PowerPoint: The military’s secret weapon?

In the war against terror, guns, bombs and troops aren’t important. The Calvary can stay home, and military wives need not worry about their husbands coming home in wooden boxes.

No. The United States Military has PowerPoint. That will save us, right?

This is an example of a PowerPoint slide the military uses. It's goal was to "portray the complexity of American military strategy." It was originally published by The New York Times.

Maybe not.

The New York Times ran an awesome article about the military’s heavy use of the presentation tool: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

The article said PowerPoint, “the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points,” is actually getting in the way and causing more harm than good.

Such presentations are so convoluted and confusing that they’re not helping anyone.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown the slide pictured at right, and according to the article, the slide made an impact. Maybe just not a good one.

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal was said to have remarked.

PowerPoint has clearly gotten out of hand. Most of the time such presentations are boring and pointless. Generally speaking, you don’t need to see 20 slides about how the company can save money by printing on both sides of paper. It wastes time, and time is a valuable commodity. This is especially true while fighting a war.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said in the article.

The article also said, “Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“‘It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.'”

Exactly. An illusion of understanding while fighting a war can be very dangerous.

What’s worse, there are soldiers whose sole responsibilities are to make PowerPoint slides. Seriously.

They are called “PowerPoint Rangers.”

According to the Times’ article, “Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, ‘Making PowerPoint slides.’ When pressed, he said he was serious.

“‘I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,’ Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. ‘Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.'”

Wow. Isn’t that a job you’d want? Especially when you consider the fact the article said military commanders believed “the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold.”

Talk about bureaucracy and wasteful spending. PowerPoint is strangling our military personnel.

I understand how PowerPoint presentations can be helpful in conveying a message. I’ve used them myself on more than one occasion, but when a slide is so full and confusing that it is referred to as looking “like a bowl of spaghetti,” something is seriously wrong.

When I first read this article, I was so appalled by the way PowerPoint was negatively affecting  our military, I decided to take action and get everyone I could to stop using the evil Microsoft program.

I fired up my computer and made a 63-slide PowerPoint presentation on the negatives of PowerPoint and solutions to the problems.

I tried to e-mail it to everyone I knew, but I couldn’t get it to attach to my message. It was too large of an attachment.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll trying using Apple iWorks’ Keynote program. At least it’s not PowerPoint, right?

NOTE: Special thanks to Cort Anderson for sharing this article with me. I got quite the kick out of it, which should be obvious since I took the time to write about it.

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About toddvogts 773 Articles
My name is Todd Vogts. I am an assistant professor of media. I like the color green, riding my motorcycle, and being with my family and friends. A good book is a perfect companion for me any time, and I'm a published author and journalist. Visit my website at www.toddvogts.com and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/toddvogts.