glyph 599: history, book, Winston Churchill, Sudan, Egypt, Africa. 19th century ... Either this is a lesson in decision making or it's not ... in any case it's interesting and amusing


Leadership & Decision Making

General Kitchener, Sudan, 1896, Desert Railway

The plan under consideration involved building a 1,000 mile railroad through desert during a war, as key to the reconquest of the Sudan by Britain, 1896-1899, General Kitchener (the "Sirdar") in command.

The plan was perfect, and the arguments in its favour conclusive. It turned, however, on one point: Was the Desert Railway a possibility? With this question the General was now confronted. He appealed to expert opinion. Eminent railway engineers in England were consulted. They replied with unanimity that, having due regard to the circumstances, and remembering the conditions of war under which the work must be executed, it was impossible to construct such a line. Distinguished soldiers were approached on the subject. They replied that the scheme was not only impossible, but absurd. Many other persons who were not consulted volunteered the opinion that the whole idea was that of a lunatic, and predicted ruin and disaster to the expedition. Having received this advice, and reflected on it duly, the Sirdar [General Kitchener] ordered the railway to be constructed without further delay. —The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, Winston S. Churchill, the chapter on 'The Desert Railway'.
May 29, 2018; edited/updated October 13, 2018

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