An 11-Gun Salute for Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster

I was thoroughly impressed when I saw this recent article in the New York Times on how we have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint which contained a quote from Gen. James N. Mattis that said that PowerPoint makes us stupid.The article pointed out that Brigadier General H. R. McMaster, who led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, banned PowerPoint presentations in his campaign and, in a follow-up military conference in North Carolina, likened PowerPoint to an internal threat.

According to General McMaster, it’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable. According to General McMaster, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not the spaghetti graphics which are becoming increasingly common (like this graphic that tops the article), but rigid lists of bullet points that take no account of interconnected political, economic, and ethnic forces. If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise. The program stifles discussion, critical thinking, and thoughtful decision making … and it ties up the junior officers — referred to as the PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides. Think of all the time that is wasted in slide production instead of on data gathering and analysis! It’s scary!

When we’re talking about PowerPoint, the only time it comes in handy is when the goal is not imparting information. In other words, the only time PowerPoint is useful is if you want to hide something … because there’s no possible way to disclose any information with the tool. (And that’s why the doctor has strict rules when it comes to PowerPoint. He has no interest in going dumb before his time.)

Thus, in my view, H.R. McMaster deserves an 11-gun salute* for leading the battle against what, in my view, is the biggest enemy the US Military has: PowerPoint. I hope it wins the battle before it costs them a war.

* The tradition in the United States is to give the President a 21-gun salute, a deputy head of state and five star general (of the army, airforce, or navy [fleet admiral]) a 19-gun salute, a four star general a 17-gun salute, a three star lieutenant general a 15-gun salute, a two star major general a 13-gun salute, and a one star brigadier general an 11-gun salute.

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