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When the Leaders Are the Problem

[This is Daniel’s Afterword to the book Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental by Marc Gerstein with Michael Ellsberg]

Dr. Gerstein’s final chapter has given guidelines for leaders on how they might avert the kinds of catastrophes described in this book. It would be good for society (and all organizations) if more leaders exhibited this kind of concern and followed the suggestions he gives.

However, in my own experience in government, and in my study of national security policy catastrophes in the decades since, I have come to believe that the most dangerous practices in the national security realm reflect priorities, in general, that are set by top officials: getting reelected, avoiding condemnation for past actions, or other political or bureaucratic objectives. Those priorities generally take great precedence over safety or preventing public harm. Continue Reading

Learning from Past Disasters, Preventing Future Ones

[Daniel’s foreword to Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental by Marc Gerstein, with Michael Ellsberg.]

I have participated in several major organizational catastrophes. The most well known of them is the Vietnam War. I was aware on my first visit to Vietnam in 1961 that the situation there – a failing neocolonial regime we had installed as a successor to French rule – was a sure loser in which we should not become further involved. Yet a few years later, I found myself participating as a high-level staffer in a policy process that lied both the public and Congress into a war that, unbeknownst to me at the time, experts inside the government accurately predicted would lead to catastrophe. Continue Reading