Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE PENTAGON....Why is the Pentagon a pentagon? Short answer: it was originally intended to be built on a pentagonally shaped piece of land, so a pentagon was what fit. It got moved later, but the shape stayed:

The original rationale for Bergstrom's pentagonal design was gone. The building no longer would be constructed on the five-sided Arlington Farm site. Yet the chief architect and his team continued with plans for a pentagon at the new location. There was no time to change them.

Besides, the pentagon design still worked. Like a circle, a pentagon would create shorter walking distances within the building — 30 to 50 percent less than in a rectangle, architects calculated — but its lines and walls would be straight and, therefore, much easier to build. The move from the odd-shaped Arlington Farm site freed the architects from the need to make the building asymmetrical. The advantages gained — a smoother pedestrian flow, better space arrangement, and easier distribution of utilities around the building — "proved startling," the architects concluded.

I knew none of this history, so this was pretty interesting to me. Including a map that showed the entire area, with both old and new sites, would have been pretty darn helpful, though. Maybe it was in the print edition.

Anyway, it turns out that a lot of people didn't like the whole pentagon idea, but in the end FDR overruled them:

"You know, gentlemen, I like that pentagon-shaped building," Roosevelt said. "You know why?"

"No," the commissioners replied resignedly.

"I like it because nothing like it has ever been done that way before."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is vintage Franklin Roosevelt. Go spend a dime on something in his memory.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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Comments

Nice cover story Kevin, but if you want the real reason the Pentagon is a Pentagon, go read Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy! ;)

Posted by: URK on May 26, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"A second-class intellect. But a first-class temperament"

Posted by: Mike on May 26, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I recall Abbie Hoffman wrote about him and some Yippies trying to levitate the Pentagon by forming a human chain around it during some anti-war protest in the Sixties. I think the cops broke it up before they succeeded.

Posted by: Brojo on May 26, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, this is a surprisingly good read! Part of what is so amazing is how quickly it was put together (and some of the outside factors, like the shortage of steel, that contributed to its shape):

Somervell wanted a headquarters big enough to hold 40,000 people, with parking for 10,000 cars. It would contain 4 million square feet of office space -- almost twice as much as the Empire State Building. Yet it must be no more than four stories high -- a tall building would obstruct views of Washington and require too much steel, urgently needed for battleships and weapons.

The War Department would occupy the new headquarters within half a year, Somervell instructed. "We want 500,000 square feet ready in six months, and the whole thing ready in a year," the general said. Somervell ended the meeting with orders to have the basic design plans for the building by Monday morning.

Wow. Compare and contrast to the way this war is being conducted, e.g. the call for IED-proof vehicles. Just sickening.

Posted by: Augustus on May 26, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Pentagon was built under the direction of General Leslie Groves, who went on to head the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bombs.

Posted by: Brenda Helverson on May 26, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

There was something on the History Channel a few weeks ago about the Manhattan project where they describe the largest building ever constructed, up to that point, at least, which was used to refine plutonium in Tennessee.

The whole thing was built in about six months.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Or another example of the speed:

In exactly one week, Somervell had proposed constructing a building of unprecedented size and scale, produced preliminary plans, won the strong support of the War Department leadership, sold it to key congressional leaders, and received a green light from the president of the United States.

Concerning the location:

A consensus was settling in some quarters that the new War Department simply could not be built at the foot of Arlington Cemetery, desecrating the view from L'Enfant's tomb.

Somewhat ironically, the Republicans tried to gut the project.

Posted by: Augustus on May 26, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Is it an important point to remember in this that in that era the upper crust of government was still in the hands, all but entirely, of the upper crust? Cosmopolitan people who had mostly been to Europe or travelled extensively and who understood how the modern world worked.

They could see why and where they needed to move fast on a large scale and did it.

While today government is drawn from anti-cosmopolitan hayseeds, and their enablers, moving fast up their own backsides.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

There is a map with original and new sites on the fourth page of the web article, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/23/AR2007052301296_4.html. The original site is just across from the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, I can see why the preservationists were upset.

The Navy and Munitions buildings that Roosevelt regretted approving lasted on the Mall until 1970 when Richard Nixon ordered their removal. The space has now returned to parkland and includes the site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Posted by: Ben on May 26, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

"A second-class intellect. But a first-class temperament"

Further proof that intellect is not equivalent to common sense. FDR was superb at running a government.

Whereas, of course, GW Bush is proof that LACK of intellect is not equivalent of common sense. Sometimes, stupid is just stupid.

Posted by: Berken on May 26, 2007 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

The general spoke in the velvety Southern accent of his native Arkansas. He was not in uniform -- Army policy kept officers in civilian clothes so as to disguise from Congress the burgeoning military population in Washington...

Haha! Shades of the Vietnam War. I visited the Pentagon in 1967 as a enlisted man (E-4) in the USAF, traveling with a Lt. Col. I was involved as a instructor in advanced technical training of Officers and Airmen, in Texas - at a base essentially dedicated to technical training - in the early planning for using a new base-level Air-Force-wide computer system (for Personnel and Finance) as a vehicle for providing on-line computer-based training for the folks who would using the new system (replacing a largely paper-driven system). The USAF needed a more efficient way of getting folks to Vietnam than paper selection and paper orders. The idea was WAY ahead of its time, and I'm not sure it was realized since I left active duty in 1969.

So, the Lt. Col. and I arrived at the Pentagon meeting to find a roomful of maybe 20 people, all in civilian clothes. We contributed our short presentation along with others, there was discussion and then a decision to move ahead with the online training plan.

After we left the meeting, the Lt. Col. told me that everyone in the room except us had been a General officer (still laughing now at my amazement then). I never suspected that.

Anyone know if most of the DoD military officers in DC and Pentagon are wearing civilian clothes now for the probable huge builup that Iraq has occasioned?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR on May 26, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

While today government is drawn from anti-cosmopolitan hayseeds, and their enablers, moving fast up their own backsides.

Maybe. Another school of thought is that today's government is drawn from a group of people who think that you can't build anything without years of environmental analyses, countless permits for every aspect of the construction, a piece of the action for all the right political donors, and careful studies to make sure that the construction groups at every level meet all the standards of political correctness.

Doesn't really matter, since the same group also believes that any major construction project is by definition a blight on the land, and should probably not be built at all. Oddly, this kind of thinking is now considered "cosmopolitan."

Look around at the great bridges, the power plants and refineries, the superhighway network, the massive dams and irrigation systems. That's the infrastructure left over from previous generations. Hope it lasts--you aren't going to see a lot of new ones, and it isn't because of the "hayseeds." Check out the history of the Cape Wind Project.

One more touchstone on the old days versus now:

Groundbreaking for construction of the World Trade Center was August 5th, 1966. The first tenants moved in December of 1970, and the official ribbon cutting was April 4, 1973. About six years and eight months between first shovel of dirt and the ribbon-cutting for the Twin Towers.

By my count, on May 11 of 2008, the same amount of time will have gone by. So far, the WTC site is still mostly a hole in the ground. I suspect a generation ago the Twin Towers would have been up again by now, better-designed, and probably even taller.

Posted by: harry on May 26, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Better yet, drop a Hamilton on the March of Dimes.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on May 26, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

When I think of the Pentagon I think of worst president ever, that war leaves every child behind, and the Patriot Act has been turning citizens into suspects since 2001.
And I think of past governmental abuse of power, of heroic young Daniel Ellsberg, now probably 75, a Pentagon analyst disillusioned with the Nixon administration, the Pentagon Papers' history of the Vietnam war, NY Times and Wapo publishing the papers -- hastening the eventual demise of that corrupt, over-reaching, press censoring, credibility deficient, war mongering, protestor beating, antagonistic Nixonian government--with its covert plans to extend the Vietnam war while publicly pledging peace. Even protestors' parents saw through that lie.
And I am reminded things are even worse under the current administration.

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

And I am reminded things are even worse under the current administration.

I am reminded how thoroughly the Left has rewritten history to make Vietnam "Nixon's War."

I am also reminded that for thirty years, the Left in America took the side of our enemies in pretty much every conflict we were in during the latter years of the Cold War. I haven't seen anything change very much. The newspapers still leak secret information to sabotage the war effort. Even the rhetoric is the same.

Posted by: elmendorf on May 26, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Better trolls, please. (I'm looking at you, mhr.)

Posted by: idlemind on May 26, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm looking at you, mhr.

No you're not. He's already been wiped from the board.

Posted by: elmendorf on May 26, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Worse than ever, discredited Attorney General Gonzales had intimated that current journalists could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
I am reminded that this administration is well known for classifying documents historically present in the public domain, and that just about any one of us could be languishing
in a secret U.S. prison overseas, so there, mhr. Better trolls, indeed.

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

harry,

. . .a piece of the action for all the right political donors is the Republican problem that environmental impact studies and construction permits are meant to address.

We're not in the middle of a war, and we haven't been in the middle of a war that really does threaten us since the 1940s and if you argue that we are in a war, show us the declaration of war. Despite all Republican pretense on the subject, this isn't a war, it's a Republican plaything.

The original World Trade Center was built by a single small focused group, not being recombobulated as a national monument.

How long did it take to build the Lincoln Memorial, or finish the Washington monument?

Wasn't the World War II memorial something like 30 years in gestation?

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

But harry is right in one thing,

our capacity to create large scale national projects has been grotesquely curtailed during the last three decades of Republican hegemony and that is entirely due to Republican efforts to destroy the US as a society in the interests of corporate feudalism.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I have read that practitioners of the black arts stand inside the outline of a pentagon when summoning up Satan or any of his minor devils. When I first read that, many years ago, I wondered if the architects of the Pentagon also knew of that practice--I think the idea is that the pentagon keeps the summoner safe. "Who sups with the Devil must use a long spoon." [or stand inside a pentagon?]

Posted by: Lynn Lightfoot on May 26, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

We're not in the middle of a war, and we haven't been in the middle of a war that really does threaten us since the 1940s and if you argue that we are in a war, show us the declaration of war. Despite all Republican pretense on the subject, this isn't a war, it's a Republican plaything.

There's a crater in Manhattan that wasn't there before. That's something that never happened during all of WWII, at least on the mainland.

The other side certainly thinks we're in a war, and they declared it over ten years ago. If we refuse to play along, maybe they'll go away?

Vietnam wasn't "declared" either, the Vietnamese never attacked the U.S., and yet most people who were over there would probably tell you it was a war.

The difference between how the U.S. used to build things and how they do it now goes long past WWII. It wasn't just the war. It was a different culture, and a different way of looking at concepts like "progress."

Posted by: harry on May 26, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Back to the future? No sense of history? Blaming liberals for everything?
58,219 U.S soldiers' deaths.
Nixon's secretly underhanded and clandestine attempts to expand the Vietnam War...
hey, it is Memorial Day weekend. What's with your revisionist history?

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

I mean elmendorf.

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

When the Pentagon was being built a worker asked why are the walls were so thick? The Officer replied someone might try and fly a plane into it and it had to handle the impact if attacked; They knew in 1940's.

The planes were smaller then, but the builders knew it could happen.

Posted by: James on May 26, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

All sorts of freaked out idiots decalre war on the US. Republicans have been declaring war on American society, as literally as they think their audience might go for, for three decades now.

I have always thought the menace of these zeroes was by far the worst and most insidious thing we have ever faced and I have always thought when they prance on over 'cultural war' we should take them literally.

You're right, Vietnam wasn't a declared war, and it wasn't right, either. But that still didn't prevent us from going to the moon.

Will the world of Commander Guy be able to produce an Apollo program? I just don't see it happening. But a lot of dead people, that they can manage.

Their idea of an Apollo program is Guantanamo Bay and a black prison system.

If the Bush administration had not instituted a cultural value of looking the other way that crater in Manhattan wouldn't be there now.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

our capacity to create large scale national projects has been grotesquely curtailed during the last three decades of Republican hegemony and that is entirely due to Republican efforts to destroy the US as a society in the interests of corporate feudalism.

That's a joke, right? Three decades? Maybe it only seems that way to you.

Posted by: harry on May 26, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

How could I forget?

Iraq attacked no one.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

cld:
our capacity to create large scale national projects has been grotesquely curtailed during the last three decades of Republican hegemony and that is entirely due to Republican efforts to destroy the US as a society in the interests of corporate feudalism.

Why is mhr deleted but not cld? Is it because mhr is the other village's idiot?

Posted by: anonymous on May 26, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Your ability to do math is as constrained as the rest of your thought,

From the middle of the Nixon era, when real wages stagnated, ca 1970 to now, 2007.

Well, that's more than three decades. It's been like a dream.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Can this possibly be real?

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

eh-nonymous,

Guess you'll never be deleted because who would know it's you, eh?

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Well said, cld. Profoundly outlined.
The self described commander guy denies the facts of science while the pentagon plans for wars that could occur after the devastating effects of climate change. What a disconnect.
And the war is Iraq is lost. Retired, eminent Gen. Tony McPeak claims "even if we had a million men, it's too late now. Humpty Dumpty can't be put together again." That Iraqis are saying, fine, they'll stock arms and wait for you guys to leave.
And bin Ladin hunter Michael Scheuer says "our invasion and occupation has created a cauldron that will continue to draw in the players in the middle east for the forseeable future.
And the longer we stay, the more people we get killed. I don't think the longer we stay, the better we make Iraq. Probably the reverse."
Further, he says the neocons have made Israeli security worse than at any time since 1967. None of it bodes well without a middle east peace settlement.
You don't see the Bushies working on that. Nope, they have ensured a terrible civil war in Iraq and maybe even world war III

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Great article Kevin. Interesting that so much could get done without Microsoft Project. :)

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 26, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ss I understand it, the Pentagon has about twice as many restrooms as it needs. Why? Because it was built in the 1940s in Virginia, which still had segregation laws.

Posted by: Keith Thompson on May 26, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Well, that's more than three decades. It's been like a dream.

The Democrats mostly controlled Congress until 1994. I dimly remember Carter and Clinton as presidents during that time, too.

You seem obsessed with Republicans. "Corporate feudalists" work just as happily with Democrats, and the issues I'm bringing up go past simple politics.

Posted by: harry on May 26, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, the Pentagon has about twice as many restrooms as it needs. Why? Because it was built in the 1940s in Virginia, which still had segregation laws.

That may be a myth. The Pentagon has 284 restrooms for over thirty thousand employees and 3,800,000 square feet of occupiable space. That's one restroom for every 105 people, which doesn't sound like twice what it should be.

Posted by: Ein on May 26, 2007 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I remember the Democrats of that era. Pathetic. Falling all over themselves to prove they could be just as Republican as the Republicans. Exactly one of them, Tip O'Neill had a trace of guts.

Carter is the boob who legitimized religion as a political issue, and Bill Clinton was more conservative than Nixon, for the most part, which is why, when Republicans look outside themselves to try to follow the real needs of society, all they can see is Hillary.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

I see. If you consider everyone in Washington as a Republican, than I would have to concede your viewpoint. Sure makes things less complicated.

Posted by: harry on May 26, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

We all have priorities. From a cursory glance at Raw Story,

Hilarious speculation on Bush getting commented upon by a sparrow, (a marketing campaign for Pirates of the Carribean, or is that too subtle?)

More on Commander Guy's looking the other way, with his strong and certain glower.

The shoe department of Saks Fifth Avenue, ahem, gets it's own zip code,

"It is a marketing strategy," said Lesley Langsam Kennedy, the public relations director at Saks. "We wanted the department to be a destination and that required a ZIP code. It's the first time anyone has ever been given permission to do something like this. … I'm sure the postmaster general is going to go crazy with people making similar requests."

Saks paid nothing for the new ZIP code, she said.

The Postal Service isn't quite going crazy, but it did seem a little miffed that Saks let the cat out of the bag so early.

The U.S. Postal Service was planning on launching a larger pilot program for businesses to acquire vanity codes later this summer.

Can't wait to get mine! What will it be, what could I get in just four letters, hmmm. . .I know --YHWH!

Now, that's me, remember, you can't have it. Just for me alone.

And I'll sue anyone who takes it in vain.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Arrh, hell, my hilarious comment again had too many links in it and now it will never appear.

But, this was the good part,

The shoe department of Saks Fifth Avenue, ahem, gets it's own zip code,

"It is a marketing strategy," said Lesley Langsam Kennedy, the public relations director at Saks. "We wanted the department to be a destination and that required a ZIP code. It's the first time anyone has ever been given permission to do something like this. … I'm sure the postmaster general is going to go crazy with people making similar requests."

Saks paid nothing for the new ZIP code, she said.

The Postal Service isn't quite going crazy, but it did seem a little miffed that Saks let the cat out of the bag so early.

The U.S. Postal Service was planning on launching a larger pilot program for businesses to acquire vanity codes later this summer.

Can't wait to get mine! What will it be, what could I get in just four letters, hmmm. . .I know --YHWH!

Now, that's me, remember, you can't have it. Just for me alone.

And I'll sue anyone who takes it in vain.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

Republican and wanna-be-Republican, I don't know which is worse. Well, yes I do.

You jump to your conclusions, and I'll jump to mine.

But I think things are too complicated to be jumping to mutually contradictory conclusions, so I think it would be best if social conservatives could find their own country to ruin.

Say, Paraguay.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

harry: "Another school of thought is that today's government is drawn from a group of people who think that you can't build anything without years of environmental analyses ... One more touchstone on the old days versus now ..."

Thanks for the trip down memory lane using your rose-colored glasses, when men of action didn't wait around for all those pesky environmentalists and safety inspectors to give their stamp of approval.

Back in the day, the City of Los Angeles only took three years (1923-26) to plan, design and construct the St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, under the direction of its fabled Chief Engineer, William Mullholland, who also built the Panama Canal and the L.A. / Owens Valley Aqueduct.

Click here to see for yourself the result of that hasty effort, which led to the nation's greatest civil engineering disaster in the past century.

While the official death toll remains 420, it has since been acknowledged that public officials back then failed to account for the number of transients and migrant farm workers living in the Santa Clara River Valley who got caught in the resulting massive flooding. Modern assessments now estimate that nearly 1,000 people lost their lives as a result of the the dam's catastrophic failure on the night of March 12-13, 1928.

Personally, I prefer to live in a well-planned present, rather than the gung-ho past.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 26, 2007 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

Follow up question: who would buy a giant piece of swamp land full of malarial mosquitos with unbearable hot and humid summers and blistering cold winds in winter and build a capital there?

I think this may be at least 2/3 of what you need to know about the American government.

Posted by: Linus on May 26, 2007 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Follow up question: who would buy a giant piece of swamp land full of malarial mosquitos with unbearable hot and humid summers and blistering cold winds in winter and build a capital there?

I think this may be at least 2/3 of what you need to know about the American government.

Posted by: Linus on May 26, 2007 at 11:18 PM

One wonders how American history might have been changed if, by the margin of one vote, the national capital had been placed in Morrisville, Pa., just across the Delaware River from Trenton. It almost happened in the late 1780s.

Posted by: Vincent on May 26, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Follow up question: who would buy a giant piece of swamp land full of malarial mosquitos with unbearable hot and humid summers and blistering cold winds in winter and build a capital there?

Wisconsin.

Posted by: cld on May 26, 2007 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

DfH - the paved road up Mount Lemmon, just north of Tucson has a similar tragic history of slave/convict labor and tragedy. Appropriately, the man behind that project was named Hitchcock.

(And he puts Sherrif Joe Arrpayo in context.)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 27, 2007 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else think it a bad idea to place all the top brass of the armed services in the same (star shaped) building?

Posted by: DMark on May 27, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Donald:

That you can fish up one disaster out of thousands of projects isn't all that significant. Construction projects fail today, too.

This has nothing to do with safety. Anything can be made safe with proper care. This is about achieving and building great things, or not. Do you really think we could clear a project like the Golden Gate Bridge today?

Apparently, too many people believe the safest thing to do is often doing nothing. The World Trade Center is still a hole in the ground, and safety codes have little to do with it.

Posted by: harry on May 27, 2007 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for forgiving me for declawing my cat.

Posted by: Brojo on May 27, 2007 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

harry: "This is about achieving and building great things, or not. Do you really think we could clear a project like the Golden Gate Bridge today? Apparently, too many people believe the safest thing to do is often doing nothing. The World Trade Center is still a hole in the ground, and safety codes have little to do with it."

You bring up a very good discussion point.

If you'd like me to provide more examples where people later came to regret decisions previously made and executed in haste, I'd be happy to do so. I'm not sure what the point of that exercise would be.

While you argue that "[t]his is about achieving and building great things", I would counter that "greatness" is an inherently objective characteristic that is achieved by public consensus, and often only with the passage of time.

And, yes, I do believe that projects like the Golden Gate Bridge would still be completed in a timely manner today, provided that the public agreed that there was a compelling reason to build such a project.

What you need to realize is that the planning, design and construction of the Golden Gate Bridge took 16 years in all -- from its initial conception and public presentation in 1921 by civil engineer Joseph Strauss, to the 1937 ribbon-cutting ceremoy that opened it to the general public.

As you noted, the fact that the World Trade Center site is still "a hole in the ground" nearly six years after its destruction has nothing to do with structural or environmental approval processes. It's crux is a public dispute over the design process, because the site is hallowed ground to many surviving relatives and friends, A number of whom have apparently taken exception to various proposals, and are understandibly suspicious of any attempts that might disturb their loved ones' final resting place.

I'm sorry that public approval processes apparently don't move quickly enough for some people's liking. But then again, when did it become the obligation of either a democratic government or the general public to reach consensus in a "timely" manner?

If there is not sufficient public consensus on a given project, it's always best to wait until public concerns regarding design, planning, safety, environment, etc., have been sufficiently alleviated or addressed before moving forward. Individual frustration or impatience should never be used as an excuse to circumvent or short-circuit the public decision-making process.

I do sympathize with and share your evident discouragement over the World Trade Center impass. But rest assured that we as a people are still capable of achieving greatness, and that something wonderful will arise from that site, and will be fully complementary to both its historic and emotional significance.

Aloha.

NOTE to right-wing trolls: This exchange between harry and me should show you how reasonable and intelligent people discuss important issues and air their differences in a thoughtful and respectful manner.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 27, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

harry on May 27, 2007 at 1:27 AM:

Anything can be made safe with proper care.

If that's true, then it usually means "wait(ing) around for all those pesky environmentalists and safety inspectors to give their stamp of approval", harry.

I'm more of a measure-twice-cut-once guy when it comes to large-scale construction projects. That doesn't mean that the work can't be done quickly, mind you...but it has to be done correctly.

Posted by: grape_crush on May 27, 2007 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

The Pentagon is stylistically designed to resemble an early-nineteenth-century artillery fort. About 1700, there was a French military engineer named Sebastian Le Prestre De Vauban. He developed a body of theory about how to build a fort to resist intense artillery fire (such as that produced by a warship), and he wrote a book about it. His ideas retained currency until after the American Civil War. Practically every eastern coastal city has one or more harbor forts, designed by a military engineer who had read De Vauban, the most famous of these forts being Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, and Ft. Sumner in Charleston, South Carolina. These forts were built to keep the British Navy out of America's ports and inland waterways. West Point is also such a fort-- its original purpose was to keep the British Navy out of the Hudson River, which is navigable all the way to Albany. These forts became the army's administrative centers by default, simply by virtue of being in existence in central locations. By the 1890's, the Coast Artillery was getting new breech-loading guns with greater range, and was moving out to more remote islands, leaving the old forts in the harbors to be used for offices, warehouses, etc. I have a copy of an 1889 directory of army posts. For the vast majority of eastern posts, the directory says: "take a train to such and such a point, and then catch a ferry boat to the island." Of the army's eight geographical "departments" (ie. brigades), one covered the entire eastern United States (except Illinois), and the other seven were in the west. The army presence in the populated portions of the country was largely confined to the Coast Artillery.

The senior officers who ran the army in the Second World War had all joined the army before the First World War. They belonged to the "old army" which only had a few thousand men. They had certain conventional ideas of what an army base was supposed to look like, according to use. It was more or less self-evident that an administrative center should look like the harbor forts in which these men were accustomed to doing administrative work. Most of the modern army bases, generally named after Confederate generals, were only founded in 1917-18 or 1940. Today, we have a certain sense of what a college is supposed to look like. Someone who starts a new college will (within his means) copy buildings from Harvard and Yale. He will not set out to copy a shopping center.

http://www.cdsg.org/home.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_Artillery
http://www.thefortatsandyhook.net/history.asp

Posted by: Andrew D. Todd on May 27, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

In 1998, the area's population approved a measure that would design and build a third Tacoma's Narrows Bridge, parallel to the second.

That bridge will open in approximately 6-7 weeks.

If you don't believe great things can happen quickly, you're just wrong.

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/TNBhistory/#4

Posted by: bigcat on May 27, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

The USA is becoming a police state.

Evidence at

http://home.comcast.net/~plutarch/PoliceState.html

Posted by: Joe on May 27, 2007 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

JimPortlandOR asked:

"Anyone know if most of the DoD military officers in DC and Pentagon are wearing civilian clothes now for the probable huge builup that Iraq has occasioned?"
_______________________

No, Jim, all military personnel in the Pentagon wear their uniforms every day. That's also true for those who work in other government buildings around Washington unless they have been assigned to a civilian position.

Posted by: trashhauler on May 27, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

The Pentagon is an anti-American tribute to the triumph of militarism. The Founding Fathers would be appalled and dismantle the place brick by brick. What a waste of friggin' taxpayer dollars!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 27, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else think it a bad idea to place all the top brass of the armed services in the same (star shaped) building?
Posted by: DMark on May 27, 2007 at 12:16 AM

At the time that it was built the world was a much larger place than it is now. It was out of range as a practical target during WWII. I remember reading something in the WaPo a few years back about decentralizing staff and moving them out into the burbs around DC.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 27, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

It was originally thought that the pentagon is a huge mystical device designed to imprison and tap the powers of the ancient evil God Iog-sothoth. On 9/11, when the outer wall was breeched, Iog-sothoth escaped his imprisonment, ready to wreak his vengeance on the world.

First thing he did was to attempt to posess and control the greatest human leader in the world.

After he met George Bush, he decided he would be safer back home in the Pentagon.

Posted by: bungholio on May 27, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yet Republicans think our society is so incompetent it must outsource all parts of public activity.

The Apollo Program, the Golden Gate Bridge, the interstate highway system, the Pentagon building itself, these were massive public works projects. A need was identified and addressed, not by private interests, but by the public.

In the past three decades of Conservative hegemony any public need is treated with contempt or ignored unless it can be described as private exploitation. The levy system in New Orleans was grossly inadequate, and everyone who examined it said as much, but there was no attempt to reconstruct it or seriously address the problem at all.

Air pollution is a grotesque problem, but the Conservative idea of seriously addressing it is to eliminate regulations and build coal-burning power plants.

All industrial plants need to be revised nearly from the ground up, but Republicans would laugh that out of the room. These people are the danger themselves, why should we take them seriously?

Posted by: cld on May 27, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Todd

Excellent piece and thank you.

I wonder though whether we can so readily trace a line from Vauban to the design of the Pentagon?

I would need to know a lot more about the latter.

The other thing about West Point is that it sits, I believe, at the break in the bluffs along the Hudson River. It therefore prevents an army invading from New York harbour (the British) crossing over the Hudson). This is why Benedict Arnold's attempt to betray it was so important to the British (if only Congress had given him that promotion, and he hadn't been blamed for Montreal...).

harry

The point about the WTC site has been the deadlock between the lessor, Larry Silverstein, and the owner (the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey). To have solved that, would have required annexing the *property rights* of a *private individual*, Larry Silverstein. Which governments can and did do in the past (see Oak Ridges Tennessee) but largely we find objectionable now.

If you want a country that 'just builds things', consider modern China. By and large, the urban citiscapes they are creating by ripping down historic buildings and blowing 6 lane highways through them are uninspiring and unpleasant. We had that period in Britain and North America in the 50s and 60s, and some of the worst examples of state-sponsored socialism: public housing, downtown expressways etc.

They'll come to regret letting it happen, just as we regret the wholesale destruction of our heritage: remember Penn Station (the old one)?

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 27, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

harry

Just to add to that.

Can we really say that building an east to west highway through the middle of Greenwich Village and Washington Square (as the bureaucrats in City Hall intended) really would have made New York a better place?

Would it really have been better to have overwritten the property rights of thousands of individual property owners to achieve that?

In the bad old days, you could do that with most neighbourhoods that were full of black people, brown people, poor people. Mario Cuomo began his career by representing a bunch of scrap yard owners who the City was nationalising for a pittance. You couldn't do it in Forest Hills, but you sure as heck could in the Bronx.

Nowadays this is much more difficult. Is this really such a backwards movement?

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 27, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

When someone writes the real history of the 20th century, they are going to marvel at the phenomenon of the middle-aged Jewish lady:

- Jane Jacobs, who saved Greenwich Village and transformed urban planning forever

- Rachel Carson, who, although no opponent of responsible use of insecticide, kicked off the movement against just plastering every problem with toxic chemicals, in a sense she created modern environmentalism

- Betty Friedan who set the groundwork for what we used to call feminism, and we now call our daughters having careers

These women made extraordinary contributions to the 20th century against vast (primarily white, protestant, male) opposition and overwhelming odds. It would be interesting to understand what drove them, what made them the women they were.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 27, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

What! All the work the recently late, and still great, Robert Anton Wilson went to, showing that everything revolves around an age-old "Illuminati" conspiracy involving Freemasons, the occult, secret underground cabals running the world, the Papacy, UFOs, fairies and the Pooka, what you see when you take about 1000 mcg of acid, and last but most relevantly: the number 23 and things coming in fives (e.g., the pentacle) - and you have to ask, "Why does the Pentagon have five sides"?

(Analytical philosophy joke re last question - answer, "Because it's called the Pentagon.")

"I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."

Posted by: Neil B. on May 27, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Harry is a bit busy at the moment - Trying to get in touch with his Congress Critters to help bring the WPA and CCCorps. So much to build.

bigcat, I just loved the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge - So aesthetic, the way it swayed in the wind like tall trees - Not many today can give you that unique sense of being on a roller coaster. Yes, they did build them so much better in yonder days.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 27, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Another example to consider here is the boom in skyscraper construction in the early 20th century in Manhattan. An incredible number of them were built, almost overnight, and within twenty years nearly everyone of them had to be torn down before they fell down.

I think we'll see exactly that about twenty years from now in China.

Posted by: cld on May 27, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, and one of my "favorite" wonderful building accomplishments of yore was by that contractor who started in Turner, Kansas and built the hotel in Kansas City - Paid off a few building inspectors - Corners were cut - reinforcing was cut back - So when many assembled to watch the afternoon concert from the overhead walkway, as they began to tap their toes, the thing turned in the first Tacoma Narrows, and they were hurled to their deaths. But, hey, what is the "free market" anyway.

Posted by: stupid git on May 27, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker,

Speaking of Rachel Carson, check out the Commentary Section of the Oregonian today for an interesting update.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 27, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

The best part of this article is that FDR, not without some personal risk, both physical and political, took his vacation time to meet secretly with W.S. Churchill who was almost two, TWO whole years into a near disastrous WWII.

In another 4 months the US would be forced to join the war and FDR's hands would be free.

The US and the world have more to thank FDR for than is often recognized because, without that support, the US might never have had a platform from which to help recapture Western Europe and it might still be Communist from Cadiz to Kamchatka.

Thanks FDR.

Posted by: notthere on May 27, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK
...There's a crater in Manhattan that wasn't there before... harry at 6:03 PM
Actually, it was. I recall that was the electronic district before the same hole was dug for the WTC buildings. Iron workers were walking on the same level as the sidewalk, yet were seven stories up. Before the excavation, there was a store with a sign in the window that said: "LOST, one diamond ring. Finder will receive hardy handshake from owner."
... The other side certainly thinks we're in a war, and they declared it over ten years ago.... harry at 6:03 PM
The "other side' doesn't have a state and therefore can't declare war. You have to learn how to distinguish those willing to kill you from those who merely hate you because you have been killing them for decades. The enemy was bin Laden and al Qaeda, not Iraq, not Iran, not Syria.
These women made extraordinary contributions to the 20th century against vast... opposition and overwhelming odds.....Valuethinker at 1:12 PM
You left out Margaret Sanger , Susan B. Anthony (d. 1906) and Rosa Parks, three other great heroines.
... to help recapture Western Europe and it might still be Communist from Cadiz to Kamchatka. notthere at 3:11 PM
Western Europe was not communist. Cadiz is in Spain which was fascist, and Kamchatka is in Russia, not Western Europe. Posted by: Mike on May 27, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

One takes his vacation time and secretly meets with Churchill; the other thinks he is Churchill and uses and uses and uses his vacations to gather brush and ride his mountain tricycle.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 27, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Donald:

And, yes, I do believe that projects like the Golden Gate Bridge would still be completed in a timely manner today, provided that the public agreed that there was a compelling reason to build such a project.

Your points on the WTC were good ones, but I still think that in the balance between unregulated construction and complete stagnation we still might be tilted a bit too far over in the "stagnation" direction. Nowadays, it doesn't take "the public" to jam a project up for years--just one or two activist groups. Sometimes they have good reasons. Sometimes they don't.

bigcat:

Thanks for an inspiring counterexample in the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The Millau Viaduct in France also comes to mind as proof that people still build great things.

Posted by: harry on May 27, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

theThirdPaul

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/05/happy_birthday_rachel_carson.php#more

tracking back you can see both the smear campaign against Carson and why it is a smear campaign, that ignores scientific evidence and historical fact (the reason why DDT spraying was curtailed was that mosquitoes were developing immunity to it).

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 27, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

cld

That's the first time I have ever heard that about Manhattan skyscrapers.

Do you have a reference?

It would be fascinating if true.

I have observed first hand the low quality of a lot of the construction in China. They are in a hurry, and it's going to cost them.

Again, the UK is instructive. A lot of the early tall buildings (especially social housing, but also office blocks) built after the war are now being pulled down. They are surrounded by streets of Victorian buildings that are still going strong after over 120 or more years since construction.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 27, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Mike,

Germany had already invaded Russia in 1941. It is quite possible that Russia would have beaten Gerany, maybe with the same help we provided them during WWII, without the other Allies' invasion.

If so, I don't think they would have stopped at Germany's Western borders, particularly as all of Western Europe was militarily neutered by Germany. Seeing as Spain was already Fascist, I don't think they would have stopped at the Pyrenees either.

So the vision of Communism reaching from Cadiz to Kamchatka was a possibility, and as an isolated mono-bloc would not have been so subject to the cultural pressures as permeated the curtain.

And Kachatka is in Asia, to compare continent to continent, and the USSR, somewhat more than Russia, included a vaste chunk of Eastern Europe as well as stretching to the extreme East of Asia.

Try not to rate everybody's geographic knowledge and comprehension at your own level. "Recapture of Western Europe" is not a limiting qualifier on the following clause.

Similarly an organization can declare a goal which they portray as a war, viz. the IRA to get the British out of Ireland, and what does jihadism in its extreme sense mean? What is incorrect is for a state to accept same as "war". Personally I don't believe we are in a war, but since the US uses this term in a most liberal way -- poverty, drugs, etc. -- it's hard not to admit it has some validity.

Posted by: notthere on May 27, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

There was something on the History Channel a few weeks ago about the Manhattan project where they describe the largest building ever constructed, up to that point, at least, which was used to refine plutonium in Tennessee.

Not that it particularly matters, but plutonium was refined at Hanford, Washington. The two Oak Ridge plants, Y-12 and K-25, refined uranium using two different processes. The K-25 plant, which is the one you mentioned, used gaseous diffusion.

Posted by: gemini on May 27, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

harry: "Nowadays, it doesn't take 'the public' to jam a project up for years--just one or two activist groups."

First of all, such civic activism is hardly a new concept, so let's please dispense with the term "Nowadays". Development projects have been opposed by people, regardless of reason or rationale, since the founding of this country. Sometimes they succeed in tying "progress" up in knots for decades, and often despite the best efforts of the powers-that-be to marginalize such civic-minded people as militantly misguided malcontents.

I would offer you as an example (SoCal again) South Pasadena's 40+- years' and heretofore successful campaign to keep the Long Beach Freeway from fatally bisecting their small municipality, simply because San Gabriel Valley businesses and some residents want a direct route to the LB /LA harbor basin.

If the courts or legislative branches determine that those "one or two activist groups" -- although I prefer the less-perjorative term "concerned citizens" -- don't have valid issues that need to be addressed, then their case is far more often than not dismissed. That's the way the democratic system works, albeit too slowly for some people's wants or desires.

But it is patently unconstitutional -- not to mention occasionally foolhardy -- to ride roughshod over the objections of such citizen activists without ever providing them the opportunity to state and make their case before the public, simply because well-connected developers and a few friendly neighborhood public officials find their perhaps-valid arguments a potential inconvenience and impediment to their plans.

If you find a person's objections to be trifling or immaterial, then you need to make your own case to the public why this is so, rather than simply dismiss such opposition with a wave of your hand, as though you were simply dealing with the whining of an unruly child.

The way urban development is currently proceeding apace in this country, it would not surprise me in the least to one day note your own firm presence in the camps of those "one or two activist groups", should your own ox ever be offered up by another party as a candidate for disembowelment.

And when you do, you'll no doubt be grateful that the democratic process has in place those triggers and safeguards that protect your own right to both publicly state and -- if ever the need be -- legally adjudicate your objection.

Aloha.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 27, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Alas, I don't have a reference for that off the top of my head, but that is how I have always understood it.

There was a large picture book with a title like 'The New York That No Longer Exists' which made a lasting impression on me.

In photographs of the 1895-1915 era you can see the cityscape was already large and impressive, and incredibly different, with a remarkable variety of elaborate and eccentrically shaped buildings, topped by whole Greek temples and fantasy temples and globes and hanging gardens.

There was a tower that was a giant shopping arcade with an elevated train that ran right into the middle of it at about the fifth story.

And, of course, the newspaper building that vibrated when the presses ran.

I'm surprised I cannot find a website focusing on just this time period. The building with the giant globe on it alone I'd think would be famous.

Posted by: cld on May 27, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker: "These women made extraordinary contributions to the 20th century against vast (primarily white, protestant, male) opposition and overwhelming odds. It would be interesting to understand what drove them, what made them the women they were."

mike: "You left out Margaret Sanger , Susan B. Anthony (d. 1906) and Rosa Parks, three other great heroines."

I'd also like to add to their ranks my old boss, the late Hawaii Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who authored Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, shepherded its passage by Congress and secured its approval by President Nixon.

Next to the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there is no piece of legislation that had a greater positive impact on the status of women in this country. That women can today freely attend law and medical school without impediment, and otherwise have a meaningful professional career outside the home, is due in no small part to the foresight, wisdom and courage displayed by Mrs. Mink in the halls of Congress some 35 years ago.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 27, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans complain piously there's a war on when it suits them, but when it doesn't the idea is contemptible.

Posted by: cld on May 27, 2007 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, thanks for no reply. I'll take that as a give-me.

DofH and cld, I'll take it as back-up, if not condoning, of my opinion of "normative" US endorsement.

DofH: "projects have been opposed by people, regardless of reason or rationale, since the founding of this country."

No! Not since founding, but throughout history. Show me a revolution, any time, where this is not the underlying issue! And the answer came from where? The king? The predident? No! The people, through rebellion or revolution.

Not ever by sustaining. Dellusion is the undecurrent to politics, not any path to reality!

Posted by: notthere on May 27, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al... Thank you, Al...

Posted by: Kenji on May 28, 2007 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

notthere: "No! Not since founding, but throughout history. Show me a revolution, any time, where this is not the underlying issue!"

You misquoted me by omitting the word "development" from my original post. I was talking about the role of community dissent with regard to proposed capital improvement / public works projects. What are you talking about?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 28, 2007 at 7:03 AM | PERMALINK

notthere

I think the important point is that the Nazis would have gotten to the atomic bomb, eventually.

Heisenberg made a fatal miscalculation on the material required, but that could and would have been rectified. They had the brains, and they had the technological ability. Once it was clear it was possible, they would have done it.

The Nazis were way ahead on ballistic missile technology, and ahead on jet engine technology. They had the only operational jet fighter ME262) and bomber (Arado) of WWII.

They had the 8 engine jet bomber that could reach New York on the design boards, and they would have built it. The US might have had the bomb first, but without the United Kingdom, the unsinkable airbase, no way to deliver it.

And an alliance with Japan against the United States would eventually have been on the cards. Once Hitler had started to gobble up the world, he could not have stopped.

If the Nazis conquered Britain then the next world war would have been the Germans and Japanese, against the USA.

As to the Russians, while it is unquestionable that *they* beat the Nazis, and we were a bit part, the Nazis were fatally distracted by what we could throw at them: having to garrison the Atlantic Wall, the North African and Mediterranean fronts, the strategic bombing campaign. Each was a significant drag on resources and strategic focus (and in the case of the strategic bombing campaign, when we finally hit their oil supplies, fatal).

And the contribution of US Lend Lease to Russian industrialisation and mobilisation was huge. The Russian word for military truck became 'Studebaker'. The war weapons we provided them with were largely supernumerary, (although helpful), but the trucks and other raw materials were absolutely essential: eg allowing them to mechanise agriculture fully with Deere tractors, so as to mobilise the men to fight for the Red Army.

I think it's no exaggeration to say WWII was won by Russian manpower and generalship, American industry, and British doggedness ;-).

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 28, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK
....And Kachatka is in Asia, to compare continent to continent... ....notthere at 4:59 PM
It pretty silly to now claim that you were comparing 'continent to continent' when you clearly limited yourself to western Europe. You need to learn how to write coherently.
Dellusion is the undecurrent to politics, not any path to reality! notthere at 10:47 PM
d-e-l-u-s-i-o-n, u-n-d-e-r-c-u-r-r-e-n-t That isn't necessarily so. There are distinct philosophical positions that are the underpinning of politics. Posted by: Mike on May 28, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't anyone remember enough European military history to recall that Vaubin, architect of Louis IV's military expansion, designed all his forts with five sides, the better to provide defensive cannon coverage from the points of the star, and the easier to repell cannon balls fired by the attacking side (by presenting an oblique angle)? Maybe not. As the French have claimed about us Americans, we "have no history..." meaning, I think, a commonly-held larger sense of history than our own. Even so, as I recall, Fort Sumner was (and is) a pentagonal fort, as well as many other old forts in the Western hemisphere.

It would seem logical to build a military headquarters building in a grand design reminiscent of other military architectural edifices. I don't think more elaborate explanations are needed.

Posted by: Jon Spencer on May 30, 2007 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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