Had Norbert Wiener Decided to Join the War Efforts?

“Hi! How are you? My name is Norbert Wiener. I was born in Columbia, MO in 1894. I was born right on the brink of

the Age of Immigration after my family had migrated in the early 1880s to the United States. My father, Leo Wiener, was a professor of Germanic and Romance languages at the University of Kansas before moving us to Cambridge, MA to become a

professor at Harvard University where he taught Slavic studies. My father began educating me at a young age and I learned quickly and efficiently. I eventually became so smart that I was considered a child prodigy. While my father was more

interested in foreign language and language composition, he was also skilled in math which I found much more interesting.

I eventually matriculated at Tufts College in Medford and graduated by the time I was 14.

(See what I mean? I was truly a child prodigy.)


Anyway, after graduating from Tufts College (which would later become Tufts University) with a mathematics degree.

Shortly after graduating, I then decided to obtain my doctorate degree from Harvard with a Ph.D. in mathematical logic (after doing a little stint with the zoology department). After graduating from Harvard I went on to study at the University of Cambridge and then to study at the University of Gottingen. However, this is where things got interesting. I really wanted to enter the military when America entered World War I. On three different occasions I attempted to enlist in the army. I was determined. The first time I made my attempt, I was denied commission. The second time I made my attempt, it was because of my poor eyesight. The third and final time I attempted, I was granted a position of a civilian employee in the computational department of ballistics in Aberdeen, MD. It wasn’t on the frontlines, but it was still a cause I was determined to fight for. I did my work under Oswald Veblen who was in charge of my ranks and he promised that if I wanted to transfer departments to work in a more militaristic capacity, that might be possible. I was finally granted a position as a private, but that was only a few months before the war ended. So, I was still able to prove to myself I was capable of fighting, but part of me wonders what my life would have been like had I been granted entry into the Army….”


Diary entry #38, April 23, 1917 “It was like avoiding land mine after land mine, walking on eggshells, and trying not to get caught. I was living in constant fear that I would have been captured by the Germans. Though born an American citizen, there was this ever-growing fear that I could be a suspect and my volunteering misconstrued as trying to serve the enemy from within. While being of both Polish and German descent, I was born in America and obtained the right to my citizenship, but I despise the Central Powers. I am constantly worried Germany is going to try and get me to go fight for them…”

Diary entry #57, May 12, 1917 “We stayed in the trenches for 10 days without seeing a single German. There was piss and poo everywhere I looked. I was horrified and just kept thinking of my mom and dad at home with their regular latrine. Eventually we were relieved and evacuated the trenches. Finally, I was able to sleep without the constant fear that shells and bombs would be sailing across my head at night.”

Diary entry #65, September 2, 1917 “It has been slow over here. I have started practicing math in the dirt with the butt of my gun. I have devised all these formulas that I get so close to completing and then a soldier runs on top of them or the wind blows. Sometimes I think about what my life would be like if I hadn’t joined the Army… But I know my service will be worth it in the end…”

Diary entry #83, January 1, 1918 “Happy New Year! A lot has happened since last I wrote. It is the new year and it feels like things are on the up and up. I have moved battalions and am now working on a special project for the Army that requires me to work with ballistics. It was my responsibility to come up with the algorithm that projected the different trajectories of said ballistics. I find this really interesting because I am able to help the Army, but I am also able to practice mathematics in a way that is proven helpful to the community at large. Through the use of mathematics, these ballistics are able to “communicate” with their trajectory and their end point in a way that helps the soldier predict where the bullet is going to land. I am really excited about where I am now and am excited to see the progress.”

Diary entry #114, May 6, 1918 “I am very excited to write about the newest developments in my Army career. I have now developed a new model of a firearm that will be used in an upcoming battle. It makes me feel quite accomplished and combines my love for my country, mathematics, and innovation. This newest model has me really excited about the future of ballistics and the future of the Army if there is to be another World War…”

Diary entry #120 June 18, 1918 “While it is a sad/happy day, I am sad to announce that I have been discharged from the military. The higher-ups mentioned that they no longer require my services and that I am being moved to Aberdeen, MD to continue on projects for the government. I am excited to continue my work for the U.S. Army and just hope that my work will prove to be as helpful as it was before the Battle of Cantigny.”

Final diary entry #812 October 5, 1960 “As my life comes to an end, I can’t help but to think if my life had been different. I eventually found and married my beautiful wife who accompanied me throughout all my life’s work for the military. I eventually was sent abroad during World War II to work as a General in charge of the ballistic infantry. I worked on automatic weapons and really enjoyed that because I was able to fight on the right side of history, however, I can’t help but think of my life in a different way. And while I was able to help with the Manhattan Project, I always felt like I was excluded for being the prodigy my father tried to shape me to be. Although, had I not tried so hard to enlist in the military… What would my life have been then? While I made great advances for the military, I feel like there was a greater purpose I was supposed to serve. Alas, such is life.”


Had Norbert Wiener enlisted in the military and been invited back to be a General, he would have never founded cybernetics in 1948. After the wars, Wiener became a war critic and opposed almost anyone who supported war efforts. Cybernetics proved to be one of the most important theories in which humans and machines communicate with each other. Wiener believed that information worked as a monitor and a controller and information could be transferred between human and machine. Wiener’s theory helped shape the way people thought about information being processed as well as automatic computation via machines. Cybernetics and Wiener’s findings helps to define and understand how a machine and information operate and the different processes that surround them. Now think, where would the world be without Wiener had he really pushed the envelope on joining the War?