Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 9: a case study example of the consequences of a priori underlying assumptions 8

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 18, 2015

This is my ninth installment to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-8.) And this is also Part 8 to an historical narrative-based case study that I have been developing here, drawn from the public sector and more specifically from United States policy and practice in maintaining troop levels in their military. My goal for this case study is to illustrate how policy and practice evolve and how both strategy and strategic goals are shaped by and can be changed by ongoing experience – and if not always for overall long-term goals than for how operational processes and their performance are measured in reaching towards them, which in practice can constitute functional shift in what constitutes those overall goals themselves.

I began this progression of postings with an historical narrative, briefly outlining US government policy and practice in developing and maintaining troop strength as this has been carried out from pre-independence colonial times to the present (for an initial overview, see Part 2.) And I then began to more explicitly discuss the roll of the press and news reporting in all of this, in Part 7 and Part 8. And I stated at the end of my Part 8 installment that I would continue that discussion here, focusing on at least the first of three final points:

• The role of news and of the public press, historically, in shaping public opinion on military action,
• How direct access to raw news and events observations have become progressively more and more possible, and even publically expected and certainly since the dawn of on-scene television reporting,
• And about how the rise of the internet and particularly of the interactive internet and social media have made all of us reporters as well as consumers of news and events reporting – thus disintermediating the news and reporting process and removing editorial filtering from that, and certainly as a requisite part of the news process.

Even just a quick perusal of the history of military policy and of public reaction to it, as offered here in this series, should be sufficient to show that public opinion can and does have tremendous impact, and certainly in anything like a democratic society. This impact is shaped by and it is publically organized by the flow of information on what that government does, as provided by news coverage, and by news coverage of the consequences of that policy and its implementation. The press and its organized news reporting have traditionally led this, as it is the more publically widespread reporting of newspapers and other reporting channels that have shaped the more widely, publically shared perspective.

I have at least touched upon conflicts and government actions in them that have brought strong and widespread public support, and in that regard cite the widespread public willingness to enlist into the military in the aftermath of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States formally into the Second World War as a declared combatant (see Part 5.) And I have touched upon conflicts and government actions that have provoked resistance and protest too, noting here the draft riots of the US Civil War, and the antiwar protests of the Vietnam War (see Part 4.) A strong and widely accessible free press and its reporting have a tremendously powerful organizing effect in both conveying a message and its perspective and in bringing people together where they can act in response to that, and in concert. And this and the lessons learned by government leaders, and particularly from the public’s reaction to the Vietnam war, led directly to the more controlling, limited access war coverage policy that has been put in place for the recent and in fact still-ongoing conflicts of the War on Terror (see Part 6.)

As a perhaps side detail that I admit here would be more worthy of a separate posting in its own right, I have to add that while government policy makers might find the immediate, short-term consequences of news reporting to be disconcerting and stressful, open reporting does shed needed light on any events and actions that take place that would in fact undermine both the country’s intended campaigns and its perceived moral standing in pursuing them. For a Vietnam War example that did fairly quickly come to public awareness, I cite the My Lai Massacre. Public outrage was swift and strong and the people who were responsible for this were held accountable, so the government was able to present this as an aberration and as a wrong that it and its overall policies found repugnant too. When wrongs: when evils are done in the dark and hidden from view they and their consequences fester – until they come out later and at much greater cost, as they always seem to do.

In a War on Terror context, the United States government has seen word of this type of challenge leak out from the revelation of events such as the systematic torture that was carried out at the Abu Ghraib Prison, and from revelation of its programs of extraordinary rendition where prisoners are moved to jurisdictions where torture is considered acceptable, for what is euphemistically called enhanced interrogation there. This type of event has become known as a significant part of the face of the War on Terror now, and I add that this will increasingly, emergingly become the legacy of the secrecy of that conflict. Or at least it will become a significant self-inflicted and self-damaging part of that legacy and one that strikes to and challenges the moral standing of all who have allowed and supported this. Attempts were made to hide these news stories. Such news cannot stay hidden forever.

A free press sheds light. Sometimes that is to seemingly painful and challenging effect, but it is always, at least long-term, a salutary effect. Long-term and longer lasting, light begins to heal what otherwise could become deep-set and scaring, festering wounds.

And with this point made, I turn to consider the last two items on my list of three to discuss as repeated above, and with a perhaps minor but telling news detail. One of the primary initial reasons why the public at large came to learn of what was done to War on Terror prisoners at Abu Ghraib was that the people perpetrating this, shared words and even images of what they were doing through social media.

I am going to end this installment with that fact and will continue its discussion in a next series installment where I will more fully address those next two points. Then, as promised above, I will step back from this extended case study to discuss more general lessons learnable, and more general principles of strategy development and its evolution per se. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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