One day, in the middle of a small but hard-fought ground war, there is a small squad of soldiers sitting on a hill.
A radio message comes in, and is taken by the communications officer, a sergeant. He says, "Right, men! We have to take that hill over there!"And so they start fighting to take the hill. They fight all day and all night, and most of the next day, and eventually they take the hill.
Just as soon as they've taken it, they receive another message on the radio. The sergeant takes the message, and then says, "Right men! Retreat back to that hill!" And so they retreat back to the hill that they came from.
When they're safely dug back in on their original hill, one of the men goes to his sergeant, and says, "Excuse me, sir, but why did we fight all day and all night to take that hill, only to have to retreat again immediately? It seems bloody idiotic, if you ask me."
The sergeant frowns, and says, "Well, you see, you don't get to see the big picture. If you saw the big picture, you'd understand."
The soldier starts thinking, and works hard, and after a while he eventually gets promoted to corporal, and then to sergeant. On his first day as a new sergeant, he asks one of his fellow NCOs, "So, what is the big picture, then?"
The other sergeant looks at him, and says, "Well, you don't really get to see the big picture at this level. It's only the captain that gets to see this big picture."
So the soldier decides that he's going to find out what the big picture is. He works hard, goes to Sandhurst, and after a few years eventually gets promoted through lieutenant to captain.
On his first day in the Officers' Mess, he goes up to another captain, and asks him, "Tell me - you've been in this game longer than I have. What's the big picture?"
The other captain looks at him, and says, "Well, I don't see the big picture myself, but I'm told that the general staff know what the big picture is."
The soldier is disappointed, of course, but he works hard, comports himself well during training missions, and, after a long while, manages to get himself promoted into a position where he might be able to join the general staff.
He applies for a position on the general staff, and, after another long while, manages to get it. On his first day, he finds a colonel in the cafeteria, and asks him, "I've been told that we get to see the big picture here."
The colonel purses his lips, and frowns, and then says, "Well, we tell that to everyone else, but we don't really get to see the big picture. It's only the high command that see the big picture. You'll have to ask them."
So our soldier carries on his work on the general staff, and, over the years, rises higher and higher within the organization.
After a while, he gets promoted, and finds himself in command of several divisions. At the first meeting of the high commanders, he asks, "Look, I've been hearing about the big picture for years now, and they say that you're the people to ask."
One of the generals around the table says, "Well, of course we don't see the big picture. We get our orders from the politicians. They're the ones who really see the big picture."
So, the soldier looks for opportunities to enter politics. He joins a political party, and becomes active in his local branch of the party.
After a while, he takes early retirement from the military, and runs for office. He becomes a local councillor, and makes a good enough showing in the council chamber that he gets put on the shortlist for his constituency. At the next general election, he manages to get elected to the House of Commons.
On his first day, he's sitting in the Commons' Bar, and asks a fellow MP, "In the military, they said that Parliament gets to see the big picture. So -- what is the big picture?"
The MP looks at him, and says, "Well, as a backbencher, you don't get to see much, really. It's only the cabinet that really see the big picture. You'll have to ask them."
So our (now retired) soldier starts working to become a cabinet minister. He joins several select committees, eventually becoming head of one. After a while, he gets noticed by one of the ministers, and, in the next reshuffle, he is given a minor post in the cabinet.
At his first cabinet meeting, he sits through the meeting quietly, and afterwards he asks one of the more senior ministers, "So, what was the big picture? I didn't get it from that meeting."
The minister replies, "Well, it's not that easy to see from here. You see, we only handle the political side of things. There's all the economic stuff as well -- and you only really get that in industry. You'll have to ask the economists in industry."
So, the junior minister works hard again, and gets promoted to senior minister, and after a while, he gets re-shuffled out of the cabinet again.
At this point, he announces his retirement from politics, and, as a result of the contacts that he's made from being in politics, he manages to get himself a place on the board of one of the big city corporations.
At the first full board meeting, they work through all of the agenda items. He doesn't really follow it all, but bravely sticks it out to the end, and when they get to "any other business" on the agenda, he puts his hand up, and says, "So, what is the big picture?"
And the treasurer of the company looks at him in horror, and says, "Oh, God! Don't tell me you were on that bloody hill, too!"