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How the Pentagon Got Its Shape 473

Pcol writes "The Washington Post is running a story on the design process for the Pentagon building and why it ended up with its unusual shape. In July 1941 with World War II looming, a small group of army officers met to consider a secret plan to provide a permanent home for War Department headquarters containing 4 million square feet of office space and housing 40,000 people. The building that Brig. Gen. Brehon Burke Somervell, head of the Army's Construction Division, wanted to build was too large to fit within the confines of Washington DC and would have to be located across the Potomac River in Arlington. "We want 500,000 square feet ready in six months, and the whole thing ready in a year," the general said adding that he wanted a design on his desk by Monday morning. The easiest solution, a tall building, was out because of pre-war restrictions on steel usage and the desire not to ruin Washington's skyline. The tract selected had a asymmetrical pentagon shape bound on five sides by roads or other divisions so the building was designed to conform to the tract of land. Then with objections that the new building would block views from Arlington National Cemetery, the location was moved almost one-half mile south. The building would no longer be constructed on the five-sided Arlington Farm site yet the team continued with plans for a pentagon at the new location. In the rush to complete the project, there was simply no time to change the design."
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How the Pentagon Got Its Shape

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  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:02AM (#19299951) Homepage
    Here is the printable version [] ... as noted at the bottom, this this is an excerpt from an upcoming book The Pentagon: a History by Stephan Vogel. Newspapers tend to do these reprints over 3-day weekends since not a lotta news happening - here's something ... uhhhhh ... exciting [] happening today ... ;-)
  • by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:29AM (#19300205) Journal
    In more innocent days, the center ring, lower level of the Pentagon contained a mini-shopping mall (called the Concourse) with department stores, a bookseller and other shops, restaurants, a Post Office, and businesses such as dry cleaners. It was also a major transfer point for people taking public transportation (at that time it would've been all buses) into and out of Washington, DC.
  • Re:this reminds me (Score:5, Informative)

    by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <slashdot.stango@org> on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:31AM (#19300219) Homepage Journal
    Actually, that was from a headline from the first post-9/11 issue of the Onion.

    More correctly, it was a headline they thought went a little too far, and was not actually used. If memory serves it was something like "America Stronger Than Ever, Say Quadragon Officials."

  • by nokilli ( 759129 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:20PM (#19300529)
    Perhaps if you stopped watching Fox News or drinking out of the toilet you'd know this already.

    Lancet had Iraqi casualties at 655,000 [] and that was over a half year ago and doesn't count military.

    And of course, that doesn't count what we did in Afghanistan, where we spent months bombing civilian targets that lay along the pipeline routes, bombings that took place long before we went after Tora Bora and bin Laden. And missed.

    Add the sanctions under Clinton responsible for at least a half-million Iraqi dead. Add the millions dead from the Iran-Iraq war, which we clearly instigated. Or the Gulf War, which we probably manufactured (see April Glaspie []). The depleted uranium getting into everything, including the mothers breast.

    Most of the Bush White coming out of Afghanistan since the invasion is destined for Iraq as well, so we need to consider that too.

    It is genocide and in truth the number is way over a million, it's in the many millions.

    Your saying otherwise is no different than the "good" Germans denying the "Holocaust".

    Please, have the heart to become human again, and stand against this atrocity.

    Censored by Technorati []
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Dolly_Llama ( 267016 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:24PM (#19300563) Homepage

    Sure it did. The French resistance was very successful in disrupting the operation of the nazi occupation and the vichy french government. In fact, partisans all over Europe pinned down a substantial part of the Nazi army in garrison duty. They weren't so successful in going toe to toe with a standing army, but then neither are the Iraqis.
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:45PM (#19300701)
    This worked so effectively for us in Vietnam.

    Perhaps you aren't old enough to remember the Vietnam war, but I do. The US was never officially at war against North Vietnam, they spent ten years helping South Vietnam fight the Viet Cong insurgents. They dropped a few million tons of bombs in North Vietnam, for sure, just like they did on the Viet Cong supply routes in Laos and Cambodia, but they never attempted to invade North Vietnam.

    If the US had wanted to win the Vietnam war they should have invaded North Vietnam. Land there in an amphibious attack and war would have been won in a matter of weeks. Likewise, if they want to win the Iraq war now, they should invade Syria and Iran. If the US Army had stopped at the German border after liberating France from Nazism they would have lost WWII.

    Ever since Truman refused the MacArthur request to attack China during the Korea war, the US has had this doctrine of limited wars, fighting proxy armies as if the power behind them did not exist. A very expensive way to obtain limited results.

  • by mfriedma ( 945835 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:58PM (#19300785)
    I thought everyone knew this, but I guess not...

    A pentagon is a very traditional shape for fortifications. Reason is very simple. If you have a pentagon shaped fort then each side of the fort can provide supporting fire to its two adjacent sides.

    A sides on a square fort cannot provide supporting fire at all. Sides on a hexagonal fort can but with a hexagonal fort you can only get 50% of the defenders firing against an attack on a side. With a pentagonal fort you can get 60%. This basic fact makes a pentagon the most effective shape for a fortification, assuming no terrain features to change the situation.

    It would be an amazing coincidence if The Pentagon was pentagonal for any reason but this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:52PM (#19301143)
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xel'Naga ( 673728 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:06PM (#19301233)
    The Romans needed 200 years of constant warfare to pacify Hispania, in spite of using the genocidal means the parent describes. The Roman republic was characterized by an incredible degree of persistence in military matters. This was how they won their wars, not by superior military leadership/organization/technology.
  • Re:am i an idiot? (Score:2, Informative)

    by CaptainJeff ( 731782 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:39PM (#19301463)
    Kind of true. There are five sides, with five dedications - Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Servants, and Pentagon senior leadership/SECDEF. The Coast Guard is not part of the Department of Defense (except during times of war) and the Marines are part of the Department of the Navy.
  • Re:WWII looming? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jim_deane ( 63059 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:18PM (#19301687) Journal

    In the United States, World War II was looming in July 1941. Many countries were involved, Germany was on the move, the Pacific was looking to heat up, and here in the U.S. there was much debate between isolationists and non-isolationists about our potential involvement.

    We weren't directly involved yet, so for us it did still LOOM in 1941. I expect someone in Russia would describe it much differently, with different dates. Similarly, Russians call it something like the "Great Patriotic War" rather than "World War II".

    It's the old "three blind men describe an elephant" problem.
  • by MonsoonDawn ( 795807 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:52PM (#19301947) Homepage
    "As for the USSR, their resolve at the time could be measured by the Cuban missile crisis in 1962"

    Russia was willing to use the nuclear missles based in Cuba in the event of an American invasion. Castro wanted it and had specifically asked for the use of nuclear weapons. Castro understood that at the very least Cuba would be utterly destroyed. Castro still begged Moscow to launch. Soviet subs patrolling the waters around Cuba during the crisis were armed with nuclear torpedoes and had been given the arming codes. The captains were ordered to use the nuclear torpedoes in event that they were attacked or sufficiently provoked.

    None of this is speculation, rumor, interpretation, or tales from indirect sources. This is all easily verified from public first-hand accounts and documents. WE, aka the United States, had no idea just how close everyone came to all-out nuclear war. We all came within a proveribal inch of total destruction. I would also point out that there is as yet no evidence that any of the major leaders and policy makers in Washington, Moscow, or Havana at any time thought the Cuban Missile Crisis was a bluff. All sides assumed that all-out nuclear war was imminent.

    "Would they?"

    Yes. Based on the evidence Moscow would have launched if sufficiently provoked and so would we. China is a tougher call. I would point you toward two lessons illuminated in the documentary "Fog of War" and the additional commentary provided by it's subject, Robert S. McNamara, who was Secretary of War at the time of the crisis.

    - Rationality Will Not Save Us
    - The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:56PM (#19301973)
    I know this is off-topic, but it bears saying.

    Not just Jews died under the Nazis, but everybody seems to forget that.

    I am not trying to minimize the plight of the Jews, just trying to remind everyone that they weren't the only ones who died.

    They are the only ones we seem to remember. A whole ton of Roma died too, and it is STILL ok in Europe to screw them over.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:3, Informative)

    by SuiteSisterMary ( 123932 ) <slebrun AT gmail DOT com> on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:59PM (#19301995) Journal

    I wouldn't say that one should use the ZP Experiment to excuse or condone torture, so much as to explain and avoid it. Simple third-party oversight can do wonders, as the experiment showed. Which was lacking, for example, at Abu Girhab. But it's also common wisdom that you don't have regular army perform police duties.

    Reference also the Milgram Experiment []. Or even his lesser known one, where he determines how many people, on average, have to be standing on a street corner, staring at nothing in the sky before passers-by start looking too.

    Men in Black summed it up best: 'A person is smart. People are dumb.'

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @05:36PM (#19302639)

    The English and French leadership used their own men as cannon fodder thought out WWI.

    Tactics simply hadn't caught up with weapons. Modern infantry tactics are all about mobility and flanking. America learned that in the Civil War. England and France had not learned it in WWI.

    General Pershing was a hero for telling the English and the French that there was no way in hell American troops would be put under the incompetent English and French officer corps.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @06:00PM (#19302801) Homepage

    There was definitely corruption and inefficiency on the part of the U.S. during WWII (as in any war I know of). However, there were people in government dedicated to finding such corruption, exposing it, and resolving it. That's specifically how Harry Truman came to public fame. If only our current administration allowed such a thing!

    He gained fame and respect when his preparedness committee (popularly known as the "Truman Committee") investigated the scandal of military wastefulness by exposing fraud and mismanagement. His advocacy of common-sense cost-saving measures for the military attracted much attention. Although some feared the Committee would hurt war morale, it was considered a success and is reported to have saved at least $11 billion. In 1943, his work as chairman earned Truman his first appearance on the cover of Time Magazine. (He would eventually appear on nine Time covers and be named the magazine's Man of the Year for the years 1945 and 1948.[30])

    Truman's diligent, fair-minded, and notably nonpartisan work on the Senate committee that came to bear his name turned him into a national figure. It is unlikely that Roosevelt would have considered him for the vice-presidential spot in 1944 had the former "Senator from Pendergast" not earned a new reputation in the Senate -- one for probity, hard work, and a willingness to ask powerful people tough questions. se_policy_and_the_Truman_Committee []
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @07:50PM (#19303479) Homepage Journal
    Bullshit. Shea and Wilson were completely serious. If you look through the conspiracy literature of the 60s and 70s you'll find every single idea propounded in this trilogy. Flying saucers. Who killed JFK? Magic numbers. Various LSD-induced visions propounded as serious philosophies. And a lot of this crap was written by Shea and Wilson.

    Back around 1975, I read an interview with those two drug-addled bozos. They'd propound some lame conspiracy theory. The interviewer would point out some obvious flaw in their theory. They'd say "Yeah, I guess you're right, but isn't it interesting that..." and proceed with something equally lame. They weren't interested in thinking about any flaws in theirs ideas. They just wanted to propound them faster than sceptics could shoot them down. Which has always been SOP for the Secret Truth crowd.

    Nowadays, idiots who are in love with their own ideas and can't be bothered defending them have replaced "but isn't it interesting that" with "lighten up!" It's still a cop out.

  • Re:July 1941?! (Score:4, Informative)

    by bagsc ( 254194 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @09:45PM (#19304135) Journal
    "Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

    The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

    It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

    The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

    Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

    Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

    And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

    Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

    As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

    But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

    I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

    Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

    With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

    I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @10:23PM (#19304419)
    usually swastikas are called "right-facing" or "left-facing", what a person means by clockwise or counterclockwise can vary. But if one is talking about the bend, then Buddhist is bent counter-clockwise, or to the left.

    the Nazi swastika is "right-facing", with the arms of cross bent clockwise or to the right. The Hindu swastika is also usually right-facing, although you can sometimes see right and left facing mirror image swastikas in Hindu art. The Jain in India also use that right-facing bend usually.

  • Re:am i an idiot? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:57AM (#19305381)
    "1. army"

    "War Departmnet" = Army (this is before the Department of Defense)

    "2. navy"

    Department of the Navy != War Department (see previous parenthetical)

    "3. air force"

    Army Air Corps was War Department at the time still.

    "4. marines"

    Department of the Navy

    "5. coast guard"

    Department of the Navy during wartime, Department of Commerce during peacetime (at the time)

    So, at the time of the building's construction, only two of the five you listed were being considered, and they were the same branch at the time.

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?