Friday, March 29, 2013

Jobs for Ex-Servicemen

From Jonathan Shay's thought-provoking book Odysseus In America.  Excerpted in the New York Times:
For which civilian careers does prolonged combat prepare a person? Let's look at the strengths, skills, and capacities acquired during prolonged combat:
• Control of fear.
• Cunning, the arts of deception, the arts of the "mind-[expletive]."
• Control of violence against members of their own group.
• The capacity to respond skillfully and instantly with violent, lethal force.
• Vigilance, perpetual mobilization for danger.
• Regarding fixed rules as possible threats to their own and their comrades' survival.
• Regarding fixed "rules of war" as possible advantages to be gained over the enemy.
• Suppression of compassion, horror, guilt, tenderness, grief, disgust.
• The capacity to lie fluently and convincingly.
• Physical strength, quickness, endurance, stealth.
• Skill at locating and grabbing needed supplies, whether officially provided or not.
• Skill in the use of a variety of lethal weapons.
• Skill in adapting to harsh physical conditions.
Shay answers his question later in the chapter.  It's a rather obvious conclusion:
A career that war exactly prepares veterans for upon return to civilian life is a criminal career...
This problem has been around for a long time.  In other times and seasons whole societies were affected by soldiers trained to violence and then abandoned by their employers.  From Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century:
Outside Paris the breakdown of Paris was reaching catastrophe.  Its catalyst was the brigandige of military companies spawned by the warfare of the last fifteen years.  These were the Free Companies who "write sorrow on the bosom of the earth" and were to become the torment of the age.  Composed of English, Welsh, and Gascons released after Poitiers by the Black Prince, as soldiers customarily were to avoid further payment, they had acquired in the Prince's campaigns a taste for the ease and riches of plunder...They imposed ransoms on prosperous villages and burned the poor ones, robbed abbeys and monasteries of their stores and valuables, pillaged peasants' barns, killed and tortured those who hid their goods or resisted ransom, not sparing the clergy or the aged, violated virgins, nuns, and mothers, abducted women as enforced camp-followers and men as servants.  As the addiction took hold, they wantonly burned harvests and farm equipment and cut down trees and vines, destroying what they lived by, in actions which seem inexplicable except as a fever of the time or an exaggeration of the chroniclers.
Fever and exaggeration surely there were, but Tuchman also provides inadvertent hints at other explanations: these freebooters were looking for patrons, people to pay them to fight in actual battles, or not to fight at all.  By that measure, the bigger effect they had on commerce and production the more motivated wealthy lords might be to buy them off.

It's a long-held theory that more than one of the Great Crusades was motivated, at least in part, to get these brigands to practice their brigandage somewhere else and hopefully have their population thinned by attrition as well.

The 20th Century surely has had more soldiers than any other, perhaps all the others combined, and almost all of them did not continue in military work after the big wars ended.  In the US, the G. I. Bill was intended to provide privileges and opportunities for returning soldiers to find something to do with their lives other than the killing and madness of great military operations.  Their new jobs were a tremendous contrast to their old ones.  This photo taken in 1951 (found on a National Geographic website) are a group of former soldiers learning how to decorate cakes:

No comments: