Reducing Precision

This the story about how the DEW Line was started.

Years ago I wrote a competent summary business plan for a modular housing factory. I showed it to one of the company directors. He praised it, then immediately told me this story.

“During WWII, I mentioned to a one star General passing through my town in Virginia that my work at Marconi revealed the possibility to link station radar. We talked a few minutes and he said he wanted me in Washington immediately. A Colonel called the next day and plans were made. We agreed that I would write my scenario and give it to one of the appropriate Chiefs of Staff in person.

“It was war time remember and travel was severely restricted, even if anyone could afford it, and many things were rationed. I hurried to get ready as instructed. I found my trusted portable Remington typewriter and just two pieces of paper were in the house. Just two I am sure to this day. One was legal sized newsprint and the other was already pencil-marked here and there so I took that to use as my first draft.

“The train to D.C. was at night with no lighting allowed. When I reached the hotel the military had arranged, there was a small bed, a wooden chair, a small mirror with a bare bulb, and I’ll never forget the single coat hook on the door. The small window was covered in canvas black-out curtains.

“In the morning I pulled the chair to the bed and used the typewriter gently so it wouldn’t bounce on the mattress. For most of the day I typed as concisely and carefully as I could, finishing most of the draft, and then typed the final proposal down one side of the blank newsprint and almost half of the reverse side. I read it a few times. Satisfied, I carefully folded the page, put it in my suit pocket and hung the jacket on the door.

“The Colonel came the next morning to meet some big General he said was eager to see my idea. We drove through iron gated pillars to a large colonial-style mansion with long marble steps. Car after car stopped to let out brass of all colors while my military Chevy looked out of place. Every car the Army bought seemed to be a drab Chevy, except here were only jeeps and big limo. I remember that all the headlights were taped over to make just slit for the blackouts.

“I felt out of place but the Colonel took me inside and instructed I should wait next to a column in the foyer while he went to tell the General I’d arrived. Brass and staff were crossing near me, but always too serious or in too much of a hurry to say hello. Nervous that I had waited a long time, I just wanted to go back to Virginia. Finally the Colonel returned and seemed quite earnest as he asked if I had the report. I pointed to my pocket and he politely requested if he could take it to the General, saying we would later meet in person. So I gave it too him. What else can you say in this situation?

“After another long wait, the Colonel returned with a smile and warmth, but he said, “The General thinks this is pretty good stuff, but he’s damn busy. He’s asking if you would you please get it down to 1/2 a page and we’ll come back tomorrow.

“So that’s how I learned business communications, Brian.”