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See It Like Jones Would: Rocket FUD

In the spirit of the last “Jones” post, we’d like to revisit his narrative on the V-2. One of the key questions Jones and his colleagues struggled with was the size of the rocket and the rocket’s warhead. The experts’ estimates were at times rashly speculative (for which Jones excoriated them—a subject for another post).
      Frustrated with the variation in the intelligence reports and experts’ suppositions, Jones decided to filter the available reports using a single touchstone: if a report mentioned liquid oxygen, he would consider it valid and tentatively accept that report’s deductions regarding weight. This reduced the population of reports to five. From these five, Jones concluded that the weight of the rocket was around 12 tons, and the weight of the warhead around one (very close to the real numbers). Of course, the experts chided him for these seemingly low estimates. One of Jones’ allies even warned him that his detractors were waiting to pounce on Jones for a misstep, and many felt this was finally the opportunity.
      As the British began to acquire rockets and rocket parts, Jones was vindicated. He notes, however, how the rocket FUD had seized experts and leaders alike:

The arguments in Whitehall concerning the weight of the rocket lasted throughout July and well into August. Herbert Morrison was near panic: on 27th July he was wanting the War Cabinet to plan immediately for the evacuation of a million people from London …1

      Jones acknowledges the psychological power of the rocket:

One of the greatest realizations of human power is the ability to destroy at a distance, and the Nazeus would call down his thunderbolts on all who displease him. Perhaps we may be permitted to express a slight envy of his ability, if not to destroy his victims, at least to raise one of the biggest scares in history by virtue of the inverted romance with which those victims regard the Rocket.

      As always, he also seasons his observation with a dose of reality:

I suspected that Hitler had been carried away by the romance of the rocket, just as our own politicians had been carried away by its threat: for some psychological reason they seemed far more frightened by one ton of explosive delivered by rocket than by five tons delivered by aircraft …

… just as we seem far more frightened by suicide hijackers than by drunk drivers, or by meteors than heart disease. Cognitive scientists and risk experts have long recognized our inability to estimate and rank risks. Any innate ability we do possess is easily distorted by fear. In many ways, we are creatures of fear. Fear often motivates our individual actions and, at times, even our national agenda.
      And this leads to another potential red teaming law: Red teamers are not immune to FUD. The seasoned red teamer recognizes it for what it is and manages it rationally. The superior red teamer recognizes it for what it is and exploits it.

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  1. This quote and those that follow are found in R. V. Jones’ book Most Secret War, pages 445–457. []