Under the Radar

Sound Off: Should the Military Be More Than a Jobs Training Program?

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Last month at a Brookings Institution event, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called out the military for not doing more to prepare its men and women to succeed in a market economy. 

To quote Mr. Bernanke: “If you go into the military at age 18—versus an identical person who stays in the private sector and takes a private sector job—10 years later, if you leave the military, your skills and wages are probably not going to be as quite as high on average as the private-sector person."

Army veteran Scott Beauchamp offers a reply today at The Atlantic, asserting that the military offers a powerful antidote to the cult of shareholder value. The American workplace can't put a dollar value on honor and camaraderie, so it's no surprise to Beauchamp that some vets feel uncomfortable in a world that champions the bottom line above everything else. Go read the whole thing and come back. We'll still be here.

For anyone who doesn't what to dive too deep into the author's college-level philosophy musings, here's Beauchamp's personal view and his answer to civilian colleagues' question about why he joined the military:

“Would your coworkers die for you?” Intense, to be sure, but the question illuminates the different mental and moral frameworks we were operating under. I joined the infantry specifically because I wanted a role in the military that didn’t have a civilian counterpart (unlike, say, becoming a medic or cook) precisely because I wanted to experience the intensity of purpose and camaraderie that simply doesn’t exist within the framework of our civilian economy.

Bernanke approaches the military strictly from a economic perspective: he sees better job training (or at least "better" in the sense that veterans would more easily plug into civilian jobs) as a way to justify the high cost of the military to taxpayers. Concepts like honor and service don't readily translate to a spreadsheet.

This demands an intense discussion, one that gets at the heart of what it means to be an American. Should business take more cues from military culture?  Should the civilian economy champion service, commitment and honor alongside profit and shareholder value? Or should we adapt our armed forces training to make sure our military's end product (veterans) is more useful to and more easily employed by the business community? Sound off!

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