What if the best people in the military start asking “Who is John Galt?
Anyone who has read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” or like me used the audiobook because its too damn long to read on paper, knows what I’m talking about.
Spoilers ahead for those that haven’t read it.
The book is set in a future world, where American industry is slowly crumbling. Trains are a preferred method of transportation, but its becoming harder and harder to run the trains on time because of a crushing bureaucracy in government that is making it more painful for businesses to operate. Eventually one of the characters, John Galt, decides to destroy the bureaucracy by removing all the smart people from the system in what he calls a strike. He approaches the engineers, business owners and other hard workers and offers them a chance to leave to a hidden place where their efforts are appreciated instead of demonized. This causes the United States to delve into dictatorship, and eventually collapses, with John leading the strikers to now rejoin the world.
It was a hit book. The first movie was good (although it wasn’t well received, go figure!), but movies 2 and 3 kinda sucked. The book teases out the interesting point that a small number of people tend to make the biggest impact on industry, and if they quit, the systems they run tend to collapse.
I’ve seen this hold true in the Navy. I’ve watched some leaders take difficult commands and turn them around, only to watch another lesser leader destroy the well-functioning command right after. It’s incredibly infuriating to spend two years building a team of people, only to watch a new person come in and squander your efforts.
When I think about military recruiting, I’m not as worried about the young people coming in. Every young generation gets looked down upon by the older ones. Every older generation thinks they were so much better at that age. Young people tend to do OK long term.
But what happens if the talented people decide the military isn’t worth joining? What happens if the budding young Nimitz, Marshall, or Billy Mitchell decides to leave, or never join in the first place? What happens if after they join and are greeted with an oppressive bureaucracy of our own making, they vote with their feet?
What happens if John Galt gets to them first?
Our military relies on a perilous few smart people to drive the strategic thinking of the organization. Not everyone is going to be a Nimitz. That’s fine if and only if we actually HAVE the Nimitz in our midst. But if the Nimitz decided he or she had enough beratement by lesser individuals, then we’re going to be left with more Richmond Turners, who might win in the short term through brute force, but lack the operational and tactical genius to win our long term conflicts.
Military recruitment scares me, but the ongoing brain drain as people ask “Who is John Galt” gives me nightmares.
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