>When I was a graduate student at Stanford in the 1960's, as I
>remember, Leonard Schiff was Chair of the Physics Dept., head of the
>Stanford Inst. of of Theoretical Physics and chair of the Air Force
>Science Advisory Committee. A bunch of us students asked Schiff one
>day why the Air Force was funding theoretical physics of elementary
>particles, he answered in his usual cogent and detailed manner with
>a list of perhaps eight reasons, among them that in a "national
>emergency" there would be plenty of highly skilled minds to tap, and
>in the meantime, many of those most highly talented would be
>available to advise the Air force, while lesser talents would be
>available to work for the Air Force full time.
I had a closely corresponding experience at Berkeley in the
late '60s. Funding of research (including mine) by the AEC &/or the
Office of Naval Research was explained by a prof (one of my mentors)
as the means whereby those agencies maintained 'first call' on the
scientific advice of the profs thus funded. In many cases, most
extremely mine, nobody could see any potential use for the research
in any military function. The idea - not, AFAIK, formalised -
was that the agencies wanted to have top priority claims on the
opinions of the profs they funded, and in order to maintain such
channels for potential advice they would fund research that they,
like us, thought to be of no conceivable military use.
>But to some extent I suspect such answers were merely lazy thinking,
>based on the fact that the physics research of the 1930's had led to
>the nuclear bombs, and that, in cold war, one had to stay ahead of
>the opposition, i.e. the Soviets, even if it was quite unclear how
>this could be of use.
Yes, the general rivalry led to many irrational efforts.