Never underrate the wily Pathan.
What we're going on to now is the wily Pathan,
followed the use of and handling of anti-gas carpet.
The Pathan lives in India. India is a hot, strange country
It's full of wily Pathans and they're up to wily things,
which is why I always wear spurs, even in cold weather.
--How I Won the War (1967)
As a young staff officer trainee Ranger was introduced to briefing techniques that utilized charts, which were a reflection of reality but accepted as THE reality by certain officers.
In B53/5th Special Forces Group, 1970, he remembers the scorn of Captain Norm Dupuis [pron. "Doo - pus"] for charts as a camp-level staff tool. He disdained them as much as Lieutenant Colonel Glock, our commander, loved them. With enough charts and graphs, any war could be won, or so thought Glock, a reflection of the West Point mentality of warfare.
Capt. Dupuis's exasperation summated during one briefing after a particularly long queue of charts in his suggestion that we needed a chart to reflect how many times we used charts.
Fast-forward to 2010 and Power Point, the grandchild of our handwritten charts and graphs (back in the day, every Battalion had a draftsman whose only job it was to create charts and graphs for the daily briefings.) General McChrystal commented on a particularly convoluted power-point slide last summer, "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."
The WaPo recently ran a piece disparaging PowerPoint, suggesting it "has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. 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 (We Have Met the Enemy, and He is PowerPoint)."
But the joke lies not with the PowerPoint charts, graphs and bullet points; they have their place in condensing a briefing. The joke is the war and our leadership's belief that it can be won, with or without PowerPoints.
Also from the Post article:
“'[PowerPoint is] dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,' Brig. General [H. R.]McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. 'Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.'”
"Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, 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."
"Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is 'just agony,' nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends."
PowerPoint is useful as long as the statistics are reality-based and the trends clearly understood. However, this is often not the case.
"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."
This isn't a fair comparison because staff studies and papers (should) present clearly-defined subjects that can boil down into simple recommendations that a Commander can grasp and upon which he can make a decision. Since the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) lacks such clarity, the briefings, too, lack focus and clarity.
How does one quantify and represent the realities of a complex situation into understandable concepts that can lead to constructive action? This is a conundrum because the players are pretending to be running a counterinsurgency operation while also hung up on the myth that they are fighting a war.
In reality, both may be true, but all the bullet points, charts and graphs are as useless as the concept of democracy unless these graphs are prepared by the Afghani government or Army.
The U.S. soldiers are on one chart and the Afghanis, on another. How can this lead to anything constructive? We brief, fight and all the rest in their country, but it is not our fight to win or lose. Ranger doesn't need a chart to find his ass with both hands.
Our leaders should try this sometime It is as comforting as pouring piss out of a boot, which is what the PWOT © is all about.
Charts didn't win my war, and they won't win this one.