[VIEWPOINT]War, management and DruckerThe management expert Peter Drucker died at just about the same time U.S. Representative John Murtha delivered his call for an American military withdrawal from Iraq. The two events seem to have no obvious connection, but there is a profound if subtle tie ― Mr. Murtha’s harsh critique of Bush administration policy reflects a core insight of Mr. Drucker’s that was in turn closely linked to Korea.
Mr. Drucker was an especially insightful advocate of detailed, disciplined planning.
Generally ignored by business schools, Peter Drucker became uniquely influential with practicing executives and the wider public precisely because of an imaginative talent for bringing different disciplines to bear on vexing problems.
His public prominence began with his study of General Motors, “Concept of the Corporation.” The best-seller had a marked impact on the company, though the internal reaction to his analysis was far from uniformly positive.
One GM executive who appreciated the study was Charles Wilson, who became secretary of defense for Dwight Eisenhower, a president acutely aware of the terrible challenge of war ― and the aftermath of war.
Mr. Eisenhower achieved a Korean War armistice soon after taking office in 1953, followed immediately by comprehensive planning for post-war South Korea. Mr. Drucker was recruited for a group handling the education system in Korea. South Korea today reflects that strong American helping hand. Mr. Drucker in turn received an exceptionally worthwhile introduction to Asia, building on his experiences in the United States and Europe.
The basic lesson of the need for comprehensive, integrated planning had been brought home to then-General Eisenhower and other American commanders during World War II. Michael Beschlossi’s recent book, “The Conquerors,” deals with the complex interplay among officials at the top of the Roosevelt administration.
An important secondary theme, however, is the attention devoted to planning for the post-war world. Mr. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and others had the discipline to look to the future even while leading the life-and-death struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Today, the Bush administration’s problems in Iraq, reflected in the marked decline in the president’s opinion poll ratings, are a direct function of a remarkably arrogant approach to war. The entire focus was on gaining ground with highly mechanized, high-tech military forces as quickly as possible. Senior Army officers who warned that a large occupation force would be needed were ignored or cashiered. After Baghdad was taken, Mr. Bush appeared on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, in full flight suit, in order to personify as well as declare victory.
But military victory has been an elusive desert mirage. A lethal insurgency in Iraq has grown, more than two thousand Americans have been killed, many more wounded, and Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists.
In other words, we are having an experience remarkably similar to other foreign invaders of that territory, including the British in the 1920s. At that time, a government official by the name of Winston Churchill organized a well-planned withdrawal after military setbacks.
Mr. Drucker never argued for simple imitation of past actions, but rather for the study of them.
The world was not transformed by Sept. 11 or any other single event. In evaluating supporters and critics of U.S. foreign policies, ask yourself how they measure up against Churchill, Eisenhower ― and Drucker.
* Arthur I. Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of After the Cold War (Macmillan/Palgrave). He can be reached at
by Arthur I. Cyr
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