Technology and Sovereignty

Wriston, Walter B.

2007

I: Techonology and Sovereignty by Walter B. Wriston for Foreign Affairs

One of history's recurring themes is man's inability to credit information which conflicts with his prejudgments. Examples abound. In her book, , the American historian Barbara Tuchman uses the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as one illustration of this. Despite the fact that Japan had opened the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 by a surprise attack against the Russian fleet, American authorities dismissed the possibility of a similar maneuver in 1941: "We had broken the Japanese code, we had warnings on radar, we had a constant flow of accurate intelligence ... we had all the evidence and refused to interpret it correctly, just as the Germans in 1944 refused to believe the evidence of a landing in Normandy." Tuchman concludes: "Men will not believe what does not fit in with their plans or suit their prearrangements." This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not limited to discrete events.

When major tides of change wash over the world, power structures almost inevitably reject the notion that the world really is changing, and they cling to their old beliefs. In the past some changes came slowly and gave us the time we needed to adjust to a new reality. In the last years of this century, however, the velocity of change in the world has become so great that there are literally no precedents to guide us. Policymakers are discovering that many of the events that are altering the world come not in response to their actions, but are driven by technologies which they may only dimly understand.

 
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  • This document was created from the article, "Technology and Sovereignty" by Walter B. Wriston for the Winter 1988/1989 edition of "Foreign Affairs." The original article is located in MS134.003.027.00008.
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