Recently, CNAS guru Nathan Fick, a Marine officer who served in Iraq, posted a provocative guest blog at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense:
Cliff retirement at 20 years of service, for instance, strikes me as a relic of an age when twenty years in the Army left a veteran a broken man, with blown joints, no hearing, and a limited ability to work in an agricultural or industrial economy. Advances in medicine, lengthening lifespan, and the shift to a service economy in this country (albeit with large swaths of agricultural and industrial employment across the workforce) make me wonder -- as a taxpayer -- why we're paying 38-year-olds as they embark on their second full career.While Fick brings up a topic worth mentioning, I'm not certain it's completely accurate, after reviewing some of the literature on the subject. In fact, it's covered in an excellent work on the US military's organizational culture entitled "The Professional Soldier" by Morris Janowitz. Says Janowitz on the topic of retirement:
Janowitz wrote that line in 1960. However, he was referring to a time when 30 years of service qualified an officer for retirement, not twenty years. Nevertheless, was the "old" Army (around the turn of the 20th Century) really that hard?
Consequently, the entire concept of retirement has undergone a change. No longer is retirement the final phase of a gentleman's career, a continuation of the military style of life. It is merely another step in career management. The Army no longer speaks of retirement, but of a "second" career. Traditionally, the bulk of military professionals, when they separated from service, actually did retire; civilian employment was incompatible with their self-conception.
At one time, the military style of life was leisurely; the typical officer's work day in the inter-war years (1919-1940) ended by noon, although office routine developed after World War I. Freedom from an 8.00 AM to 4.00 PM routine, and opportunity for extensive leisure and sports, were compensations for the rigors of training exercises and frequent separations from one's family...the military occupation made it possible for the officer to have a gentleman-like routine.
Seriously? Being a commissioned officer back in the "wooden ships/iron men" days must have been a lot like being a warrant officer today! Complete with the WOMAN (Warrant Officer Mandatory Afternoon Nap).
I just gave away the secret. I need to protect myself from WOLF (the Warrant Officer Liberation Front).
Janowitz' book is a great read. I never would have guessed how many traditions and cultural quirks the Army still retains from its days on camps on the old frontier. It also sheds some light on recent discussions about the military "welfare state" and the power of wives in military organizations. Check it out at Amazon.