|Preparing for the Push-Button War|
We are accustomed to the statement that the last war was one of machines, that it was essentially an engineer’s and physicist’s war, and that a third war (if it comes) will be a push-button affair. However, wars are not fought by machines nor even by men alone, but by man-machine combinations. The understanding and management of the human factor will always be critical in time of war as well as in time of peace.
By the close of 1940, psychologists in large numbers were at work in the Army, the Army Air Forces, the General Staff, the Navy, and in the National Defense Research Committee. During the war, they were concerned with such vital problems as psychological warfare, morale, the selection and training of pilots, navigators, gunners, naval gun crews, anti-aircraft height-finder operators, the training of illiterates and mental deficients, the analysis of the basis for error in artillery fire, the selection and training of underwater sound operators for the submarine service, the selection and training of radio code operators, voice communication problems on planes and ships, and particularly (since it was a new problem) the adequate design of equipment to fit the capacities and limitations of the human operator. Many of the psychologists who did this work were in uniform. Many were civilians employed by the services....
So important were the contributions being made by psychologists that in 1943 the Office of Scientific Research & Development... under the immediate direction of the President’s Office, established an Applied Psychology Panel with W.S. Hunter (professor of psychology, Brown University) as chief. Expenditures for research and development under this Panel at the peak were at the rate of one million dollars annually, and this was but a part of the governmental budget for psychology....
The importance of the psychological work done during the war is indicated in part by the fact that President Truman gave the highest civilian award, the President’s Medal for Merit, to Professor Hunter for his service with the Applied Psychology Panel, an award which has gone in all other cases to physicists, chemists, engineers, medical scientists, and men of affairs for their contributions to the winning of the war. – from “Facing the Riddle of Human Behavior,” an unsigned article in the May 1950 BAM.