Wednesday, February 13, 2013

problems to be solved

Many of the big public policy issues turn not on what to do, but how to do it. And answering "how" often depends on the skills and insights of technologists and managers rather than noted thinkers or leaders.

Paul Kennedy, a distinguished historian at Yale, has a fascinating new study of World War II that examines the problems that the Allies had to solve in order to gain victory, including command of the seas against German U-boats, command of the air to protect the operations of ground and naval forces, amphibious operations against heavy defenses, and long distance operations of both fighting forces and their suppliers.

The political and military leaders knew what they wanted and had grand strategies in mind, but it took their subordinates and those many mid-level engineers and operators to perfect the weapons and organizations and tactics that brought success. Kennedy criticizes analyses that focus on "wonder weapons" or monocausal explanations,but he persuasively links multiple causative factors as the solutions to each of the problems.

What's even more surprising to me, a footnote-besotted PhD, is how many of his endnotes cite, as the best sources for numerous topics, entries in Wikipedia.

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