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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 TheCreeep ( 794716 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:03AM (#19299957)
    Ever heard of the law of fives ?
  • by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:06AM (#19299997) Journal
    almost 20 years before the founding of discordianism?

  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drsquare ( 530038 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:10AM (#19300039)
    Sorry but this isn't the 2nd century BC where all you needed to go to war was to pick up a spear and put a helmet on. Amateur 'pickup' armies don't work, and will be easily destroyed by a full-time professional army.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:13AM (#19300079) Homepage Journal

    Here's a idea to get rid of the Empire quickly: pass a Constitutional amendment that no military troops can be paid or reimbursed, ever.
    While I have no clue concerning this "Empire" of yours, one thing that would put actual teeth in the anti-war movement would be a repeal of [], such that the US would actually have to declare war to wage it. For those keeping track, WWII saw the last proper declarations of war.
    One could take the cynical route, and say that the Congress is as anti-war as it is anti-corruption. A more realistic read might be that the niceties of actual states carrying out "diplomacy by other means" using uniformed organizations along civilized lines is simply OBE.
  • by PoliTech ( 998983 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:20AM (#19300135) Homepage Journal
    "In the rush to complete the project, there was simply no time to change the design."

    If you are in IT, construction, or just about any other business where one has to deal with stringent project deadlines, you know exactly how true this situation is.

    But simple truth is way too mundane when compared to the rich fantasy available with conspiracy theories, Freemason plotting, The New World Order, Zionist global domination, Extraterrestrial influence, etc.etc. ad nauseam!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:30AM (#19300209)
    WW2 was a special time in the history of the public service. Projects were approved and built at a pace that embarrasses us today. Sure, the military had a bureaucracy but there was a war to be won. Everyone focused on being effective. Petty bureaucrats with petty bureaucratic concerns were swept aside.

    The lessons were learned in WW1. When that war started, the British officer corps was incompetent. They were in charge of the empire's troops and there were massacres of Canadian, Australian, Newfoundland etc. troops. The colonies weren't about to put up with that. In fact there is a story that the Canadian prime minister hauled the British prime minister out of his chair by his lapels and made it very clear that, if there was another such massacre, the Canadians were going home. The incompetent British officers were replaced by competent colonials. By the time the Americans arrived, they had some very good models of military efficiency to copy. (You could also make the argument that they weren't that stupid in the first place.) In any event, when WW2 came along, the lessons learned in WW1 were still living memory.

    Sadly, given enough peace time, the fat bloated bureaucracy rears its ugly head again. The meritocracy is suppressed. If we had to build another Pentagon today, it would cost too much and take too long, and some company close to certain politicians would get rich. In fact, looking at the corruption and waste of money in Iraq, I'm feeling very depressed.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:50AM (#19300343) Journal

    If the full-time professional army was allowed to fight like their enemies in Iraq do, then the situation there would be different.

    If we were actually fighting a War of Conquest, as people seem to insist that we are, then the situation would be different. We aren't fighting a War of Conquest though. We are fighting some sort of wet-dream nation-building exercise created by the Neo-Cons that assumed we'd be welcomed as liberators and only planned on being there for six months or so after the war. We are fighting Dubya's war because he had to one-up his Dad and go to Baghdad.

    Irregular/guerrilla warfare only works if you assume that the occupying power has to follow certain conventions and rules of war that you (as the guerrilla) don't. If the occupying power is free from any political constraints then the guerrillas are screwed. Guerrilla warfare never worked against Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.

    It also never really worked against the early Romans. They were only too happy to slaughter entire villages. Kill every male of military age and sell the women and children into slavery. Yeah, it's not pretty, but by the rules of the day it worked quite well. Lay down your arms and you can join the empire, resist us and we will crush you utterly and enslave any survivors.

    People who accuse the United States of trying to "conquer" Iraq or Afghanistan don't know what true conquest is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:03PM (#19300423)
    Rushed work is crappy work.
    Proper planning is expensive, but pays for itself in the long run.
    Sometimes you have to rush, but we tend to rush things a lot more than we need to.
    It sucks.
  • by Ahnteis ( 746045 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:03PM (#19300425)
    So we shouldn't bother honoring the persons killed in past wars in defense of our nation because we disagree (however strongly) with the war going on today?

    Good solid thinking.
  • Re:Not convinced (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:45PM (#19300699) Homepage Journal
    Oh wait...

    We weren't allowed to go after major NV cities/production centers, we weren't allowed to bomb Chinese supply convoys, often weren't allowed to go north of an imaginary line drawn on the map by our politicians.

    Yeah, Vietnam is such an example of how unrestrained warfare can't work.

    Please note that I don't like some of what happen in vietnam. On the other hand, we could of avoided much of it if it wasn't for politicians running the war. You don't win a war by holding back.

    I also feel that part of the problems we're having in Iraq is that we've gotten too clean with our attacks. People are more afraid of the terrorists than they are of us.
  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:49PM (#19300725) Homepage Journal
    The "bureaucracy" worked only because everyone was cowed into uniformity of purpose. That is too high a price to pay. The WWII era was not a free society.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:01PM (#19300799) Journal

    People who accuse the United States of trying to "conquer" Iraq or Afghanistan don't know what true conquest is.

    Only those here in the US; those abroad (and especially local to those areas) do know what it is, but don't think we have the balls to outrage the whole world by doing it. The complaints are a political [] ploy [].

  • by PoliTech ( 998983 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:04PM (#19300829) Homepage Journal
    "Most of you are monsters. "

    Most of the Slashdot community? Most of Americans? Most of Government? Most of humanity?

    Just who are you trying to dehumanize with that statement?

    Earlier up this thread you said "The symbols are important, only because our population is comprised mainly of poor fools who know how to respond to nothing else."

    Setting aside your hubris and arrogance, the point that you have failed to grasp is that the Pentagon's shape may not be as "Symbolic" as previously surmised. But please continue to embarrass yourself and wallow in self pity all you like, it may be totally off topic, but it is a bit entertaining.

  • Re:Cheney's House (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:07PM (#19300845)

    That's a pretty good cover story. Really they had to radiation-shield the pentagram that locks down the devil at its center, with lots of authoritarian human bodies to absorb the extremely high frequencies that scorch souls.

    What a bunch of superstitious bullshit.

    Devils don't exist.

    Everyone knows it is a captured shoggoth from the 1930s Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition...

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:14PM (#19300901)
    It would be an amazing coincidence if The Pentagon was pentagonal for any reason but this.

    Um... other than the fact that the Pentagon is NOT a fortified facility, and that fortifications of pretty much anything bigger than a bunker were already old news by the time the building was designed. It could be a bit of an homage to the old fort designs, but in the middle of WWII, they weren't feeling particularly arty at the time. Occam's Razor goes to the story in the article: the very rushed designs were drafted around a roughly pentagonal plot of land in Arlington, and construction was quickly moved a bit at the last minute, without time or inclination to redesign it. It's hard for people today to even begin to know what it felt like to be truly wrapped up in a period like WWII... we know nothing (as civilians) of that degree of nationwide effort and expense aimed at combatting forces intent on our subjugation/destruction and how much that tends to dimish things like architectural squabbles and design life cycles.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:16PM (#19300915) Homepage Journal
    Which is why if you DO get into a war, you must always do so with the intent to WIN it as efficiently as possible. Piddlefucking around like we're doing in Iraq does nothing but tear up the landscape and piss off the inhabitants, and meanwhile you get your ass handed to you one little piece at a time.

    Worry about building democracy (or whatever form of gov't floats your corpse) AFTER the war is won. You can't do it DURING a war.

  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:20PM (#19300933) Homepage Journal
    The French resistance may have made life hot for the Nazi troops once in a while, but they had very little to do with why Germany lost the war, and they certainly didn't drive the Germans out of France. The real reason was that Germany was fighting on two fronts (western and Russian) and got over-extended, so was vulnerable to a concerted invasion force, and it wouldn't have mattered where that happened.

  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:35PM (#19301053)
    To be specific, WWII starts in around 1939. The US is eventually involved, and ends the war in 1945, at which time the UN is set up. In 1947 the US forms a plan to rebuild europe, which is completed by 1952. 7 years after the war ended and four year after the plan was implemented.

    Um... it's worth mentioning that at the time we were rebuilding France, Germany, Italy, and every other spot in Europe that got economically and physically trashed during that war, we did NOT have religiously-driven suicidal crazies trying to kill pizza-shops full of their brothers and cousins in order to terrorize them out of wanting a democracy in which evil things like Women Reading Books, Music Being Played In Public, and Daughters Choosing Their Own Husbands might come about. There weren't well-financed groups of hidden Nazis willing to kill themselves and everyone in a vegetable market because a cave-dwelling extremist with buckets of cash has pursuaded them that Allah will open the doors to Virgin-Mart on their behalf if they can cause as much horrifying death as possible to scare people out of wanting a simple democratic, constitutional governement, and scare them back into settling for a brutal, theocratic, medieval-style thugocracy. With nukes.

    It's not the same thing. Oh, and neither has it been 7 years since the end of hostilities or even close to it, because the people stoking the current conflict (the Iranians) are still busy DOING it.
  • Re:Cheney's House (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:45PM (#19301105) Homepage Journal
    Bah, everyone knows shoggoths don't even see euclidean geometric structures [], let alone get bound by them.

    The shoggoth's Antarctic iceblock is in the Disney Concert Hall [] in LA, keeping Walt's head frozen.
  • Re:Not convinced (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eyeye ( 653962 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:55PM (#19301149) Homepage Journal

    I can finish of the insurgency in Iraq with one word: nukes.

    Ahh your solution is to kill everyone who isn't you.

    I bet you didn't play very well with others at school, or were you the one they all made fun of and this is what you turned into?

    The other way to stop people whose country you royally fucked up from trying to kill you is to simply STOP.
  • by RexRhino ( 769423 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:28PM (#19301405)
    The Illuminatus Trilogy is a humorous work of fiction. It doesn't try to explain anything. It is a comedy novel, like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, except about conspiracies instead of space-travel. It finds an audience in the post-LSD era, because it is still funny.
  • by TrappedByMyself ( 861094 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:31PM (#19301421)
    Well, when you realize that one of the reason the pentagon (shape) was chosen for discordianism was because of the Pentagon (building), it's not so impressive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:42PM (#19301481)
    Actually you're about as similar as is possible, personality-wise, as those you "blog" about so vitriolicly. You both discard logic for emotion, you're rabidly racist, and you have a fundamental lack of critical thinking skills. Look over at the kettle, pot, then look in the mirror. You're a nice, deep black. I would say you should be ashamed of yourself, but I don't think have the basic human decency to feel shame at your wasted life.
  • July 1941?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nagora ( 177841 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:43PM (#19301493)
    Er.. WWII started in 1939 (with pre-war practice in China starting in 1931-37). By 1941 it was well under way.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:46PM (#19301503)
    From the summary: "In July 1941 with World War II looming"

    A wee bit late, no?
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stoicfaux ( 466273 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:52PM (#19301547)

    Nah. The U.S. Constitution allows the government to raise and support Armies (but with a two year limit on funding at a time.) Plus it allows the government to 'provide and maintain a Navy.' And the Commander in Chief is in charge of the Army, Navy, and Militia. The militia clauses allow the government to organize militias, draft people for the militia or use State militias.

    So the Constitution allows America to have an Army, a Navy, and a Militia. Not only is your militia only idea bogus, it's frightenly naive and suicidal.

    I mean really, do you expect everyone will just jump into their family F-16s and Abrams tanks, gas up at the local Citgo, load up on cluster bombs and depleted uranium tank rounds at Wal-Mart, and then head down I-85 to the Middle East and war?

    Relying on untrained and minimally equipped militias will get you squashed by anyone with a professional army and a desire for conquest. The French had a professional army right up until the German Blitzkrieg. A French militia-only "army" would have died so quickly that the British expeditionary force would have been wiped out and England would have been without a professional army. With no British army, surrounded by u-boats, and the Battle of Britain starting weeks earlier, means the Germans could have conquered England. With England gone, the u-boats would have wiped out all US Atlantic shipping. Which means that by the time America geared up for war, we wouldn't have a way to invade Europe. Germany then starts up an atomic bomb program, improves its V2 rockets to be intercontinental or ship launched, and *poof* the last of the Free World is gone.

    Hell, we saw the "power" of militias in the Revolutionary War, where militia men were required to fire three rounds before fleeing and letting the professional Continental army fight. Seriously, if George Freaking Washington didn't exclusively rely on militias, why should we?

    The reason we have a standing professional army is because the risk of not having one is intolerable. All a militia will do is enable you to fight a guerilla style war in your home town. Personally, I much prefer to fight them over there, on our terms, on their soil, killing their civilians, and destroying their way of life over my own and my family's.

    Castrating the military won't banish the spectre of war. Look towards your political leaders. It's their job to win wars before they start.

  • Re:July 1941?! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by evwah ( 954864 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:12PM (#19301637)
    I think it can be assumed that the americans... you know the people who built the pentagon... were concerned about WWII looming for THEM.
  • Re:Permanent home? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by good soldier svejk ( 571730 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:40PM (#19301843)

    The French resistance may have made life hot for the Nazi troops once in a while, but they had very little to do with why Germany lost the war, and they certainly didn't drive the Germans out of France.
    This is true, but it was also a strategic decision. France had a government in exile with an Army and Navy. The maquis and urban resistance organizations were largely directed from the Special Operations Executive in Britain, or directly by the Free French Army depending on the unit. Thir role was clearly defined as intelligence gathering, interdiction, rescuing downed airmen and limited guerrilla an assassination operations. Had France been abandoned by the allies like Yugoslavia, perhaps er resistance movement would have been more ambitious. The Yugoslavian Communist partisans flat out defeated the Germans and Italians. [] And they did so with little material support from the Allies. Until 1943 the received practically nothing. And it wasn't until 1944 that there were any kind of combined operations. By the end of the war they were an 800,000 strong army of highly motivated citizen soldiers.
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @11:27PM (#19304823)

    A pilot would easily find it even without a map.

    Uh, yeah. I think that actually happened. Heard about it on the news or something.

  • by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:12PM (#19310235)
    I'd say the important point of the grandparent poster is that military architects would have been familiar with what would have been to them a traditional five sided design. And while the pentagon is not a fortress, per se, I think it would be remiss to overlook its very fortress-like qualities. We are talking about a building that was hit by what was essentially a gigantic cruise missle hold a massive fuel air payload, that resulted in fewer than 200 total casualties in the facility. Analysis made in The Pentagon Building Performance Report shows that even before recent improvements, the pentagon was a very resilient structure. I feel it's important to consider that while there were no bombs falling on Washington in 1941, the possibility hung in the air that there soon would be.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents