The Mansfield Amendment, a bill authored by US Senator Mike Mansfield, is a little known but important turning point in the history of both Higher Education and the United States Military. The law was both symptomatic and causative of changes that would take place in both institutions. The direct effect of the bill was not too great: it merely stated that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency could only support research with a direct military application. Why that was important will be explained presently.
After World War II, the higher education system in the United States went through probably its greatest expansion ever. The passage of the GI Bill sent many people into college that previously would not have gone, and the general shift of society into a more industrial, technological mode after World War II meant that a bachelor's degree, instead of a high school diploma, begin to be the minimum standard for middle class life. The general economic growth between roughly 1950 and 1970 meant that businesses were willing to invest money into research and development and often had lucrative government contracts that encouraged them to develop new technology and hire more highly educated employees. Although all aspects of higher education advanced, computing and technology were one of the fields that really broke out. At the same time as this was happening, the US Military, just finished fighting the second world war, had to prepare to fight the Cold War. The Cold War, of course, was mostly not a matter of man power and actual combat, but a technological race. The military, and agencies with a quasi-military purpose such as NASA, were constantly seeking a technological edge over the Soviets in everything from rocketry to radar. In general, defense was considered a priority, and politicians who might not approve of government spending would be less likely to attack it if it was under the guise of military research. So what happened was a synergistic system where government agencies, businesses like IBM and the university system transferred technologies, money and educated specialists amongst themselves, and technology grew at an exponential pace.
Situations like this don't last forever. If it had, we probably would have reached a singularity by now. As the 1970's begin, two main factors arose to disrupt this system. The first was that the US economy entered an inflation period, in part because of the deficits that the US had run while fighting the Vietnam War. The second was that because of public opposition to the Vietnam War, the public and many officials were much more skeptical and cynical of any military projects. It was with this in mind that Mike Mansfield, a Democratic, anti-war Senator from Montana introduced the Mansfield Amendment, which cut off DARPA from sponsoring research that was not truly defense-oriented. Based on what is available about Mansfield's political leanings, he probably had good motives for doing so. The Military-Industrial complex had already been brought to attention by President Eisenhower, and the idea that the military would become the major paymaster for the academy, leading to a Military-Academic complex, was certainly something that would be frightening to those who had seen the extent of deception and control linked to Vietnam. Even today, the idea of the military investing in, for example, basic psychological research would raise many eyebrows. So in some ways, Mansfield might have been prophetic in helping avoid dystopian military project. On the other hand, military money was a large source of funding for academics. The type of the money that the military would consider small change (like 5 or 10 billions in current dollars) would easily pay for any number of graduate students to do experiments in reaction times, high calorie foods, Security Enhanced Linux or any other number of projects that could be weakly tied to some possible military need. So the Mansfield Amendment has a mixed legacy in the academic and military worlds.