Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Military Chutzpah

George Bernard Shaw gave the best line of The Devil's Disciple to General Burgoyne: "The British soldier can stand up to anything … except the British War Office." Early in the week as it may be, the Executive Branch of our government has, once again, earned a Chutzpah of the Week award by demonstrating that they can be an even greater threat to our troops than the British War Office was in Shaw's play. The evidence can be found on Steve Benen's Carpetbagger Report site:

When Jordan Fox was serving in Iraq, his mother helped organize Operation Pittsburgh Pride, which sends thousands of care packages to U.S. troops from his hometown, which prompted a personal “thank you” from the White House. When Fox was seriously injured in Iraq, the president sent what appeared to be personal note, expressing his concerns to the Fox family.

But more recently, Fox received a different piece of correspondence from the Bush administration.

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

I watched the report from the CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, and I kept thinking, “This can’t be right.” Apparently, it is.

In Jordan Fox’s case, he was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle, causing back injuries and blindness in his right eye. He was sent home, unable to complete the final three months of his military commitment.

Last week, the Pentagon sent him a bill: Fox owed the government nearly $3,000 of his signing bonus.

It is almost disrespectful to a soldier like Fox to make a joke out of what has happened to him, but that just means that there is nothing funny about a Department of Defense whose greatest accomplishment in the current administration may have been the discover of how to add insult to injury. We should remember that this is the same Department of Defense that has sent our troops over to Iraq with inadequate resources and then tended the wounded with inadequate medical care. This is chutzpah of the highest order, and it is a story that deserves to be told to all with ears to hear. The general public may not be interested in the intricacies of how our government makes its decisions, but they know when they are being played for suckers.


Dermot said...


this is a problem of bureaucracy rather than the US in particular. Here in Ireland a scandal erupted recently where a volunteer fireman (i.e not full time) was denied his 50 euro payment for a call out to a fire. He was denied the payment because he didn't finish his shift. He didn't finish the shift because he died in the fire. His widow received a note to the effect that as he didn't complete his shift he wouldn't receive payment.


Stephen Smoliar said...

Dermot, I am tempted to invoke a variation of the gun-control motto: "Bureaucracies to not cause problems; people cause problems!" However, in all fairness to the people, a bureaucracy functions by virtue of highly specific job descriptions for every role; and, as a rule, human nature does not like to be so constrained. In other words, by virtue of its very "principles of operation," every bureaucracy is rife with opportunities for people to cause problems. Nevertheless, I still tend to side with Max Weber's assertion that a bureaucracy is the most effective way to manage large organizations, such as the military or (even voluntary) firefighters.

I used to put a lot more thought into these problems when I was writing about enterprise software. However, I discovered that neither the vendors nor the customers wanted to know about those problems, let alone address them. Unfortunately, those software products are now the primary "engines" of bureaucracy; and I believe this makes large organizations far more pathological than they were in Weber's day.