Mon, Aug 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List


No sense of the mission

Of all the management failures discussed since the Typhoon Morakot debacle, several have gone virtually unmentioned. I’ll address just one.

The most glaring seems to be that a sense of the mission is deficient. “Sense of the mission” is a concept that is supposed to ensure that the men can complete the mission even if there are communication problems between the men in the field and higher-ups elsewhere.

Sun Tzu (孫子) spoke of it when he wrote that leaders in the field are often more aware of battlefield needs than the emperor is; in such cases they are obligated, if need be, to disregard the emperor’s instructions and act on their own initiative.

In the US military, the sense of the mission extends down to the level of sergeant.

I have been told that Taiwanese extend it only to the level of lieutenant, though recent behavior indicates that there’s too much top-down control and too little sense of the mission at any level.

In particular, two failures really stick in my craw.

One was the claim that, because a bridge was out and it was impossible to get heavy equipment into the area, hundreds of people threatened with death had to be left in the pouring rain for three days.

When people are dying and time is critical, you do without the conveniences to which you’re accustomed. A dozen Boy Scouts with a few hand tools and lots of line could have given them a sturdy bridge in less than a day. At every campout, I stand in awe of what those boys can do. They know what it means to “Be Prepared.” Certain other people obviously don’t.

Another was the inability to evacuate people because the military lacked yet another convenience: Inclement weather had grounded their helicopters.

I’ve lived through more than 150 hurricanes and typhoons — several while I was at sea. Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm that struck the US in 1989, was the most memorable. By comparison, Morakot was a wee breeze. At the height of the storm, a 19 foot [5.8m] storm surge necessitated the evacuation of (ironically) the evacuation center. The windows and doors of the center were underwater. Rescue workers braved churning water and 149mph [240kph] winds to cut a hole through the roof and get those people out. They didn’t just leave them to die for lack of a few lousy helicopters.

I also wonder about the officers farther south, whose men were eager to help but didn’t receive orders until three days after the storm hit. General Douglas MacArthur once said: “It’s the orders you disobey that make you famous.” If their leaders had gotten into trouble for acting on their own initiative, and did what their superiors should have ordered them to do in the first place, I believe that public opinion would have resulted in their getting medals for it.

Is that the kind of leadership that’s supposed to protect us from the Chicoms? Lord help us. It would be too much to hope that the Chicom leadership is worse.


Shilin, Taipei City

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