I spent 15 years of my life working for the US Department of Defense, 8 years as a civilian employee of the US Army, and the final 7 for defense contractors. I do not miss it. Looking back, though, I sometimes ask myself "what was so bad about it? It certainly paid well."
Then I remember incidents like the following.
the late 1990's my company was preparing a bid (as the prime
contractor) for a multi-year contract to provide the information
technology support for a large military installation (Redstone Arsenal,
Alabama). It was a huge contract, and the competition was truly
brutal. Our company "teamed" with a major Defense Department
information technology contractor, Harris Data
of Melbourne, Florida, to prepare our contract proposal. The
preparation of the proposal, which took the better part of a year, was
conducted in a "secret" facility that was well guarded against
espionage. Part of the secrecy surrounded the exact makeup of the
proposal team, and what types of people were flown in by Harris Data to
work on it (most were technical writers, as I recall). At the facility
where we worked on the bid proposal, they even posted a lookout who
watched the parking lot from an upstairs window, and described anyone
who approached the building. It was very serious business.
of my co-workers were having lunch with friends of theirs who just
happened to work for one of our company's competitors for the contract.
A senior management official from our company approached their table at
the restaurant and said to them, "You are sleeping with the enemy" and
then walked away. Several days later, on the military post, federal
marshals with military police escorts came to the offices of these
workers and made them stand in the hallway while their computers were
searched. They were fired on the spot for having compromising material
on their workstations. What "compromising material"? Who knows? Who
cares? They weren't fired for anything they did wrong. They were fired
because they were considered a risk to our company's chances at that
base support contract. And they were fired in a manner which would make
it impossible for them to go to work for the "enemy," indeed, to work
for any company on Redstone Arsenal. The intent was not must to relieve
them of their jobs, but to destroy their careers. And to deliver this
message all of us who remained: "And let that be a lesson to the rest of
you!" They were fired to make the rest of us cower in fear. It was
psychological. We were made to feel like our own jobs, our careers, hung
in the balance. We were made to know our place, and to keep silent and
remain submissive. And it worked. At least for most of the people.
now, years later, I sometimes look back and wonder, What was so bad
about that, really? How did it really affect me, personally? All I
had to do was to go along, to remain silent, to be careful who I chose
to be friends with, to express nothing but the right political opinions,
to look the other way when I was aware of any wrong-doing. Hey, I
could've done it; I could've retired comfortably, early, in one of those
big brick south Huntsville Alabama homes, with an in-ground swimming
pool and big redwood deck. And what was so wrong with that?
people I knew had absolutely no problem with doing any of that. It
simplified life. It made things black and white. Do what you are told
and hold no controversial opinion of your own. We saw, very well
indeed in 2002, how that dominated the thinking of most Americans.
only problem was, I couldn't do any of those things and hold my head
high. I couldn't admit to myself for a very long time that submission
and fear were the real keys to my own success. Not my ability or my
knowledge or my intelligence. To admit that fact, I'd have to admit to
myself that I made a career out of being weak. And I had to admit, I
was also "sleeping with the enemy." Because, for most of those years, I
worked with and for people I could not respect and many I honestly
detested for their lack of courage, or true adherence to principle. For
the most part, they weren't "bad people" at all. They were, like most
people are, governed by their own personal interest and the advantages
of the moment.
I'm not saying anything at all about the
Department of Defense, or its culture, ok? I'm saying something about
people who thrive in that culture. In the world's eyes, many of them
would I believe, be considered "successful." Yet, I pity them.