Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Finding a Workplace Philosophy


Finding a Workplace Philosophy
OR
Many Swamps, Few Pastures

The trail to fair philosophy is through thickets of dense disillusionment.
S. Crawford

Philosopher-Writers Who Taught Me:
Robert Townsend was the CEO brought in to Avis Rent-a-Car after it had been in the red (losing money) for 13 years in a row. He led the firm into the black in a single year. (Up the Organization by Robert Townsend, Alfred A. Knopff, 1970, hardcover)

John Wooden was the coach that led the UCLA basketball team to ten national championships in twelve years. The record may never be broken.
(My Personal Best by John Wooden, McGraw-Hill, 2004, hardcover)

Finding A Workplace Philosophy
"Everyone has a philosophy." That's what our school principal, Wes Jansen, told us. I resolved to one day decide on a philosophy too. When I first left school and went off to seek my fortune, I wanted to decide: What are grown adults like at work?

At my school we thought being responsible, in our intramural sports and our academics, was only for grown ups—Our philosophy, in short, was: Don’t be competent… I dimly remember how, back when I was a science fiction fan who preferred the older bridge crew to a young ensign nearer my own age, back when I was one of only two boys with calluses in my high school English class, my peer’s “don’t be competent” ethic really grated on me. As a student, back then, I was eager, idealistic and grated upon.
At God’s footstool to confess,
A poor soul knelt and bowed his head.
“I failed,” He cried. The Master said,
“Thou didst thy best, that is success.”
(Old poem Wooden found, p 87)
Rudyard Kipling told his son in If, “don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” Back when we took If I thought, “this might make sense;” and then I wondered: “Yes, but when I grow up, will the adults around me really be so weak?” Kipling wrote in his poem The Recruit of boys becoming men who were “getting shut of doing things ‘rather more or less.’” I went off to my big new adult world hoping to find civilians who, just like their counterparts in the armed forces, were devoted to excellence and professionalism. Ah, youth!

I guess I was like that former orphan turned spy, named Friday, in the novel by Robert Heinlein. Friday  desperately hides her orphanage past. I too had secrets. Guarded around people from normal families, as I was too, she creates her own a philosophy: In her secret agent work, although no one but her boss will ever know, she aspires to act “professionally,” and measures others, especially the competition, by her standard. I can relate.

I had really hoped that as a grownup it would be safe to “look good.” But—oh dear.
…It is the standard by which I have judged myself and those under my supervision: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” (Wooden, p 87)
Working a variety of jobs, I slowly decided most workplaces suck like a swamp. Competency? Yes, for individuals: I saw how Mr. Jansen lived up to his potential for competence and responsibility—in fact, he had been president of the provincial teachers federation, met a head of state, and seen the vast presidential suite “even bigger than a house” at the Hotel Vancouver. Nevertheless, for most adults I regret to say that, when it comes to excellence, most can’t or won’t cut the mustard. Unless, that is, they are fortunate enough to find themselves among a group of people with high standards. But such dry pastures are all too few.

As for “groups,” I soon shared disillusionment with many fellow adults: Although our philosophy throughout the 1950s had been that “big is good,” the Vietnam conflict showed us that “bigness” doesn’t always work. Later it was no surprise when I saw IBM being rendered irrelevant by Microsoft, which in turn grew big until today Microsoft is no longer feared by competing computer experts.

Skeptical of bigness, it was nonetheless clear to me there is still a good place for organizations. It is groups, I realized, that get things done, groups ranging from companies of stalwart volunteers to incorporated companies of sober wage earners. Business guru Peter Drucker, after coming to this same realization, decided to oil the economic gears of society… by leveraging the effectiveness of groups… by inventing business management. Sweet. Later he branched out to helping the nonprofits, but to this day many people still instinctively put the word “business” in front of “management.” Obviously, I thought, my life was going to be spent in groups. Now what?

 In Alberta we can vote and drink alcohol at age 18. (And we can drive with a learner's permit at age 14—to move stuff around the farm) At that age I was a bright-eyed new adult wondering: Who are these other adults, now working in groups?

Not long after leaving home for the wide world I learned things. I know now why the community views university students, of legal age, as still being “more child than adult.” I know now why the same students who are so eager to become professionals, will, when they are working on group projects for class, act so unprofessionally and, through their inaction, “let their team down”: It’s because they can.
 (A gifted player was good enough to be a starter) …But he was not a starter at UCLA, because he was having difficulty with my concept of team play. He was too concentrated on having the ball and shooting before he’d look for the pass. This is damaging… It then becomes every man for himself, and the team is destroyed. (Wooden, p 102)
(Sean’s note: The application of Wooden’s philosophy to a staff meeting I leave as an exercise for the student)
Here’s a sad philosophy: I’m sure that at any new workplace tomorrow, as I encounter adults who have been doing work in groups and at meetings for many years already, if I am trying for the first time to facilitate or chair a planning meeting with them, then—for pity’s sake—I had better “go back to kindergarten,” pull over a flip chart, and have my group of alleged adults generate a list for all to see of “What does a ‘functional’ meeting look like?” If I don’t keep them accountable they will “forget” how to behave. (By the way, at my own agency—I went around asking top executives—we have fine meetings) Hence all those bitter blog entries by working adults, young, middle aged or even nearing retirement, adults who still despise staff meetings. What? In all those years did the staff never learn? …. As my old commanding officer would say, in his withering voice, “I am not impressed.”

As a sales manager said to me after setting sales quota, “People only do what they have to do.”

I could extend my philosophy: Most people, including most managers, won’t go to their local bookstore business section, nor to the self help section; most people won’t plan for their professional growth, nor for their personal development. And for most people, I know, that’s OK—I get it. My philosophy of the average Joe’s life is this: “Once I know my factory machine, or once I know my desk job, then it is quite usual to just cruise along for years, both at work and at home, simply doing “…more or less.” ”
Learning should be a lifelong process and I hope I’ve continued to listen and learn, but by 1962 much of my coaching philosophy was in place. Obviously, I had no clue as to what lay ahead… (Wooden, p 118)
On the other hand, here’s another philosophy, which I got from someone years ago: Yes, the “average” man can only jog one mile… but it’s “normal” to be able to jog four miles. In my own life, among my own friends, it’s normal for us to periodically put in the effort to grow in our capacity for various things such as physical fitness, or Japanese flower arranging, or project flow charts, or whatever appeals to “the best within us.”

In my social world, now, the joyful thing for me is having found peers with various ambitions. Sweet! When I am with them I never have to hold back from fear of looking too good or too wise. Not when we role model respect and support for each other, displacing jealousy with admiration. My female peers, I guess, having been through women’s liberation, don’t have to hold back either, not from fear of hurting my “fragile male ego.” What a relief! Meanwhile, I’m relieved to say, my current workplace is about as functional as my social life. I needn’t hold back much.

Here’s something queer … I will never forget a grandmother, a classmate in my night school drama class. One evening, when the building was mostly empty, she went skipping gaily down the hall. Then she remarked how, in broad daylight, people don’t want an old woman to skip. Well, my peers would let her skip.

Today, among people at my capitalist for-profit agency, I enjoy a shared enthusiasm as we work towards improvement, steadily, but never bureaucratically. In fact, thanks to me, my Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has been “pulling a Robert Townsend” by having every page of proposed new red tape sent to her first, for her to fill out every page in complete detail. She does this before any new forms ever become official. Understandably, we still remain light on paperwork and administration costs. (Only about 7 per cent of our costs are administrative, same as for the War Amputees, while among our competition the accepted industry standard according to the government is 20 per cent)
“Work is joyful” my CEO, at an orientation, Jan 31, 2013
I’ve always remembered Robert Townsend saying something like, “If you aren’t here at work for fun and excellence/(profit), what are you here for?” Yes. But if the mass of men “only do what they have to,” then it is left to officers like Townsend, supported by the rest of us non-officers, to set high standards. Peter Drucker was not thinking only of “the bottom line” (of an accounting statement) when he said, again and again, that a company must have “high standards”: I’m sure he meant that for group functioning and for individual health there is just no alternative… at least, no sustainable alternative. That’s my philosophy, too.
(Regarding academically challenged athletes being admitted to rival schools)… Perhaps I was rationalizing on a grand scale, but it seemed that many of these better players were not always better people. Too often they were mediocre or poor students who also attracted problems off the court. Furthermore, what I saw on the court suggested they weren’t inclined to be good team players. I concluded—begrudgingly, …—that UCLA wouldn’t have been as good a team with many of these excellent but academically ineligible players.
But it is not enough for individuals at the top to be setting an example solely of skill. Not when skilled individuals can cause a 2008 Wall Street Melt Down, or get themselves arrested at Enron and taken away in handcuffs. Character counts. Peter Drucker’s advice for considering the promotion of any junior manager to an executive level was to ask, in effect, “Knowing that a lack of integrity is contagious, would I want my son or daughter to serve under this person? ...”
…Players not only were well groomed and dressed neatly on road trips, but also put towels in the towel basket and not on the floor, picked up soap and turned off their showers, and put gum and candy wrappers in the wastebasket. I insisted on this because sloppiness in one area breeds sloppiness in another.
Equally important, I did not want a player to think student managers were there to pick up after them. Believing you’re so important that a fellow student should follow behind and clean up your mess contributes to an unhealthy ego. Controlling the egos of those under your supervision is one of a leader’s great challenges, but it is crucial…(Wooden, p 106)
Earlier I mentioned Vietnam. I remain convinced that one reason (among others) for the fiasco was this: The US officer corps of the day lacked integrity. Back then, we headstrong young bucks believed the army’s “cover your a—” paperwork was a crock. I have since grown calmly middle aged, quiet and humble— but I’ve never changed that belief!
A no-no: Reserved parking spaces. “If you’re so bloody important, you better be first one in the office. Besides, you’ll meet a nice class of people in the employees’ parking lot.” (Townsend, p 124)
Since the fall of Saigon, looking back, it has become increasingly clear to me that the officers in the South Vietnamese army, and corporate officers in the South Vietnamese boardrooms, were intensely self-centered. For us over here, where “the price of leadership is courage and responsibility,” it may be hard to grasp how someone could seek a leadership position without having any “service ethic.” Recently someone snapped a photograph of two Pacific Rim generals walking through the waves as part of an allied beach landing. The Asian general, a living metaphor for his civilian Vietnamese counterpart, had a private giving him a piggyback ride. The US general, just as you or I would, was getting his feet wet. Of the two armies, I can see which one fights best.
There is nothing to distinguish their generals from their private soldiers except the star they wear on their collars. Their uniform is cut out of the same material, they wear the same boots, their cork helmets are identical and their colonels go on foot like privates. They live on the rice they carry on them, on the tubers they pull out of the forest earth, on the fish they catch and on the water of the mountain streams. No beautiful secretaries, no pre-packaged rations, no cars or fluttering pennants … no military bands. But victory, damn it, victory!
(Jules Roy, The Battle of Dienbienphu, 1965, p 304, quoted by Townsend, p 142)
Over here our army officers in the field go to the end of the line up for food, and once a year they will stand behind the mess tables cheerfully dishing out the mashed potatoes to their troops. At my civilian agency we do the same—several times a year. My emerging philosophy is that part of the way to encourage responsible ethics within the company is for a company to look beyond itself, to do some good outside in the community. I realize this can be hard to do, and humbling, and that not everyone would agree; well, it’s a philosophy I’m still working on…
A person of character works better with others—with teammates, for example—day to day, game to game. Such a person is more polite, more courteous, more in tune.
…While I can’t prove that a person of good character has more potential as a team player, I can prove that’s the person I want to coach. A scientist might find otherwise, but scientists don’t make a living teaching young men and women how to play basketball.
(Wooden, p 117)
I’m pleased to have formed a working philosophy…I think the boy I once was would approve. These days, with good peers, my work is going fine; I’ve been with the same company for decades now because life is too short. I just don’t want to work among the second best, or the less functional.

I don’t think we can have good clean fun at work unless we have ethics and excellence.


Sean Crawford
On the sprawling prairies
2013

Sidebar:
These days I am saddened, but still energized, by the dusty blogs (plural) of a computer software developer, Stevey. (Here’s his post on management) I once thanked him and told him he had inspired me: Although years ago I had spent a semester in a night class of secretaries learning to touch-type on a standard qwerty keyboard, it was from Stevey that I was inspired to learn on my own to touch-type a Dvorak keyboard, where the vowels are all on the home row. I don’t know if Dvorak is any faster, but if I ever get arthritis I’ll be very glad I switched!

In his blog Stevey expressed a self-development ethic. For example, he would write “programming book” reviews, to encourage his peers to teach themselves new improved programming languages. One of Stevey’s characteristic “blog rants” (essay) was called Math Every Day: He said he was learning math on his own. Sometime later Stevey did a follow up post: At last he could understand a prize winning math book! He was sure happy about that.

One of his most popular posts, based on hit counts, was You Should Blog. In this post he noted how essays are much more powerful than hallway talk, e-mails or speeches, at least when it comes to developing and changing the corporation. Stevey encouraged all his readers to start a blog for posting their essays.

Stevey has stopped posting, but that’s not what makes me sad. No, I am struck by a suspicion: …Maybe he smacked into a wall of ice, suddenly realizing his computer peers “only did what they had to”: …Maybe Stevey decided they would never figuratively do some “math every day” to stretch their programming skills. Maybe he came to believe he was casting his pearls before swine—And just stopped… For that, I’m sad.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Morality, Boys and Hollywood


essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Is Hollywood bad for us? Is our land, as a terrorist said, the Great Satan?...

Boys
Before television, or radio shows, or moving pictures, there was Rudyard Kipling's violent short story, The Drums of the Fore and Aft, about two army drummer boys. The boys play this song:

Some talk of Alexander,
and some of Hercules; 
of Hector and Lysander,
and such great names as these;
but of all the world's great heroes,
there's none that can compare,
with a tow-row-row-row-row-row-row
to the British Grenadiers.

I keep chuckling proudly over something about a boy in the TV show Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles ...
I'll get back to these boys later.

Hollywood
...For some bewildered or righteous folks our chaotic nation includes Hollywood TV shows and movies that are "scandalous and violent." Not exactly heroic. For them that rumbling sound you hear is a railway car, shaped like a hand basket, carrying us all thundering down to hell. For me though, as a writer and citizen, Hollywood makes clear sense.

Occasionally, of course, a director with a second-rate understanding for all aspects of movie making tries to load up his movie with sex and violence—ok, and with immorality—no way, and then wonders why his second-rate B-movie sinks like a stone. It is fine for a new director to make a pessimistic movie that speaks to the dark side of an audience; it is fine if his next movie speaks to the brighter side of that same audience—but what he must never do is make an attack on the morals of that audience.

Obviously the public doesn't need to have the conscious eye of a writer or anthropologist. At some less conscious level the immorality of a movie will register, and then the public will register their disapproval at the box office.The average person, I presume, never thinks much about Hollywood morality. Some people, if asked, might smirk and say that (since the 1960's) "anything goes." Not so.

To train one's eye for adult shows it is fun to consider shows for boys. I grew up during the golden days of black-and-white westerns. My peacefull granny bought me a cowboy hat. That summer I fell dead in so many ways: twisted, flopped, sagged—I did a terrific slow sag off a raised oil tank once. This while our TV heroes, such as the Lone Ranger, never once shot or even wounded anyone. (Batman was the same) To disarm the man in the black hat, at the end of the show, the hero would shoot the gun, not the hand. No blood. My brother Pat remembers a horse chase. The robber kept turning in his saddle to shoot at the hero, while our hero, in his white hat, kept winding up his lasso. (Yes, he "caught" the crook) Again, no blood.

(Stories)

TV changed to color, horse chases changed to car chases. Remember Dukes of Hazard? As in this summer's fashion of Daisy Duke shorts? "Just two good old boys, never meaning no harm." In every episode a police car would flip over. Always—despite how every second of camera time is precious—always the cops would be shown nimbly climbing from their vehicle, and thereby showing their prime time viewers that they were totally unharmed. The duke boys meant no harm.

Remember The Fugitive? It was broadcast after bedtime for children. David Janssen played Dr. Richard Kimble, searching for the one-armed man. In the adult world, where hats are often gray, the fugitive often found himself teaming up with shady characters. I remember watching an episode on the couch with a buddy. The fugitive's buddy-of-the-week had to slug a policeman and then the two ran off. My buddy shouted, "You see that? The fugitive never hits a cop! Then if he finds the one-armed man there will be no charges against him!" True. The other issue was: heroes don't hit policemen. Space age writers of digital scripts, and bronze age tellers of tales at hearth fires, have always held their heroes, such as Hector, up to high moral standards. A storyteller is part of the town, accountable to the town.

As a writer and story teller, I am mindful of Orwell's observation that every healthy society must demand a little more from people than it can reasonably expect. As a person, in the darkness away from the story teller's campfire, I know I am not so good. In fact, I am a timid middle aged man. If some one points a gun at me, or if he makes death threats, then I cannot sooth myself that "he is only trying to scare me." Of course, to spare me from taking the law into my own hands, such acts are criminal offences...

(Morality)

But as a timid man I might not risk waiting for the law to prevail. Also, if I have to club someone on the head then I might just be tempted to "clear my back trail," to relieve myself of feeling so afraid of someday being a target of revenge. I might be tempted to... er—, "terminate with extreme prejudice." (sorry) Luckily for everyone I live a nice timid life.

The closest I get to action is seeing Hollywood adventures where if my hero has to knock someone out... then he will take the time to tie the bad guy's wrists and ankles and elbows and and thighs and so forth, not forgetting to gag him too, and maybe take his uniform, and then rush off in disguise to save the day.

In The Terminator, the first movie, we see Schwartzennager, the robot, arrive, then later the resistance hero arrives naked. (It's a time travel thing.) The hero steals a cop's gun, but without harming any cops.

In T2 Schwartzenagger arrives again, then later the resistance fighter shows up and comes across a cop. We see him next wearing the cop's clothes and gun but we don't explicitly see the cop hog-tied. Tension: In our culture this sets up a dramatic tension. The movie is in no hurry, not until page 95 (paperback) of the book by Randall Frakes, to reveal that the "resistance fighter" is not human. Whew! Instantly the movie (and book) is moral again. (The cop must be dead) And the robot's subsequent killings can be explicitly shown.

(Men)

I found some interesting comments on a blog that I follow of anthropologist Grant McCkracken. He wrote for November 24, 2008:

"...This means TV can't ever ever entertain a tragic view of the world.... TV land is benign.

But on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, life's a nightmare, then you die... The characters know they are doomed in the short term or the long. Even if good wins out over evil, the world will still be reduced to rubble. But the hope of triumph is slender at the best of times, and incredible all the rest of the time."

... Post post script: Anyone interested in what feminism means for popular culture must watch this show."

McCracken also writes, "Please do check it out. It's numbers are down and, as I say, it's really just tremendously good fun."

One might cynically ask: Ha-ha, can a single viewer's tiny act do anything to change the (ratings) numbers? Nevertheless, "everyone doing tiny acts" is the basis of any society. People amidst democracy are accustomed to much greater responsibilities than with any other form of government. So anthropologist McCracken may be "crazy" to ask for action, but in this culture he is perfectly correct in doing so.


Morality
In Canada our suburban schoolboys mustn't carry a gun explicitly made for man-killing. Not unless, perhaps, they are in uniform in the army reserves. They can enlist as early as sweet 16 but very few enlist quite that young, for obvious reasons. I was once in high school, at a study table leaning forward to read of Kipling's heroes, while a long-haired classmate dreamed of rock concerts and banged his imaginary drums. I knew my classmate had no business going off to be a drummer in battle—leave it to the adults.

For the opening credits of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles everyone is walking cool: the camera pans past the determined single mother, Sarah Conner, with her gun, then past her ally, Carmen, with her gun, and then to her son with his cool shoulder bag. As I recall, for season two the camera pans past the first two and then—scene cut. Because for season two John has advanced a grade and turned 16... But to the viewers he is still a schoolboy.

At this I am amused. And I'm pleased at how the TV producers are trying to cope, trying to be moral. And so I am proud to be North American. If any one calls us decadent, calls us "the great Satan" then I look him in the eye and say: "Don't be silly...."

I am so looking forward to seeing the season two DVD of Sarah Conner.



Sean Crawford,
drinking infidel red wine,
January, 2009.18

Footnotes:

~The link to the anthropologist's site is broken so I deleted it.

~Having bought the DVDs I can see that my memory was off—unless they changed things. After all, Hollywood has been known to do retroactive changes. They say the Gilliagan's Island opening song used to end "and all the rest" before they firmly decided on the number of cast(aways), and today when I see a re-run of even the very earliest episodes of Enterprise I still get the Rod Stewart type singer, and not the original nostalgic-type (for me) singer. So my essay stands.

~On the web, where many of us are young computer (nerd) users, where no one uses sports figure icons, but many use anime figures as our live journal icons... I can forget that many older people use their computers as glorified typewriters and mail boxes. And they don't watch popular culture. Last night I did an abreviated version of this essay as a speech at my toastmaster club. My speech evaluator was puzzled when I went from talking about terminators to some one named Sarah. A club member that I talked to afterwards didn't know any of the shows mentioned except for The Lone Ranger. Well. I've learned something.

~My brother-in-law was a hunting guide for rich crazy foreigners. I first knew that he saw me, his city-slicker brother-in-law, as sensible and competent, on the day he walked about in front of me while I had a loaded 303. This while we were shooting.

When our girls were plinking with 22's they, of course, were never behind us.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Total War and Terror


essaysbysean.blogspot.com
A Previous War
A Federal army trying to take Richmond could never be entirely secure until the Confederates were deprived of all use of the (fertile and productive) Shenandoah Valley, and it was up to Sheridan to deprive them of it. Grant's instructions were grimly specific. He wanted the rich farmlands so thoroughly despoiled that the place could no longer support a Confederate army; he told Sheridan to devastate the whole area so thoroughly that a crow flying across the Valley would have to carry its own rations. This Sheridan set out to do … and Total War began to be waged in full earnest … Few campaigns in the war aroused more bitterness than this one.
Bruce Catton, "Total Warfare" in 'The PenguinBook of The American Civil War' 1960, 1966


My Dad's War
Granddaughter: “Grandpa, when you were in the war, how could you bomb those people in Berlin?”
Grandpa: “(Pause) Things were different in those times.” He remembers the terrible beauty of his buddies rising up from England, flying through the gathering darkness to their various fates.

Keep an eye on those airplanes, I’ll get back to them.

To me the problem with this new fangled War on Terror is that it’s not straightforward—It’s really hard for folks to put the War on Terror into enough perspective to know what to do next. Abraham Lincoln used to say, “If I had only eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax.” For this war, the most practical thing is to take whatever hours we need to develop a good theory. Today I will ignore war theory in general, to zoom in on the concept of “total war” in particular. I will begin with a foundation of rural “citizenship” and end with a digression to the more-important-than-war transcendent issues of today’s citizens.

But first, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: Perhaps the government doesn’t want us to know any theories… After all, it’s been documented by journalists that the current administration—specifically President Obama—never utters the phrase “war on terror.” No wonder there is so little dialogue across the land. For example, I think few people are familiar with economist Alan B Krueger’s scientific evidence on What Makes a Terrorist subtitledEconomics and the Roots of Terrorism.” (2007)

I think the payoff for Washington, for having the public so innocent, is this way Washington, just last month, could sell weapons and make big loans to Egypt without demanding the Egyptians take any actions whatsoever to advance Egyptian human rights. Yes it’s nice to see elite Americans making money, and maybe some of it will trickle down, but (see Krueger) according to science terrorism emerges in lands without civil liberties and human rights. I guess that’s because the people grow up in a binary land of only violence or despair. Surely once Arabs have human rights and broad choices they will soon agree with having progress and change, including peaceful regime change; they will agree with using peaceful ballots, not bullets. For me, trying to understand why Obama missed such a precious golden opportunity in Egypt to advance the war on terror, and to advance the Arab spring, is almost enough to drive me to drinking—or to believing in conspiracy theories.

As it happens, my rural roots help me to understand war, perhaps better than a city person would. I’m not surprised at the cliché that more rural people than city people will enlist. Among the reasons why, perhaps the least important is that we country boys better understand service and the flag. I say this “statistically,” of course, since city people can serve too: In the city I once chatted with a reserve police constable who was driving a bus.

In small towns, in peacetime, my brothers have served as a volunteer fireman, an army reservist, an ambulance driver and a juror. Responsibility is good. If we no longer get ourselves deputized for a posse then it’s only because our society can afford enough constables and police academies—but make no mistake, if there was as apocalyptic meltdown in the economy then we would once again accept the need to ride out.

Such thinking is alien, of course, to any non-democracy without “citizens.” There the “peasants” even if they are allowed to vote and hold passports, are never deputized: Their civil masters don’t want to share control or responsibility. For peasants, authority comes from the top, from distant people as inaccessible as the clouds; for citizens, authority is delegated from the bottom, from people as humble as the grass. We are brought up to vote and take responsibility: We can delegate decisions and actions to our civil servants, to our police and generals, but we cannot delegate final responsibility. Hence the hard-learned phrase, spoken after the needless horror of Flanders Fields, “War is too important to leave to the generals.”

An example of responsibility, in the rural areas: If we can’t afford enough water-pumper trucks, well, we take our chances, but we don’t blame the firefighters for lacking equipment. No, they are as innocent as our armed representatives: our soldiers, aircrews and sailors. Last year we lost an entire historical ranch because all the volunteers and trucks were engaged in fighting a fire at a landfill. The only person blamed afterwards was a silly bureaucrat who tried to send a bill to the hapless rancher. That scandal was front-page news—but no one blamed the firefighters

As I see it, if we the people fail to oversee any corruption in our police force, or city hall, if we fail to check any improper use of force, then the fault and blame may be with the police, but still, the Responsibility is ours. “We have to see this thing to the end, see it fixed.” Of course the R-word is too scary to talk about in the morning in our urban coffee shops, but there it is. Come to think of it, one of the things I like about small towns is how the people role model for each other being responsible and self-reliant. I always associate the term “second generation welfare” with the big city.

Remember those airplanes flying to meet their fate? It may be hard to look at them dry eyed. Since war can be distressing, even for my tough brothers and I, it might be easier to answer the granddaughter’s question, and examine the theory of total war, if we look at the safely remote past…

War in Old Europe
A thousand years ago if a king and his knights went to war against another king then the peasants would go along to fill out the army, without even knowing what was going on. The two kings might graciously agree their war was a glorious game, agreeing that if one king were defeated in battle then the other king would surrender his peasants and lands. In theory, they might even to resort to a game between just two people, David against Goliath, or (see footnote) Prince Paris of Troy against Menelaus. We see still this sort of pre-citizen reasoning in the game of chess: if the king is checkmated, the game is over, no matter how many pawns remain.

But if you look back further, past the dark ages, past the decadent Roman empire, back to the classical Republic of Rome, then we see it was all of the Romans, the citizens and senate together, all informed and participating, who would get hot blooded and agree to mobilize for war. And if their armed representatives were defeated, or worse, if their entire army was utterly destroyed… then the Romans still didn’t agree to surrender: They would arm old men and young boys and some slaves with a promise of freedom, and try again to defend themselves. You may pity the victorious “fascists,” happily thinking that if they beat the Romans in battle then they would be the conquerors. They must have said, “What the—?”

And if the second Roman army was totally wiped out, then the free Roman citizens, instead of graciously surrendering, would simply close the city gates and defend their city-state with whoever remained. The housewives would lash kitchen knives onto curtain rods. The poor fascists, bandaged and dusty, must have said, “What the—That’s not fair!” It’s as if, for citizens at war, the total population is involved. Not just the king, his horses and his men, but the total committed population of free citizens. Call it total war: The metaphor is not chess, but checkers.

And this classically modern ethic leads, as my father witnessed, to the modern bombing of the Roman city gates and rail yards and industrial areas. As my old regiment advanced up Italy they might possibly drop leaflets to warn the civil populace to take shelter, but under the model of total war that was the most they could do for the enemy civilians: They would not refrain from calling on the air force and the huge guns of ships at sea. And so, suffering casualties, my regiment advanced against the forces of Hitler and Mussolini, mile by bloody mile.

Uncle Jack's War
Now let’s return to the bombers remembered by the veteran, flying through the gathering darkness towards the fire. A terrible sight. The purpose of the fighter planes—although every small boy wants to be a fighter pilot—was not to engage in glorious duels, but to guard fleets of loud lumbering bombers past the front lines, past the rear troops, past the little supply dumps and finally roaring on to blast the rail yards, factories and so forth. At sea the same principle applies. When my uncle Jack was in the Pacific Ocean the fascists were idiots: Japanese submarines would gloriously target the allied warships. Meanwhile the humble submarines of the democracies would bypass Japanese warships to go after the enemy merchant marine: freighters, tankers and supply ships. The Japanese state was starved of war materials; the Japanese people “starved.”

That’s not a figure of speech: Not willing to quit, some Japanese were at Death’s door before the atom bomb dropped. In this, they were more Roman than feudal. Of course, part of the reason they feared to lose was they knew, as in their “rape of Nanking,” (Nanjing) how inhumanely they had treated other Asians: They feared being treated the same way. They didn’t fight so desperately from any shining ideal of fun and glory. Don’t get me wrong—Of course glory is beautiful in peacetime. Like flowers in summer, the more brass bands the better—but wartime is winter, serious and democratic: Death spares no one.

As best I can recall from my historical reading, none of the allies ever said, “Bombing is OK because it only kills adult males,” adding “besides, the fascists don’t believe in having women work in the factories, nor in having any children in day cares at the plants.” No. Even if the Nazis had believed in “Rosie the riveter” the bombing was still practical. It may have helped our conscience to know the Nazis had legally and democratically come to power, but even if, hypothetically, the Nazis had forced the Germans to put them into power… the bombs would still have dropped, in order to obstruct the German war machine.

The rationale for using our air force is: “What else could we do? ... How else could we stop them?” (Many a Jewish survivor bitterly wishes we could have stopped them just a little sooner) And the gravest judgment of all is “...Every country gets the government it deserves...” Meaning: The enemy civilians are each responsible to become fit for democracy, like us, so they don’t declare war in the first place. Yes, there’s that R-word again.

You may ask: During the war (forgetting the Jews) did anyone do the “devil’s arithmetic” of saying it’s OK to increase our own casualties by a certain ratio, in order to be less aggressive towards the enemy, or spare some enemy civilians? No. No, in the madness of war, in order to fight at all, you have to say that every one of our boys is super-precious, while the others are all devils, fascist party members, the “enemy.”

It was a German war veteran in the 1950’s, in the French Foreign Legion, fighting in French Indochina, in what was later called Vietnam, who said in effect, without using the term “force protection”: “In a war you make out a death warrant for each of the enemy, with only the date left to be filled in.” In other words, like someone doing CPR on a patient without a pulse, he had calmed his regrets in advance. (The patient is already “dead”)

But of course, in fairness, that German’s loyalty was not to the fatherland of France, and certainly not to France’s need to “win the hearts and minds” of the people of South East Asia. Instead, his brothers in arms said, “The Legion is our Fatherland.” The legionnaires wouldn’t hold back on protecting themselves, even unto using the Viet Cong’s women and children as human shields, regardless of how many times their actions caused angry Vietnamese to hate France and convert to communism…Reminds me of US armed contractors in Iraq—obviously those fellow Americans don’t care, not about kindly nurturing democracy, or winning hearts and minds, despite the grand official purpose for the occupation. Well, we should all have known from the start: The work of “contractors,” by definition, always needs to be monitored.

My buddy Blair once got upset when I suggested not having “force protection.” He told me heatedly how Russian troops on the streets of Berlin would shoot any civilian they saw. The Russian boys hadn’t advanced all the way across the steppes and Eastern Europe only be shot by a fanatical Nazi in the last weeks of the war. Blair was quite irate with me. I answered, “Yes, protect—for conventional war! But if you want to “win the hearts and minds” in peacetime then you can’t be fanatical about protecting your buddies.”

Grandpa said, “Those were different times.”

The problem with fighting a war in peacetime is the situation and ethics of peacetime are different. If the tragedy of choosing to wage war is irreconcilable differences, the tragedy of the conduct of war is a collision of ethics.

Human Ethics
For example, nearly everyone has seen Casablanca. In the movie the police and army are loyal to the Republic of France, a state that has surrendered. How loyal? When the allies landed in Morocco they suffered hundreds of casualties from the loyal French forces. (General Patton had been given two sets of conditions to lay down to the French colonizers, depending on whether the French forces had resisted) Meanwhile, back in Europe, half the members of the French resistance were communists. Those men hoping to convert France to a “People’s Republic” were probably reasoning, in part, that the “establishment,” the “one percent,” the “aristocracy” with their old castles and pretty villas were all “trying to pull a fast one” on the common people. The kings were agreeing with other kings. The French government, which had moved from Paris to Vichy, was not a “people’s government.” The resistance despised Vichy.

When the resistance, under the cover of darkness, tore up the peace treaty and blew up a bridge then the Germans must have felt betrayed. Of course, in the civilian world, if you break your side of the contract then all bets are off. It seems to me, if the Germans didn’t say, “ah, screw it!” and resume their war against France, then it is not because they reasoned the communists were not embedded in the people... or thought the people who failed to control the communists were innocent... or thought those who failed to inform on the communists were innocent. No, it’s because they calculated war and reprisals were not practical... Just as we did not punish Saudi Arabia after 9/11.

In nature’s world there are no concepts. In the human world, needless to say, ideals and morals and ethics are the emergent building materials for the cart, created while the practical horse is leading the way. The Luftwaffe (German air force) was practical, reprisals not so much. Ah, the sorrow and the pity of poor la belle France!

In our own time the US troops sent to occupy Iraq had been trained for total war, complete with force protection. Speaking no Arabic, they would terrify the people by kicking in their doors at night for search-raids. Perhaps the crude enlisted privates, just like cops in the inner cities, felt better protected if they terrorized, believing the non-democratic foreigners “deserved it.” Perhaps the “officers and gentlemen,” regardless of what their commander-in-chief thought, didn’t want to win the war badly enough to “give a care” about any Iraqis being goaded into becoming anti-democracy and pro-insurgency.

Back home, some journalists vainly questioned whether the raids were practical for “winning the hearts and minds” to convert Iraqis to democracy: Iraq was to be the first Arab democracy in the Middle East. To my knowledge, the military wasn’t about to expand the language school; John Q. Public wasn’t about to “do the citizen thing” of learning Arabic; and no citizens were volunteering to go to Iraq to be translators… I’d have loved to see freedom-loving old and young female Arab-Americans going on those night raids.

Quite early in the US involvement over there people noticed: It was as if the prominent US civilian armed contractors, Blackwater, in the 21st century, were operating under the theory of total war and blank death warrants. Hence their unrestrained force protection. Unlike peacetime policemen back home, if they were threatened they fired wildly and profusely. And they had extremely selfish dangerous driving. Needless to say, this alienated the people, destroying any goodwill a few humble Americans might have engendered. I discovered this in a book, Fiasco, quite early in the occupation. (Incidentaly, while the Iraqis all knew it was an occupation, the US wasn't ready to admit it, so for any job interview, according to Fiasco, the Iraqis had to avoid the O-word)

I knew from university that books have a long time lag until publication, compared to magazine articles, and so theoretically by the time I read Fiasco the US had long ago noticed and issued orders to Blackwater, “Pull up your socks and quite creating new recruits for Al-Quaida!” Well. Actually it was years later that finally the scandalous actions of Blackwater started to make the newspaper front pages. I rustled the newspaper and gritted my teeth.

Obviously the managers and developers and army generals in the business of getting the Iraqis “fit for democracy” had fallen asleep at the switch. And so had the American people at home, forgetting that “war is too important to leave to the generals.” They must have fallen asleep on their TV couches, like so many citizen-kings abdicating their throne, their crowns tumbling off to roll up against the garbage can. I know this because on their watch no one in the White House was ever reprimanded or fired.

From Blackwater alone I would know the American people were unfit to teach democracy in Iraq. Too bad no one with authority had the guts to say, “We aren’t competent enough to be here; this is a fiasco.” It was from this grotesque mismanagement in Iraq, without any citizen involvement, this scandalous occupation by foolish republican Boy Scouts, (—no one blew the whistle when republicans were hired over people with many years of experience in Asia or Yugoslavia—) even before the Wall Street melt down, that I had come to know the answer to a question the American people fear to ask, a question they do not yet have enough objectivity to answer for themselves: Is the US in decline? Let's just say not many citizens have troubled themselves to serve in this war, not even to the extent of trying to understand Iraq and war and terror.

... After the inspiring famous virtuous Roman republic, after their middle class had collapsed, came the infamous decadent Roman Empire. Then came darkness.


Sean Crawford
Calgary
July 2013
Footnotes:


~Experienced people were passed over (see my previous essays and reference to Inside the Emerald City.

~Regarding US imperialism in Egypt, I only recently read about the weapons sale; the infamous funding visit by John Kerry I already knew about. (Abdul in the street may be only semi-literate, but still he knows that imperialists are not his friends)

~ The accelerating decline of the US middle class is noted by a financial expert in the book, A Time to Start Thinking, (20012) by Edward Luce subtitled America in the Age of Descent, reviewed in my essay America Descending, archived October 2013

~The duel between Paris and Menelaus, according to the Iliad, was held only after each side had laboriously repeated for each other the consequences for each outcome, and only after the sacred rituals of sacrificing sheep and honoring the gods. This duel did not occur early in the war, but only after the Greeks had their black ships settled in tidy rows on the beach, with the war having dragged on for seven years, and with both sides tired, fed up, and willing to end it, once and for all.

This suggests to me that deciding a war by a duel was very rare, and probably never happened at all.

~The German officer, his name disguised, was in the nonfiction book Devil’s Guard. It is the only book I’ve ever seen with a “publishers warning” on the title page, not to warn of sex or violence, but to distance the publishers from a former SS officer feeling pride in how, and in how well, his fellows had fought the Viet Cong.

~I was once at the local college, struggling to complete my income tax, as some Mongolian youth were hanging around a counter where a pretty girl was working. When I heard one boy whistling a Scottish tune I knew they were Japanese. I didn’t go over to tell them I once read a certain tragic Japanese novel, translated into English. I found the novel moving: At the end of the tragedy a young girl who is starving and hiding in a cave from the allies, hears such Scottish whistling and thinks it is a Japanese. She staggers out, spending the very last of her strength, only to find it was an American soldier. Fade to black.

~To explain the organization of an army into “officers and gentlemen” and "enlisted men," it may help to think of a hotel, or factory: the enlisted men, the vast majority, would be guys hired off the street to operate hallway cleaning machines or factory machines; the "commissioned" officers are like the managers, with a white collar and a neck tie, guys who would first get a college degree in hotel management or business before being hired.

The officer’s commission is often framed like a diploma. The officers, being "gentlemen" and educated leaders, have the responsibility to know the company vision, mission statement and goals such as “winning the hearts and minds.” The enlisted men, who aren’t “into” higher education, are spared such abstract thinking, preferring to just live for the day: It is up to the officers to keep stressing and upholding the ideals. In Iraq, obviously, they failed.

~To compare and contrast citizenship during the Cold War with the War on Terror, see my essay quoting George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate, (2006, with a reading group guide) archived as Citizenship After 9/11 in September 2012

~From the lessons of Iraq it logically follows that we would not be competent and worthy to teach democracy in Afghanistan, either. What to do next there, based on the above essay, is: a) get the armed forces out b) continue to encourage civil liberties in the Muslim world by various means within our power c) lead by example and continue to seek democracy and rights at home (instead of the recent scandals in the justice, revenue and security departments)  d) given that the backbone of democracy is the middle class, check over any new legislation in Washington to see that it encourages or is at least neutral to the middle class, rather than shrinking the middle class

~Reproductions of wartime posters of Rosie the River were popular in my day, helping to empower the feminist housewives to seek equal rights.