The New York Times had a front pager today on a story that this blog (twice: Dec 22, 2009 and Dec 12, 2009 ) and other blogs has been all over for months – the use of nonsensical Powerpoint slides to guide the US military in Afghanistan. The NYT reproduced the infamous Afghan nation-building spaghetti chart over most of the front page:
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
It gets worse:
Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.
…it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
What’s bizarre about this is that there are so many high-ranking military critics and yet war-by-Powerpoint continues. This blog’s criticism got a friendly response from high-ranking military also. Yet none of this was enough to stop a practice that would get the military held up to ridicule today in the New York Times.
Indulging in sheer speculation here, is it because Powerpoint is indispensable to make the military’s assigned task appear feasible when it is inherently infeasible — to achieve development, democracy, and peace by military means?