Saturday, July 15, 2017


Usefulness of Pedantic Exactitude

R.G.M. Nisbet, "William Smith Watt, 1913-2002," Proceedings of the British Academy 124 (2004) 359–372 (at 363; footnote omitted):
In May 1941 Watt joined the Inter-Services Topographical Department, then based in Oxford, as a temporary civilian officer, Admiralty; the department had been set up by Admiral J.H. Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, who had been appalled by the lack of geographical information in the bungled Norwegian campaign in the spring of 1940. It was the duty of the civilian officer to coordinate and edit the data about beaches, roads, and possible airfields collected by the representatives of the three services. Watt commonly worked a twelve-hour day, and sometimes into the night as well when information was needed for plans that were not necessarily executed (perhaps they included some of Churchill's rasher inspirations). Classical scholars were thought suitable for such research as they were used to collating defective scraps of evidence, their pedantic exactitude was seen to be worthwhile when lives were at stake, and they had a reputation at that time for writing concisely and clearly...

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