Advancing, the Creeping Enemy
What is this, you ask? It's the entire Afghan war reduced to a flow chart and put on a PowerPoint slide.
Of what use is this slide, which was presented to General McChrystal as part of a staff briefing?
Well, none. But it sure looks like it contains a vast amount of information, doesn't it? It actually looks as if it might mean something! But it's empty of actual useful information.
Up till now, our military has been intermittently stymied by an elusive enemy, dubious allies, uncertain policy, media overexposure, and politicians whose sole exposure to an "afghan" was dozing under a comforter.
But now, the military is under serious threat by a new, insidious enemy, which is slowly constricting and paralyzing our entire enterprise. I refer, of course, to PowerPoint.
The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“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 . . .
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.
“I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,” Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. “Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.”
. . . Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.
Captain Burke’s essay in the Small Wars Journal also cited a widely read attack on PowerPoint in Armed Forces Journal last summer by Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, whose title, “Dumb-Dumb Bullets,” underscored criticism of fuzzy bullet points; “accelerate the introduction of new weapons,” for instance, does not actually say who should do so.
Yes, it looks as if the U.S. military has been rendered helpless by their own PowerPoint addiction, their vital institutional organs punctured by bullet points.
Can't we find some help for these poor victims before it's too late?