Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting things done, past and present

I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.

Today that’s true. In an emergency, the Government can be driven by its soul and its abilities to do what’s needed. A project that seems endless is begun with a burst and sustained with a system, and we’re just the ferociously caring democracy that can do it. The American story began with fierce intensity in the 17th century and we’ve still got it. Neither storm nor darkness, then or now, stops us.

When we entered World War II, we had little time to prepare. The American burst of energy put us on the road and then we had to go from zero to 60 as fast as we could into unknown territory. That effort demonstrated the American will to get it done as never before. The first thing was to break through the bureaucracy: Yes we could.

My father was a part of that heroic beginning. I’ve always wondered what he did between zero and 60, and I found some answers on the Net in the spirit of a speech he gave in 1948.

During the days just before and after Pearl Harbor there appeared on the office walls of War Production Board (WPB) executives a motto: In time of emergency it is better to do any intelligent thing quickly than to search hesitatingly for the ideal. When the situation is desperately urgent, there can be little quarrel with this philosophy.

We had to make policy decisions without adequate information, experience, or personnel. Then we had to carry them out under conditions of almost intolerable pressure and the necessity for the utmost speed.

It is not surprising, then, that some of our actions during the early stages of the war were improvisations, expedients, even trial and error.

In preparing for war or responding to a widespread disaster, we don’t wait. We don’t figure out what would be politically expedient. We don’t ponder what should be done first, second, third and then activate a lumbering bureaucracy. We do an intelligent thing quickly, and that's as it should be.