Pro-- and Antiwar Sentiments Clash

Symbol of US electronic industry is of two minds on Gulf effort - a letter from Silicon Valley

SILICON Valley is a melting pot that stews on two separate burners. On one side is the military; on the other, the children of the '60s. Each has played a role in making the valley an economic powerhouse. The war against Iraq has heightened the ideological struggle over how the technology should be used. ``It's a struggle for the heart'' of Silicon Valley, says Lenny Siegel, director of the Pacific Studies Center here in Mountain View, Calif.

A recent report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said that several American and foreign companies had sold military products to Iraq. Two of the electronics firms were in Silicon Valley: Hewlett-Packard (personal computers for Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission) and International Imaging Systems (electronic imaging and photographic equipment).

Of course, several valley companies sell to the United States military, too. ``Ten chips in the Patriot,'' brags T. J. Rodgers, president of Cypress Semiconductor, one of the valley's hottest firms.

In its early years, Silicon Valley relied heavily on funding from the US military. Stanford University's Frederick Terman built up the engineering school after World War II with research and construction contracts from the Defense Department.

In 1956, Lockheed established its research arm for space and missiles here. A year later, its missile and space division started manufacturing in nearby Sunnyvale and became the valley's largest employer. Philco and Sylvania (now Ford Aerospace and GTE, respectively) also set up shop here. Home-grown electronics firms, such as Fairchild Semiconductor and Hewlett-Packard, made large government sales in their early years.

But the valley's commercial electronics industry has overshadowed its military business. Many of valley professionals, if not actively involved in the antiwar movement, were influenced by the Vietnam War, according to Mr. Siegel and John Markoff, coauthors of ``The High Cost of High Tech.''

A draft-resistance organizer called the first meeting of the ``Home Brew'' computer club, a forum that drew some of the pioneers in personal computers. The founders of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, belonged. Another member, Lee Felsenstein, went from making bullhorns for antiwar protests to designing personal computers.

The antiwar sentiment continues today. ``There's all this attention focused on the valley and its ability to wage war,'' Siegel says. But ``a lot of high-tech professionals not only are against war, but are using technology to promote peace.''

When the bombing of Iraq began Jan. 16, for example, the computer bulletin boards were humming with messages of concern, he says. Ten days earlier, he had set up a meeting of war protesters. The group has 350 people on its mailing list.

But if Silicon Valley has its extremes, most people are somewhere in-between. ``The truth is: We have tried to be low key,'' says Gordon Eubanks Jr., head of the Symantec Corporation, a software firm in Cupertino. Mr. Eubanks turned down employees who wanted to use company stationery and the company's computer network to air their political views on the war. The effort is to show sensitivity to employees with loved ones serving in the Gulf. ``I think support for the war is quite strong in Silicon Valley,'' he says.

Warehouse manager Fred Dormishian, who was born in Iran, sees strong support in the valley for the coalition effort. Antiwar sentiment is greater in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 30 miles north, he says.

As college students streamed back to the Bay Area after January recess, universities braced for possible protests. Indeed, professors at San Francisco State University were planning antiwar teach-ins reminiscent of the Vietnam era.

Some of the largest and best-organized antiwar demonstrations took place in the city itself.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Pro-- and Antiwar Sentiments Clash
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today