Saturday, February 17, 2007

PowerPoint and the war

In corporate and government bureaucracies, the standard method for making a presentation is to talk about a list of points organized onto slides projected up on the wall.

Edward Tufte, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint"


Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD's [Office of Secretary of Defense] contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology -- above all information technology -- has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war. To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.

Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich
You can see several of the slides here:
Iraq War Plan Assumed Only 5,000 U.S. Troops Still There by December 2006 (The National Security Archive)

Related reading

Andrew Bacevich (faculty profile, Boston University)

"Delusional" Iraq plans envisaged only 5,000 troops by now, group says (CNN)

A Prewar Slide Show Cast Iraq in Rosy Hues (New York Times)

Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint (

comments: 2

Peter Patau said...

The newly released Iraq war planning PowerPoint slides show the degree to which Rumsfeld and the neocons turned military planning upside down. PowerPoint does war planning as badly as it does rocket science. Edward Tufte's maintained in "PowerPoint Does Rocket Science" that the cognitive style of PowerPoint contributed to NASA's failure to diagnosis what was really wrong with space shuttle Columbia before its disastrous reentry attempt. PowerPoint in the hands of Rumsfeld's military technocrats seems to have had an equally stupefying effect.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the link. I have to get the revised and expanded version of Tufte's essay.

I noticed in the new material Tufte's comment on "bureaucratic hyper-rationalism." Remember Robert McNamara's observation "Rationality will not save us" in The Fog of War?