Sunday, December 07, 2008

Imagining Disaster

While reading the engrossing Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson, I continued to be stunned by the Lincoln administration's failure to provide elementary security for the president, the vice president, and other top officials.

The feeling behind the omission was that political assassination was foreign to the nature and culture of Americans; this despite the severe emotions and divisions evoked by the Civil War. Swanson notes the security was so lax that Lincoln's murderer, John Wilkes Booth, would have been easily admitted to the White House if he'd simply requested an audience. Booth then could have simply shot the President in the Oval Office.

Which brings up a management problem that Irving Janus wrote of years ago: the inability to visualize disaster. Some executives and groups have serious difficulty imagining how things can go wrong. They rose, in many cases, by accentuating the positive and by having "can do" attitudes. Caution can be too easily dismissed as fearfulness. What is later regarded as reckless was once disguised as bravery.

Swanson's book is a gripping tale. It is history as crime novel. His account also has some thought-provoking management issues as well as many "If only they had" moments.

Check it out.


Anonymous said...

I would like to recommend to you American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael Kauffman. This highly-acclaimed book was the basis for the History Channel presentation, "The Hunt For John Wilkes Booth," first shown last December. Mr. Kauffman has researched the Lincoln assassination for nearly 40years and his carefully-documented book has received numerous awards and is the best you can read on the subject.

Michael Wade said...

Thanks! I'll check it out. The entire story is fascinating.