- History of Operations Research in the United States Army, Volume II: 1961–1973
This is the second of three volumes on the history of operations research in the U.S. Army. Volume I covered the origins of operations research during World War II and followed its progress to 1962. This volume is organized so that it can be read without reference to the first volume. It begins with an overview in chapter one of how the Army’s scientific management techniques evolved from the Root reforms in the first decade of the century to the operations research and systems analysis (ORSA) programs in the late 1950s. It then picks up the story in 1961 when John F. Kennedy became president and takes it to 1973 when U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam. During that period there was a dynamic tension between the advocates of ORSA who wanted to quantify major decisions and the Army’s more traditional approach to decision making that relied on a significant amount of military judgment. There were good reasons for that tension. As Shrader points out, “War, being a peculiarly human activity, is not a matter amenable to fractional economic analysis, to computer modeling, or to numerical precision.” His narrative explains how new and old methods of doing business in the Army changed under Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
The main body of the book is organized into functional areas that explain how various elements of the Army reacted to the implementation of ORSA methods with emphasis on the analytical community. The last chapter covers ORSA during [End Page 1384] the Vietnam War, including both the positive aspects as well as what Shrader terms the “dark side,” notably the infamous “body count.” In spite of ending on what could be considered a low point, the book describes a generally successful period of progress for the Army’s ORSA community.
Shrader includes detailed and insightful biographical sketches of the people who most influenced the use of operations research in the Army, and he has quoted them extensively, letting them tell much of the story in their own words. There are an abundance of figures that illustrate the plethora of organizations that have been involved in Army ORSA programs, and the narrative explains the mission and function of each of them. A variety of tables provide summaries of information that are a useful supplement to the text. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising to find the text strewn with acronyms and abbreviations that in some places are so plentiful as to make reading a bit of a chore. In an effort to help the reader through the text, each acronym is expanded upon in its first use in each chapter, and there is a six-page list of selected acronyms and abbreviations at the back of the book.
The Army has used operations research as a tool for decision-making since World War II, but its history has not been well understood. Shrader has extensively researched the subject and organized his findings in a detailed study that will help the Army’s analyst community as well as military and civilian leaders better understand how and why the Army developed and used ORSA techniques during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War.