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8 July 2009

July 4th Afterparty Improvisation: McNamara vs. Eisenhower vs. Ornette


It’s interesting to live through death at this still-quite-close to the fin de si├Ęcle moment. Every major passing of a 20th century figure is an opportunity to reconsider that over-mediated century in its entirety — especially the passing of individuals whose reputations have come into doubt since the 20th century passed into the 21st, ones whose fame has curdled into infamy

Two days after the fourth of July, Robert Strange McNamara, well, he died. And two days after that, I found myself thinking a bit about him in relation to another man, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, someone I think of as his philosophical counter.

Photographically speaking these two men have quite a lot in common.


Otherwise, they were quite different. Eisenhower was the last commander-in-chief with real and intimate knowledge of the American military which our presidents’ so famously and erratically command. He is a man who, I suspect, would be suspicious of aphorisms, yet one of his has grown quite famous: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

This strikes me as strong advocacy for the benefits & powers of improvisation. Wise advise from a general used to working in the field.

By contrast, McNamara was a technocrat, detached from the day-to-day workings of the ideas which he developed and deployed into the world. He was a famed advocate and innovator of systems analysis, which developed into the discipline known as policy analysis, all of which are sometimes called operations research, all of which have their own entries on Wikipedia, but all of which I’d discourage you from trying to understand too deeply because of my abiding suspicion that all of it is gobbledygook.

McNamara was suspicious of improvisation. And by that I do not mean the music of Ornette Coleman:

Rather, I am speaking of a suspicion of flexible thinking. Of change. Of diverging from the plan.

Huh, maybe I am talking about Ornette Coleman?


G*d bless America, and forgive her her trespass(es). Et. al.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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