In Asimov’s ironically named “The Machine That Won the War ,” three leaders reflect on their recent military success in a war against the Deneb. We are initially led to believe that this militaristic success is due to Multivac, a supercomputer that aggregates data from countless other sources to...
In Asimov’s ironically named “The Machine That Won the War,” three leaders reflect on their recent military success in a war against the Deneb. We are initially led to believe that this militaristic success is due to Multivac, a supercomputer that aggregates data from countless other sources to identify the best strategies. As the story progresses, we learn that this is anything but the case. Suspecting that the data has been falsified, Henderson takes certain measures to correct the data using little more than his intuition. As Swift puts it, “the material handed to guide me in my decision-making capacity was a man-made interpretation of man-made data.” We learn that Multivac is anything but a war hero.
The short story revolves around a series of ironies that culminate in a final display of dramatic irony produced by Swift. Although Henderson believes that he knows more than the other characters around him, the narration and description foreshadow the ending. This gap—between what Henderson believes and what the reader suspects to be true—can be referred to as dramatic irony.
The title of the story suggests that Multivac is a savior of sorts. But this title only produces the conditions necessary for a series of ironic reversals. The first reversal is produced by Henderson’s explanation as he reveals the truth about Multivac. But there is a dramatic irony that is slowly produced in conjunction with the title and the narrator’s description. Although Henderson believes himself to be a stoic figure and a keeper of the war’s great secret, the narration suggests something else is at play. Swift is described as looking older and more tired, and his demeanor and description hints to the reader that Henderson is unaware of what is truly occurring. This dramatic irony comes to fruition in the closing moment of the story, as we learn that Swift has kept the greatest secret of all: his decisions were not based on Multivac’s data, but instead on the result of a coin flip.