, who came from Cornell, wrote work on plasma stuff, and shock wave theory; he worked with AVCO, you know, OK. Another one was Stark Draper from MIT Instrumentation Lab; itís now called the Draper Lab.
The reason those two names are important is the following. In order to establish himself originally, Cy Ramo literally inhibited a great deal of good work that was going on in certain fields, and his presentation this summer was actually arguing for that very same work he had stopped, because he wanted to establish his prominence. As a result, I colluded with Stark Draper and Arky Kantrowitz, and Stark Draper got up and said, ďArenít you the one that stopped work on the high precision inertial navigation components in favor of radio guidance, which was your thing?Ē And Arky got up and said, ďArenít you the one who inhibited work on an ablating nose cone because you wanted a solid heat sink?Ē Then I finally got up and gave the coup de grace. I must tell you, in addition in the group was Ed McMillan. He had won a Nobel Prize. Charlie Townes had not yet won the Prize, but he had done work that ultimately won it.
Aaserud:Yes, masers and all that.
Stern:But there were one or two others that I think had Nobel Prizes (Bill Shockley). The reason I mention it is, I got up and I said, ďLook, Cy, isnít it a fact that to establish the need for your organization, you convinced the Secretary of Air that to achieve the accuracy that was then conceived for the Atlas would be the equivalent to winning five Nobel Prizes; it would be such significant work in science, and the plumbers at these aircraft companies werenít capable, blah blah?Ē ďWell, you may be half right. But now you are talking about an order of magnitude improvement.Ē Thatís right, that was the word; so he was asking for about a half a nautical mile. ďYouíre now talking about an order of magnitude improvement in accuracy. What I want to know is, have you reconsidered your original argument, or have you upped the number of Nobel Prizes?Ē I couldnít resist doing that, because you see, I come from having for years tried to push a little higher levels of analytic work in industry, to be applied, and to have — Iíll use a harsh word merely to make my point — a relative whoring of public relations over extreme statements, which I felt would be counter-productive, and I wanted to stop it. Understand my argument there?
Aaserud:So that was the basis for using hard words towards him. So what was the reaction?
By the way, when I was chairman of the University of California graduate extension at San Diego, I also ran a seminar — graduate seminar — and Ramo was one of my speakers, and so was Emilio Segre. It was good to stimulate the guys. Oh, the reaction was all right. I ran some panels, and we were lucky, in retrospect, that the things we recommended were right. This was 1956, and at the end the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force came up, blah blah, and I gave the pitch on the military utility of space; I limited it to navigation, communications and reconnaissance, all unmanned by the way. I explained why and how it could be done and so on. And there was horror on the part of the Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. I mean, he had no imagination. Speaking of imagination, thatís another pertinent point. In 1956, no, 1957 — no, it couldnít both have been the same summer, one must have been not the summer. Earlier in 1956, yes, von Karman had me come over to Europe you know. While there, we were drinking and he started to muse that, ďYou know, thereís these lunatics that speak about space. You know, there is going to be realistic scientific work done that will lead us to space. It behooves responsible scientists to get involved and to push the lunatics out, because what they were doing would be counter-productive.Ē You know what I mean? I said, ďOK.Ē I came back, I remember.
I convinced my company to co-sponsor, I convinced the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. We set up and ran the first US Astronautics Symposium on Space, the first US Astronautical Symposium. This was held on February 12-14, 1957. The date is important, the relative date is important, because it was prior to October 4, 1957, when the Soviets put up Sputnik. What we did is, I left out the lunatics. I invited good reputable scientists, and had panels for discussion, blah, blah. I established the framework from here to the moon. And we attracted a lot of media attention. We got on the cover of NEWSWEEK. Gee! I had Benny Shriever do the keynote address, and I wrote a speech for him, because he didnít know what to say. The issue was that the ballistic missiles he was working on would clearly be the first boosters for space.
Aaserud:It was at Convair?
Stern:Well, it was in San Diego, not at Convair. We co-sponsored it. We hosted it. We put up the money. Now, the head of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research was General Frank Gregory. I remember that the news media wanted him to give out as profound a statement as he could, so I remember, late at night at the bar I wrote the statement for him. This was February, 1957. The statement was, ďWe can put an instrumented vehicle to or around the moon within the next five years, if we so desire.Ē It was a statement of technological capability. Remember, this was, again, February 1957. Charlie Wilson was Secretary of Defense. He read that statement in the papers, and he flipped. He said, ďIs this what the Air Force is working on?Ē He stopped all work that might in any way contribute. And then six months later, the Russians put up Sputnik. Whoa! That was fascinating. OK.
Aaserud:By that time McElroy was Defense Secretary.
Stern:Yes, but originally, at that time Charlie Wilson was the Secretary. So it was merely a statement of capabilities, thatís all. And it was factual.
Aaserud:But it wasnít taken kindly by the Defense Department?
Aaserud:How was the relationship between your group and government at the time? How was it generally speaking? Iím talking about your experience as an advisor generally, and what kind of input it had. Thatís what Iím asking.
Stern:Well, two things you must understand. Leaving Charlie Wilson aside, he was an anomaly, almost a throwback, as it were. Remember, this was still the era when scientists were riding high. You know. My concern was, they should have been a little more responsible than all of them were. You know what I mean?
Aaserud:Well, not quite. What do you mean? Some examples might help.
Stern:Well, some abused the prestige and the privilege, to pontificate in areas, not only that werenít even in science, but in areas where they really didnít know what they were talking about. That became kind of a concern. Not that I donít, but!
Aaserud:But others shouldnít, right.
Stern:Yes. Because it can only backfire, you see.
Aaserud:Yes. Were there any particular problems of that sort that you were involved with?
Stern:Well, there were some individuals whoóthings went to their heads, you know.
Aaserud:But generally speaking, the transition from General Dynamics to the United States Department of Defense —
Stern:Oh, the reason for the transition. I already was on several committees. OK. What happened was, you probably donít know this, but in 1959, General Dynamics wrote off 429.6 million dollars as a loss, which at the time was the highest loss any industrial firm had ever had, blah blah blah. Now, remember, in early 1958, John J. Hopkins had died, and Frank Pace — I donít know if you know the name, he had been Secretary of the Army under Truman, a relatively young one — was chairman of the board, and there was some unease. To make a long story short, in the April 1960 Annual Shareholders Meeting, Frank Pace was going to reorganize and take charge, blah blah blah, within which reorganization I would be made a corporate vice president, this, that and the other, blah blah. Well, I was very young, you know.
Aaserud:In your thirties.
Stern:Ď36-Ď37. And this was the largest Defense contractor in the country. Well, came April, 1960, Frank Pace lost his nerve, because he did not get a hold of the company like he was supposed to, and I did not become a corporate vice president, so I guess I figured, well, Iím wasting my time. I counseled with Jerry Wiesner. I said, ďYou know, I think Iíd like to leave.Ē I was very loyal. I didnít want to go from one company to another at that time. Very foolish. I said, ďHow do I disengage from industry for a while?Ē Jerry looked into it and came up with four possibilities. One of them was, be on the staff of PSAC, you know, at the White House. Another one — I forget — one I remember he could get me, there was an opening to be the dean of engineering at Cornell. I remember how I turned that down. You know, I had to be polite, but on the other hand I felt I was too young and full of vim and vigor to become a dean of engineering at Cornell, so the way I turned it down, I said, ďI couldnít do that, I donít know how to ski.Ē Thatís what I said. OK, the other one he came up with was, go to work for Herb York, run the Strategic Office in the DDR & E. Thatís the one I accepted. Thatís how I got there.
Aaserud:Going back, do you recall Project Orion?
Aaserud:That was General Dynamics, was it not, or General Atomic? What was that?
Stern:I remember the words. I was involved. And I canít remember what it was. Ted Taylor, do you know him?
Aaserud:He was the leader of that, right.
Stern:Yes. I was involved, but by involved, I mean, he talked to me. You know. I wasnít in it but I used to hold hands, you know.
Aaserud:Because that was one of the first ARPA sponsored projects, I think.
Stern:Tad Taylor, he was good. He was very responsible, you know what I mean?
Aaserud:Yes. He changed interests in life later. Thatís another matter. OK, letís go on with the transition to Defense now.
Stern:OK, so I walk into this. And this is going to sound like I lack humility, but, well, I probably do. The facts are, I had never been in a management job which managed people. Iíd always been staff. I either produced myself or I made recommendations.
Aaserud:Even in the latter stages of your General Dynamics career?
Yes. I had no line responsibility. All right? Thereís a difference. I walk in here. I began with the Strategic Office; then I got elevated to handling all weapons systems. By law, even in the Strategic Office, the law gave me the authority and responsibility to approve, disapprove, modify or initiate all monies spent for research, development, test and evaluation in this instance, Strategic. I had never had direct line responsibility before. I remember I never got counseling for my aptitude in math, that I could study math. Here too, nobody ever told me, and this sounds like I lack humility but take it the way it sounds. I apparently had something of a quality of leadership that I never knew, to a point where I got along fantastically with the military. Whether I was agreeing with them or making them change, I knew how to handle them and they respected me. That was very important. I never knew I had that capability. Iíd like to go into that a little bit more. But thereís another example, probably, of leadership. One of the fellows that worked for me one level below had a Masterís from MIT, but he had been a pilot.
In fact, he had been head of the Experimental Test Pilots Association, so he was wellótrained, intelligent, but also very cool and calm; you know, to be an experimental test pilot, you have to be very methodical. I apparently had such an effect on him that he wanted to follow me: he started to stammer. So I immediately moved him out. I merely use that as an example. Apparently there are qualities of leadership I didnít realize and apparently I had them. Let me give you another thing which is more your thing. It is well known now that the first six months of the Kennedy Administration, Bob McNamara and Ross Gilpatrick, deputy, were at odds with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were hardly speaking to each other unless they absolutely had to.
Oddly enough, the liaison between the Secretary of Defenseís office and the Joint Chiefs was in most cases effected by myself and an Army Major General Tick Bonesteel whoíd been a Rhodes Scholar, who was military assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He and I kept that liaison going, and it was recognized, and McNamara and Gilpatrick suggested it was very important that I get me a general officer as a military assistant. So what Iím bringing up is that relationship business was important. In fact, when Harold Brown — I was already out of the government — was offered the Secretary of Air (Harold is brilliant, but he was and probably still is not very personable, does not have a natural quality of leadership or whatever the words are; you know, itís a hard thing to explain), he asked me to help him. I counseled with the senior Air Force generals and advised Harold: do this, donít do this. So what Iím trying to say is that there are people a lot, lot, lot smarter than I am, but being effective in this milieu may not be the same thing. No, Iím very serious.
Aaserud:Sure, thereís a lot of people to deal with. So this was a period of two years that you were Deputy Director under York?
Stern:Well, no. Herb was only at the beginning. He had had a heart attack and he left and Harold Brown came in, May of 1961.
Aaserud:Yes, but it was those two, and Foster came later.
Stern:Yes. I counseled Johnny when he came in. I was out, but I counseled him. Iíd been on some committee with Johnny Foster somewhere or other. I donít know.
Aaserud:Yes, there was pretty strong activity in these committees, yes, that makes it hard to —
Stern:They were good. I mean, they could be very useful.
Aaserud:Yes, but they are hard to distinguish between so long after. We donít have a list of the precise years, so I donít know if you remember all these involvements.
Aaserud:No. So during those two years, what do you consider your most important contributions? What was the most interesting?
Stern:One of which, I want you to read that thing on permissive action link.
Aaserud:I didnít do that, yes. Thatís right.
Stern:Now, whatís interesting about that, there were like eight or ten disjoint activities I did. Only within the last year or year and a half when I wrote that do I realize, these disjoint activities Ė- undesigned — all contributed to one thing. I did several things. Youíll have to stop the tape so I can thinkÖ
Aaserud:Weíre back again after a short intermission.
Stern:After the break, I realize I wanted to make a couple of points. I am not, never was, an outstanding either scientist or mathematician. I may have made minor contributions, but I was not great. On the other hand, Iíve been reasonably effective in helping recognize where good science could be put to work, and in helping put it to work, and very significantly, Iíve had a lot of luck. I was in the government during the era of John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, where there were unusual people, and during an era when we were able to get things done. They recognized, they appreciatedóand this is very unusual. I just want to make sure you understand that.
All right? Because I rethought that when I was trying to list how to respond to what were the most significant things I was involved in the government. I want to start with the SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan. Thatís the nuclear strategic application of force. The first one was put together in 1961. It was called the SIOP 1962. When we went out to hear it, Bob McNamara, Roswell Gilpatrick, Lemnitzer, Herb York and I, the plan was — in effect, we close our eyes, push all the buttons. In fact, Tommy Power, who was a four star general — he was CINC SAC at the time — literally made the statement to McNamara, I hope you donít have any friends in such and such an area, which may not have been involved in the war, but they would be wiped out anyway. When the SIOP 1962 was first briefed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the statement was made that, whether the Chinese were involved or not, no alternative, we throw everything, and so many — a couple of hundred million — Chinese go. The Chiefs didnít say anything except for General Shoup, the Marine Commandant. He said, ďI think thatís un-American.Ē All right, so the SIOP 1962 was what Herman Kahn would have called a wargasm.
So one of the significant things I did was this. One evening, Alain Enthoven, who worked for me, and Bill Kaufman, an economist at Harvard or MIT, and I spent a night with Bob McNamara, showing him what the difference would be if we had four levels of response. Clearly the first is to blunt his nuclear attack upon us. In other words, the US, number one, does not initiate, we respond. If he attacks us, the first priority is to blunt that. The next priority is to strike his pol, petroleum, oils, and lubricants, and nuclear reserves and so and so and so on. The last thing, number four, would be the punitive retaliation against cities. At this point, it is useful to remember that the first military writings we know about strategy were by the Chinese Sun Tzu about 400 BC. He enumerated in order of priority the five things you attack on the enemy. One, his mind; two, his strategy; three, his alliances; four, his army, only if necessary; five, never his cities, never his people. All right, so we explained that you can have these four stages. You can do the first one and hope you can get him to stop.
You know, and we go on and on. Bob McNamara, who is very new to all this but extremely intelligent — this was late at night — said, ďall right.Ē He understands this, but what good is it unless the other guy does the same thing? You know. Whereupon I shouted, ďYouíre right! You use pedagogic techniques. The two are, you tell him, and then you teach him to learn for himself.Ē McNamara told them, in his famous Ann Arbor speech of May 1962. We would withhold hitting the cities, blah, blah. But forcing him to learn for himself — by chance, the Cuban missile crisis. What happened is, before the possible hassle over Berlin, in the end of 1961, I had gotten involved in some things, as a result of which I had ascertained that the Soviets had never deployed a nuke outside their borders. They would not deploy their nuclear weapons in satellite countries. Obviously, they were concerned lest they be used against them. You know. That is why in the Cuban missile crisis — when some Cubans took over a Soviet SAN when they werenít supposed to, and knocked down one of our Navy reconnaissance aircraft — Kennedy, in his television speech, had told Khrushchev, ďYouíve never deployed nukes outside your borders. If you put them in Cuba, this is the first time. Weíll hold you responsible.Ē So Khrushchev was faced with the reality, lest some Cubans take over one of his nukes and throw it here, it wouldnít be able to reach the Soviets, but it could reach here, and he would be in a nuclear war.
So that was the forcing to learn for himself. I thought that was very significant, to change from the wargasm to this, call it a flexible response. I donít care what you call it — you donít blow up the world. Involved in this, not unrelated, the Minuteman missile was starting out. It had one single target. Remember, the scheme was, you shut your eyes and you throw everything. Well, that made no sense. I wanted to introduce a dual or a multiple target capability in the Minuteman. The Secretary of Air had the Air Force exercise this. They came back; it would cost 600 million dollars. I knew that was horseshit. I literally, I guess I violated the laws, I stopped the minuteman program. Remember, I was there during an interesting era. We had a lot of authority. I stopped the funding of the Minuteman program until they would give me a more objective response. So he called in Jim Fletcher, who is now head of NASA, who was at Ramo-Woolridge when I was hassling with them. Heís got a doctorate in math. Heís a very intelligent guy. They ran an exercise, came back with a cost of 60 million dollars, so with that I gave them the money. But interestingly enough, hereís where you get a little bit of algebra.
To teach the military the utility of this, I put it in another form. Let me give you a simplistic calculation I gave them. Letís assume, which isnít far from correct, that a reliability of a missile is 80 percent. Letís assume you want greater than 95 percent kill probability against a certain target. That means you have to pre-assign two missiles per target, since 1 minus .8, is .2, two missiles means you square that, you have .04, so the probability of success is 1 minus .04 is .96. Thatís high enough. If you have a multiple target capability, and if you have a simple radio transmitting back whether the missile has cut off properly or not against a hundred targets, you shoot 100 missiles, and you know which 80 targets youíve gotten. Against the remaining 20, you reprogram the targets, and you shoot 20, you get 16 of them. Here again, you get 96 out of 100. So you only use 120 missiles, whereas before you had to program 200 against the 100 targets. So from the point of view of greater efficiency, in the use of force — it was these kinds of arguments with which I was able to prevail upon the military to show them that it was to their advantage also. You see what I mean? So I did a lot of that kind of thing, to the point where Curt LeMay asked Jimmy Doolittle, who had been a hero in World War II — he ran the Tokyo air raid, you know — and all the old retired generals who were heroes to get together to hear me out, to see if they could understand what I was doing! And it was a very good exercise, you know. OK, I just thought Iíd throw that in. But those kinds of things, theyíre merely evidence of the kind of thing I did.
Aaserud:So you were able to communicate with them.
Stern:I was able to communicate with them. Also, from this action I began — let me put it this way: I was able to get it done. I was fortunate. We had Bob McNamara, either Herb York, Harold Brown, you know. And we had a President who was an intelligent guy, so we were able to accomplish a lot of things. Another one, a prelude to something Iím doing now, —
Aaserud:While weíre at the permissive action thing, is it possible to have a copy of this? [Stem to Peter Stein 11 Dec. 1985; copy attached to interview.]
Aaserud:Because it would be nice to deposit with the interview.
Aaserud:Thank you. Is there anything you want to add to it?
Stern:No. Oh, at that conference, I learned a lot of other people were peripherally involved also. Itís not a brilliant idea. Itís an obvious idea, you know. No, it is. But I pride myself on being fortunate also, being in a position to get it implemented. In fact, Harold Brown realized thatóthis is an aside. Well, I donít want to go into details. If youíre interested I will, but it ended up, he turned to Bob McNamara, and pointed at me, and said, ďNow you know who runs the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Ē You know. I was able to get things accomplished. Thatís very important, you know.
Aaserud:Yes. Are there otherÖ?
Well, hereís one, which is a prelude to something Iím doing now. In the strategic area at that time, you had the B-70. It made no sense. I was able to have it canceled. There were two of them that were just about completed, so I kept them alive, but I turned them into an RS-70, a reconnaissance strike bomber. I wanted to see what could the man do that the blind missile couldnít do. I was still impressed with this wargasm of shut your eyes and shoot. So I made them into an RS. I just wanted to see. Gene Fubini, who was deputy for research — I was deputy for weapon systemsótried to embarrass me in front of Bob McNamara. He said, ďWhat can a man do? Heís going Mach 3, so many frames per second and so on, so many bits of data per frame, he canít handle it.Ē Now, remember, this was 1961. I felt I had to say something. My response — I found myself saying the following. I said, ďYou know, Gene, weíre in Washington. We go to a lot of cocktail parties. Consider we go to one, there are all men in dark suits. And in the middle is a naked gal. Gene Fubini comes in, he line scans, he correlates all the data, to come up with the fact of the naked gal.Ē I said, ďThat isnít the way it happens. That signature, that image, pops out and hits you right in the face.Ē The reason I go through this story is, Iím now, as you know, working on getting Ė- approaching — zero CP for strategic weapons, namely, on the order of ten feet, which will allow you to negate a significant number of the strategic targets without even using nuclear weapons. This has to do with being able to create images with various kinds of sensors and do image processing.
Currently, as rapidly as the computer industry is moving along, still, to do the linear arithmetic calculations — theyíre like 10 to the 11th or 12th VAX — whatever equivalent operations itís just too much to do in real time. There is now being worked onóat the University of Michigan, where Iím helping — an image morphological approach which in effect does what I said. Consider a two dimensional image. The pixels — picture elements — are either black or white, you know. Well, that really is a binary set in two dimensions. I already kind of sucked you in: I used the word ďset.Ē Thatís amenable to set theoretic operationsóunion, intersection, and so on, Bodean algebra and all that. And then there are some others that we introduce — erosion, dilation. Anyway, you could do the kind of things weíre talking about. So thatís exciting. Thatís a little off the subject.
Aaserud:That was much later.
Stern:What else did I do there? Oh, I did a lot of things. I donít know. To sum up, I was very fortunate. I was there at a time when we were able to do a lot of things.
Aaserud:You had a lot of freedom in that position.
Aaserud:How were York and —
Stern:Well, remember, Herb left in early 1961. Haroldís a brilliant fellow. I mean, absolutely.
Aaserud:How would you compare them as bosses?
Stern:Oh, Herb has more depth, more personable. Harold is sharper. Once you get to know Harold, itís all right. But Harold is not a manager. But heís absolutely brilliant.
Aaserud:Did that affect your work there? Did you have a different experience with each of them?
Stern:No, I managed.
Aaserud:You were left pretty much alone?
Stern:Well, I wouldnít say, pretty much left alone, but they were very cooperative.
Aaserud:But you said, for example, that you held off the funding of Minuteman for a while.
Aaserud:And you were able to do that. I mean, that suggests that you had quite some power in that position.
Stern:Well, probably because Bob McNamara kind of latched onto me. In fact I have a terrible story. He borrowed me for a big exercise which I ran. Afterwards, he was so impressed, he called me in and he said he wanted to borrow me. Herb York was still there. It was right at the beginning of McNamaraís career. He called Herb and asked if he could borrow me on a regular basis, other than R and E. This had to do with much more operational management issues. Herb said he couldnít spare me. So McNamara continued. He wanted me. He negotiated with Herb York, as a result of which 10 percent of my time was to be reserved for Herb York. (Laughter).
Aaserud:Well, of course, both Herb York and Harold Brown were physicists, right?
Aaserud:Partly, what Iím investigating is the relative role of physicists in science advising. I donít know if that made any difference, as far as youíre concerned, that they were physicists?
Stern:Oh, absolutely. What we were doing wasnít physics or mathematics. All right? What we were doing —
Aaserud:But I mean, does that signify some different kind of general approach?
Stern:Having done good scientific or technical work, even though in a role like weíre talking about, where you donít do anything creative, you have a nose for what is reasonable or not, and when presentations are given to you, obviously in science, youíre qualified to judge. But even not quite science and technology, you still can ask critical questions. Let me give you a stupid example. I was out of the government. It was during Vietnam, and something happened which was very foolish. I wonít go into the details since they might be classified. I was on a PSAC panel, and I wanted the Defense Department to do something, so they set up a committee. In fact, it was under Gene Fubini, who was then an Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Aaserud:Yes, now we go forward in time toÖ?
Stern:This was 1965, 1966. I remember I audited one of the meetings of his panel. There were reports being given, and a Navy captain responded that the Navy had not yet done anything yet because, after all, to do this took 20 signatures in the Navy. So I asked Gene, ďMay I speak?Ē He said, ďOh, sure.Ē I said to the Navy captain, ďCaptain, by your statement you imply that these signatures could not be done in parallel, they must be done in series.Ē He said, ďYes, sir.Ē I said, ďBy that you imply thatís necessitated by the chain of command.Ē ďYes, sir.Ē I said, ďWell, be informed that from an organization and management point of view, the normal span of control is six, eight, or ten. The lowest span of control that makes any sense is two; namely, one on one really makes no sense. So be advised that the number two to the twentieth is one million. There arenít one million people in the Navy. And youíre full of shit.Ē Now, does that take technical training, to be able to do that? Iím not sure. Iím not sure. But thatís the kind of thing Iím alluding to. You see, it isnít the technical training per se. You know?
Aaserud:No. But after all, World War II was seen as the physicistsí war, and relatively speaking there were more physicists in that kind of position than say mathematicians or biologists.
Stern:Look, Iím on committees now, where the technical detail is beyond me. I mean, itís unreal, what these kids know. Itís scary. Still, I apparently make some contribution, in weeding out nonsense.
Aaserud:Yes. Maybe we should go on through your career just briefly, and then go on to JASON afterwards.
Stern:Whatever you want.
Aaserud:Weíve passed that point anyway. Unless you have something more to add on those two years, which were crucial in your career, we could go on to the circumstances for your leaving government in 1962.
Stern:I ran out of money. I had been married before, had a couple of kids. I left. I remarried my former secretary. We have three kids. There is an article which Iíll be happy to show you, in the SATURDAY EVENING POST at that time, talking about the low pay for government people, and in it, it shows a picture of me packing up my office. It says, ďDr. Stern says that his experience in government was the most stimulating and rewarding of his career, and he is leaving to take a high paying job in industry.Ē
Aaserud:So you actually had to leave, for economic reasons.
Aaserud:So how did you choose your next position? How did that come about? Thatís North American Aviation, right?
Stern:Oh, I donít know. A variety of circumstances. I donít know. But I went there as corporate vice president of research and engineering. I had the VP of planning under me — the VP of research and development. I had learned a lot from working for McNamara; I really had. So I apparently was very effective. After a year and a half the chairman of the board died, and the president, sounded out the division managers, whether Iíd be acceptable as executive vice president. They were then the largest defense contractor in the country.
Aaserud:Yes, as Convair had been before.
Stern:Yes. Well, Convair was only part of General Dynamics.
Aaserud:Oh yes, right.
Stern:And the North American Washington lobbyist came in and tried me on for size, and something in the way he spoke I didnít like. I had an informal investigation run, and I spoke to Bob McNamara. To make a long story short, McNamara spoke to the President. Phil Graham, who ran the WASHINGTON POST and NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE, spoke with the President. The President gave the signal, and this was blowing the whistle on one called Bobby Baker. He got put in jail, and I had to leave the company. Thatís the story of my life. (Laughter).
Aaserud:That was in 1964, OK.
Stern:I did that. Líenfant terrible.
Aaserud:But otherwise what did you accomplish in the company?
Stern:Oh, well, the fact that within a year and a half they wanted to make me executive vice president suggests I did accomplish a great deal, you know. Oh no, itís amazing how —. Well, let me make a general statement. These major companies donít realize that all they have to do is try to emulate the kind of analyses that should be going on within government, to decide what is best for the government, and then to work on those things, rather than to try to sell the government things you happen to make, you know what I mean?
Stern:So, thatís really what I introduced there, an orderly or a proper approach to looking at how you do your job. The government isnít your enemy.
Aaserud:You didnít encounter any conflict of interest problems, going directly from government to industry?
Stern:Well, I leaned over backwards much more than I should have, more than anybody. Before I left the government — Iíll never forget — I wrote a memorandum to the general counsel that said, ďI interviewed with a major company. I may go to work there. Iíve informed General OíNeill who was one of my military assistants of the name of the company, and from here on, Iíll have nothing to do with that company.Ē I remember the counsel bumped into me in the hall and said, ďWhy did you do that, why did you write this?Ē I said, ďLook, I thought it was the right thing to do.Ē When I went to North American, I literally had this great relationship with Bob McNamara. I literally stopped speaking to him till a year and a half or so later when this thing came up and I had to blow the whistle on Bobby Baker. Let me tell you what kind of guy Bob McNamara is. This is very important. I was in Washington one afternoon, a Friday afternoon. I hadnít spoken to him for a year and a half. Oh, Iíd spoken to Harold Brown, Iíd spoken to others, you know. I had a gal call the Secretary of Defense, ďTell him I want to see him.Ē I got back word, heíd see me at 4 oíclock that day. Now, there was a 5:30 airplane from Dulles to Los Angeles, so impetuously I said, ďNo, thatís too late.Ē So I get back word, all right, heíll see me at 1:30. I get in there. I looked at his calendar. He had the British ambassador scheduled at 1:30 and he moved him off. You know. OK, so I spoke to him about this thing, and he responded, boom. The whistle got blown. Oh, something else. As a result of that scandal, I was on ice. For about a year McNamara had me consult for him. OK. Remember, during that same period of time, that interim, in Britain, there was the Profumo scandal. Gals, you know. McNamara or somebody had the bright idea, why not come back to the government and set up and run for the Department of Defense an IG — Inspector General — operation? Iím not a cop, you know. Thatís not my thing. I just happened to come across this. So in turning him down, I thought Iíd make a joke. I said, ďIím not a cop, thatís not my thing.Ē I said, ďFor instance, even in the Baker scandal, there were girls involved.Ē I said, ďI didnít know there were girls. If I had known, I would never have blown the whistle.Ē He looked up at me very hard. I said, ďIím kidding, Iím kidding!Ē No, but he took very seriously this scandal thing.
Stern:Oh yes. And he wanted me to come back and be a cop. Thatís not my thing.
Aaserud:So you didnít.
Stern:No. No. I spent a year kind of on ice like that. Then I went and IÖ did a turnaround of the Keasfott Division of what was then General Precision. Itís now part of the Singer Company.
Aaserud:OK. Well, how do you compare this different involvement within industries? Are they very different?
Stern:Oh yes. Well, the Keasfott thing was a very little thing. I apparently was most effective in very large organizations. In North American Aviation, I was very effective. In the Department of Defense, I was very effective. Sure, I did a turnaround at Keasfott. When I came there, they were going under a hundred million dollar volume. Their competitor was Litton Guidance and Control Division, which was doing 200 million. In about three years, those roles were reversed. You know. I was lucky. We did some new things, and they worked.
Aaserud:Those were management positions.
Stern:Yes. But in relatively technical areas. Oh yes. Just ordinary management, thatís not my thing.
Aaserud:Right, so you didnít prostitute yourself completely.
Aaserud:OK, then we come to the RAND Corporation. Why did you leave industry to go to a think tank for a couple of years?
Stern:Well, a couple of reasons. I lost this sailing race July 9, 1966. When I saw them give out a trophy that I should have received, I had a heart attack. They took me from the lake to the hospital. So, OK, I went to RAND. Harry Rowen, who had been at RAND, then at Department of Defense, then at the Bureau of the Budget, came back to RAND to become president, and he prevailed upon me to come to start a non-defense division of the RAND Corporation. Whereas RAND had been so successful in putting together different scientists and economists and political scientists, and had come up with a language or a mathematics between them which was, I guess, operation analysis, systems analysis, which was applied so successfully to problems of the military, in this era 1967, the Great Society, blah blah — could we do similar things with problems of society? So I brought in all the big consultants: Nathan Glazer, a sociologist from Harvard; Marty Lipset, whoís a sociologist or political scientist; John Coleman, a big economist whoís at the London School of Economics; and Tom Shelling. You know, all these outstanding men. And we tried to create some language or a mathematics, if I can use that word in a very generic way, and I failed. Everybody failed. I failed. Itís much more difficult.
Aaserud:But you were brought in specifically to start that new program.
Stern:Yes. I was the vice president to start this whole thing. Number 1, itís not my cup of tea, but number 2, itís much more difficult to quantify. Oh, theyíre still doing a lot of work in hospital care and this and that.
Aaserud:The RAND New York office is non-defense.
Stern:Yes. Oh yes, that was the —
Aaserud:Was that a result of this?
Aaserud:OK, so you did something that lasted.
Stern:Oh yes, but nothing real profound.
Aaserud:Was that an expression of your own desires at the time, to turn to something non-defense?
Stern:No. I was asked — would you look it? No, it was not my own desire. Then Teddy Walkowicz — did you know him?
Aaserud:No, I donít.
Stern:He worked for Laurence Rockefeller. I had a proposition then. I started a venture capital, an affiliate of New York Investment Banking House. It was interesting. It was to look at new technology-related start-ups, you know. I brought in some good economists and technologists, about half a dozen. It was very fascinating, till the financial markets collapsed in about 1970, and the Investment Banking House went out. They sold themselves to White Weld. So I got out of that. Just then, I got a proposition about exploring opening up trade with the Soviets, and the staff at the White House was interested. They didnít want to get involved directly yet, but some Soviet vice ministers were coming over, and the White House staff asked would I usher them around the captains of industry and measure the response. A New York Trading Company wanted me to consult in this area. So I looked into that, and it was interesting. Then about six to nine months later, the detente started, and I was the instant overnight expert, having done this. So IBM had me help them, and Raytheon, and the Foxboro Company of Foxboro, Massachusetts, and Computer Sciences. I would bounce back and forth to Moscow, interact with the Soviet State Committee on Science and Technology. And about 1972 already, Jerry Wiesner called me, ďCould I get Sakharov out?Ē I said, ďSpeak to Armand Hammer, thatís his —Ē I mean it. You know. It was interesting.
Aaserud:It says Maul Technology Corporation.
Stern:Oh, thatís another. One of the fellows who used to work for me at Keasfott ended up running some company. He asked me would I be a director.
Aaserud:So those government things you did on the side.
Stern:Oh yes. But that wasnít highly government. In order to do the Russian bit, I cleansed myself of a lot of high level clearances I had.
Aaserud:So you dealt with science from a lot of points of view.
Stern:Yes. Let me give you one thing. Since I became relatively knowledgeable early in the Russian exercise, I remember I interacted a lot with Ed David. Ed David had come up through Bell Labs, as head of communications research. Then he and I were on some government committees together. Then he ended up — he was the Science Advisor to the President at the time. I remember coming in, and meeting with him, and telling him, ďYou know, Iíve been running around with very high level Russians now, and probably before most qualified Americans.Ē And I gave him my judgment. The Russians, I felt, on the theoretical end of science and technology, on the average were a little ahead of us. They read everything. Unbelievable. The vice chairman of the Soviet State Committee on Science and Technology, Ghermain Gvislvani, was the son-in-law of Kosygin. I came into his office. He had FORTUNE MAGAZINE on his desk! Itís ridiculous. He spoke English impeccably. They read like crazy. On the other hand, in the applications, theyíre behind us. It was very interesting. Probably because they honor their academicians, but they do not give incentive for good guys to go into the applications area. But itís a very interesting revelation, I found.
Aaserud:Yes. To what extent did you have contact with science in the Soviet Union?
Oh, I had. Not defense related; all on the commercial side, you know, except one ministry clearly had both, but I was on this side. Iíll tell you a very charming story. It has nothing to do with this, but you must hear it. I had helped arrange a deal for the Foxboro Company of Foxboro, Massachusetts, which does instrumentation, you know, automation, blah blah blah, and process control. In this instance, I was hosting a dinner party in a private dining room in Moscow. On my side of the table was the chairman of the board of the Foxboro Company and other executives. On the other side of the table was the Soviet vice minister of the Ministry of Instrumentation, Automation, blah blah and others. Every Soviet ministry is supported by a technical institute, and in this instance, a very old distinguished Professor, Naumov was chairman or head of the Soviet Institute for Instrumentation and Automation, blah blah. He was there, and he had a great reputation. A couple of months hence, the US was hosting an International Conference on Instrumentation and Automation and all that, and several Soviet scientists had applied for visas, and had obtained them. Professor Naumov had applied. His hadnít come through. They knew I had once been in the government and they assumed I was still connected, so he asked me right in front of the other guys, did I know anything about his visa application? Well, as it happened I had made an informal inquiry.
I found out when this very old distinguished Professor Naumov had been a young man, he was on a two year exchange professorship at MIT, during which time he had made a gal pregnant. Now, on the grounds of moral turpitude, our State Department was not going to grant him a visa. Thatís idiotic, but there was nothing I could do about it. But Iím not going to tell him that in front of the brass; theyíre liable to hang him. So I hem and haw and kid around, and end up with something like, ďA handsome old devil like you we would be concerned about letting you into the country.Ē He knew right away what I was alluding to, and he responds — again, he doesnít want anybody else to know. He says, ďDr. Stern, I want you to know, in my youth I was very much involved in hardware. At my age, only software.Ē No one knew what we were talking about, just he and I. That was charming. So you can see, I did interact with the senior scientists.
Aaserud:Yes. You have an impressive list of consulting experiences. We obviously canít go through all that.
Aaserud:But if thereís something that youíd like to point to, I mean, thereís the Hudson Institute.
Stern:Let me see the list.
Stern:Iíve done many things, none of them too well, but Iíve done a lot of different things. Itís been fun.
Aaserud:Which was the first one of these? That I could ask. There are no years.
Stern:Well, I told you, the Air Force Science Advisory Board, which von Karman had me get involved in. Then the AGARD — I donít think thatís even on there — the Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development in NATO. Then, that summer thing for the ďToward New Horizons in the Air ForceĒ which was really National Academy of Sciences sponsored.
Aaserud:1964, was it?
Stern:No, that was back in 1956.
Aaserud:Iím sorry. Iím just mixing up. Of course, you quit your involvement in industry. You stayed with Maul Technology, which we havenít talked about.
Stern:Well, that was a directorship. I do that on the side. I did that on the side.
Aaserud:Right, but you had time to do other things during that period.
Stern:Oh, that — you go to a meeting once every month or two, thatís all.
Aaserud:OK. And since then youíve been free lancing.
Stern:Oh yes. Oh, Iíve been doing consulting now for I donít know how many years.
Aaserud:You told me yesterday about your two main interests now.
Stern:Those are my current main ones, yes.
Aaserud:So maybe you could just repeat them for the record, and then we could go to JASON after that.
OK. When I got back in the Defense milieu, in 1977, Harold Brown and I spoke about what I might do. Two things. One, he had me get on a Defense Science Board Task Force on High Energy Lasers, probably the forerunner of Star Wars. Herb York was chairman. Johnny Foster was on it. I donít know anything about lasers, but what the hell. Many of us were kind of negative, and in groping for something positive, other than the high energy lasers, when some of us heard about the possibility of a blue green laser, it doesnít take much imagination to suspect it may go through seawater. We suggested they spend a few million dollars to explore that. And then, that was done under DARPA, who then got me to consult for them on that program. Iíve been monitoring that ever since, and thatís moved along. I ran two NRAC, Naval Research Advisory Committee, panels on it, three and a half years ago. Iím just winding up running another one to take a look at where it stands after these years. Iím going next week to Washington to brief senior admirals in the Navy, blah blah blah. What it does is that it allows you, by using —. Well, number 1, there are some frequencies that will transmit through clouds, through seawater, to significant depths.
By pulse code modulating, you can communicate to a submarine at depth and at speed, at significant data rates, not like ELF. There was Bassoon, which devolved into Sanguine, which devolved to something else, which finally ends up ELF, which is not a communication device, itís a bell ringer. You canít communicate at any data rate really. But it rings a bell and the sub has to come up or put something up to receive normal communication. That both loses time and makes the sub vulnerable. To be able to communicate at significant data rates to a submarine at depth and at speed has great utility, blah blah. Unfortunately, being new, it treads on shoes, and this is my — one of my fortes — where I can work with senior military people to make them understand that itís to their advantage, you know, even though it changes operational concepts, and it impairs, intrudes on, sacred cows. Basically, the submarine service, ďthe silent service,Ē wants to be the silent service. They donít want to be communicated with, because that means you can command them. They want to prowl on their own. Well, you know, that doesnít make much sense any more. Oh, youíre from Norway? Well, the coast there — OK.
Aaserud:Is that a continuation of the Sanguine? Or is it a competitor with it?
Stern:No, no, no, itís completely different. Completely. One has nothing to do with the other. This is a communication system. It competes with VLF and a bunch of other devices, but all of which required the submarine to come up, which loses a great deal of time, and to in effect expose himself, make himself vulnerable. As a result, they do not come up and communicate, blah blah blah, so one can significantly, you know, improve the effectivity or productivity of the submarines with this.
Aaserud:Is this something you have been involved in from the beginning?
Stern:Yes. From the very beginning. Again, Iím not a laser expert. But it doesnít matter.
Aaserud:When was the beginning?
Stern:Back in 1977, 1978, we came out with a report. DARPA started to work on it in 1978. They flew the first experiment Memorial Day weekend, 1981, off of San Clemente. And on and on.
Aaserud:Which institutions are involved in this?
Stern:Oh, well, DARPA started it. And I was involved in getting up a memorandum of agreement, memorandum of understanding, between the director of DARPA and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, such that DARPA continues some workómore the far reaching stuff — and the Navy begins to pick up the applications stuff. So the Navy is now — currently weíre talking some 30, 40 million dollars a year — still in the advanced technology program. The expectation is that in two and a half years, if things continue to go as well as they have, it will go through whatís called Milestone 2, full scale engineering development, the initial operational capability being mid-1990s. Three billion dollars for just the initial operational capability. Itís major.
Aaserud:It is contracted out to industry?
Stern:Oh yes, there are several contractors. And there will be more competitions. Itís still an advanced technology program. But by now, the handwriting should be on the wall.
Aaserud:Right. And your other interest was in —
Oh, the other interest. Interestingly enough, when I got to talk, when I spoke, to Harold Brown, when I got back into Defense in 1977, I had previously introduced stellar martial guidance into whatís now called Trident. We had come up with a very novel scheme, which is used on the Trident I and II for guidance — very high accuracy. You get more accuracy out of that than from the MX, which knows its launch point accurately, yet from a submarine that doesnít even know where it is very accurately. So in a meeting with Harold after years, we were reminiscing. I reminisced about that, and then I got into looking at even improving what was being done on the Trident 1. I did a study for the Office of the Secretary of Defense which in a small way helped lay the groundwork for the Trident 2, which has even much more accuracy than the Trident 1. Two things. One, this study I did was the utility of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile improved accuracy. One of the gaps in that study I found was, the failure of being able to communicate to a sub at any significant data rate.
Thatís why I really got interested in the other subject also, submarine laser communications. But then, thatís about as accurate as youíre going to do without some kind of a smart front end. You know what I mean? So now the other area that Iím actively interested in is doing a smart front end, which Iím now convinced can be done, in a variety of ways, to give you some three, five meter accuracy. What it opens up is being able to do many things without even having to pierce the nuclear threshold. And so out of that, Iíve also convinced the Office of the Secretary of Defense to get the RAND Corporation, which has now started to do it, to look at some years hence, given this technology this capability, blah blah — how would you apply those forces? Namely, I wrote the work statement, Iím advising on it. Are you interested in this? I donít want to bore you?
Stern:All right. Consider some years, not many years, hence. Some years hence, both of us, the Soviets and the US, each have a mixture of strategic weapons; in other words, weíve cut down some of our nuclear forces. We each have some nuclear, some nonnuclear strategic capability. Mind you, the word strategic, the word nuclear, are not synonymous. I have trouble with that; every time I speak to a general audience, they automatically assume that strategic presumes nuclear — you know. We each have both nuclear strategic and non-nuclear strategic capability; itís a two person kind of symmetric game. The issue is, how do you selectively use your non-nuclear strategic in a game-theoretic way, so that you donít induce the other guy to pierce the nuclear threshold? You know what I mean? There are things you do, things you do not do. Thereís a tacit allowance of intelligence, this is equivalent to a two person game with recall, so he knowsóitís very interesting. So Iím active in both the technology, the sensors, the processing, and in the RAND thing, the game stuffóhow do you apply those kinds of forces?
Aaserud:Yes. I asked you also yesterday about the input of this into the present administration. I wonder if you want to go into that.
Stern:Well, itís complicated. Except, because of the geopolitical stuff thatís going on world-wide, regardless of the domestic political or ideological stuff, this area is gaining great interest, in spite of everything.
Aaserud:What about the kind of technical advising when you started, and now? For example, the developing use of systems analysis. To what extent has the conceptual kind of treatment of these problems changed on the way?
Stern:Well — sorry?
Aaserud:Itís a very broad question.
Stern:One gains a great deal of humility. You see these little kids who know so much; it scares you! Itís unreal. And they use words Iíve never even heard of. But I always think back to the following, that group of outstanding scientists I ran for Convair, back in 1956. There was a briefing — the first time they briefed the group — on the possibility of solid propellants, all right instead of liquid. And one of them spoke about why you have to be alert to cracks in the solid propellant. Eugene Wigner stopped and said, ďWhat is a crack?Ē And the briefer looked, he didnít know, this is Eugene Wigner! Who was the most outstanding mathematical physicist in the country if not the world. He looks and he says, ďWhat does this mean — a crack?Ē No, the point is, Eugene Wigner could have asked a simple question like, ďWhat is a crack?Ē Iím not humbled by asking simple questions now of these brilliant young kids.
Aaserud:What kind of problems is it that are different now? Is it systems analysis?
Stern:Well, let me take of f on one or two of those things, without violating any rules. Let me take off on two things without violating any rules. Letís see, how can I do that? One, you remember I was out of the Defense milieu for about ten years, okay?
Stern:1967 to 1977. About. You know. I come back in, and I start getting brought up to speed a little bit, and boy, the Russians have deployed nuclear weapons all through the satellite countries. I said, ďGee, when I was involved, I looked deeply into this and the Russians never did.Ē They were scared theyíd be taken over, you know, and used against them. Oh, absolutely, oh my gosh. Then the Polish uprising, and I came in. I embarrassed the shit out of the director of the National Intelligence Estimate, who at the time was Harry Rowen at the CIA, and out of the director of NET Assessment at the Office of Secretary of Defense, working between Defense and the CIA, when I said the following. I said, ďYou know, I could not have designed a better experiment. With this Polish uprising, have you looked to see what have the Russians done to enhance the security of the nukes that you say theyíve got stored in Poland?Ē And I got these blank looks, in response. Two or three months later, they finally responded. They looked, and they were wrong and I was right. So my point is, these simple questions, you know, carry a great deal of weight. They really do. Iím sorry to go into that.
Aaserud:No, no. Fine.
Stern:I mean, you couldnít have designed a better experiment.
Aaserud:So the moral is that you still feel useful, even though there are technical questions.
Stern:Yes, and similarly, in another area. Are you interested in this? I can go into another one.
The other one is a little more profound. All right? Ten years ago, we found that the Russians were devoting a lot of money to the C3-communications, command, control. The US responded. We started spending a lot of money on C3. Then we find the Russians have started to spend a lot of money on counter-C3, so the US responds to that. Then I go in and I ask, exactly in the line weíre talking about. I say, ďYou know, itís not a symmetric game. Consider the matrix between the expenditures the Soviets should give on C3 and counter-C3 versus the expenditures the US should give on C3 and counter-C3. The matrix of influence coefficients is not symmetric.Ē What do I mean by that? Culturally, from a management, from a military point of view, the Russians have a much more rigid chain of command than the US. We tell a commander, ďDo this and donít bother me,Ē and heís privileged to even ask a lateral commander for help. OK, our local commanders are privileged to ask a lot of men for help. With the Soviets, from a cultural management or military point of view, there isnít that flexibility.
If there is any modification, the request has to go all the way up the chain of command and come on back down. So those influence coefficients arenít the same, and one should play the game, namely, to give you a stupid example of what I mean by that. Analytically, operationally, one may want deliberately to tickle their C3 chain, get them obsessive. They then spend a lot of money in beefing it up, which money we would have pre-calculated as a waste. You know what I mean. So you play the game with a non-symmetric matrix, and politically, you actually look parametrically (?) for different responses and things like that. Anyway, I brought that up. Nobody had thought of that. Half the people didnít even understand it. But thatís neither here nor there. So even though I am not expert — I mean there are kids now that scare you — still, you know, there are some things you could ask. OK?
Aaserud:OK, thatís an example of that. OK, maybe we should get to JASON finally.
Stern:Yes, that will take two minutes because thatís all I —
Aaserud:It will probably take at least five.
Stern:No. Youíll see.
Aaserud:OK. All right, your involvement there started way back when you were still with General Dynamics, right?
Aaserud:So my first question is, what was your institutional affiliation that brought you to the question of establishing JASON?
Stern:At General Dynamics, Oskar Morgenstern and Johnny Wheeler were two of the scientist consultants. And we got to know each other. I had a great deal of respect for them, and they apparently thought a little bit of me also. So when Project 137 started, which — let me remind you, Sputnik was October 4, 1957, the US wanted to figure, what could we do in response? So they gathered up some 23 scientists, and that was Project 137. Eugene Wigner, Oskar Morgenstern, Johnny Wheeler, Murph Goldberger was involved, yes, he was, wasnít he?
Aaserud:He was, yes.
You know, and some others. Somehow or other, Oskar and/or Johnny Wheeler got me involved. It was after that, a few weeks later, in pursuing I guess Bassoon, which came out of 137, we had a meeting — I think it was at Endicott House. I think thatís the name of the place. A wealthy family that made their money from shoes I guess outside Boston, and they offered this palatial estate for use for things like that. It was there during a little recess that I kind of musedÖ I had been giving it some thought, because I had been on several committee exercises — and not 137 per se but others — where I noticed the same individuals from committee to committee, even though they were on different subjects. So I mentioned this to Al Hill. Iíd been thinking, somethingís wrong, you know, how do we infuse new ideas, new blood, blah blah blah.
Particularly, there must be out there young, bright, active academicians who donít even know what the problems are, and some of whom, if exposed, would actually identify a problem, let alone a solution; thatís half of the job, you know. So I mused, there should be a mechanism of taking these selected bright young academicians who might become interested, exposing them to some of the problems of Defense, with no direction, no guidance, nothing, just random exposure to some significant problems, and see what they may identify as areas of useful scientific research, whether itís in defense and national security, or whether itís pure scientific research they may want to do at home in their laboratories, again of their choosing; they have to identify. I mean, exposure, thatís all. Itís called an open loop approach.