Dedicated Public Servants?

The United States has a long tradition of referring to government employees as "public servants."  This is in contrast to the royal traditions of Old Europe, which, the Founders observed, were more liable to create public masters.  Not only does this ethos call for a certain humility, it also implies a level of dedication that is more than would be expected in an ordinary job.

Of course, we think of the military, police, and firemen as on the front lines of defense for us ordinary civilians.  But other workers in the government are called upon to act above and beyond the call of duty.

We all know of the postman's pledge - "Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" - and are disappointed when they don't live up to it.

Employees of FEMA spend most of their time shuffling papers in an anonymous government office somewhere, like any other white-collar worker, but when disaster strikes somewhere, they are expected to be available at a moment's notice to be whisked off to wherever their services are needed.  It comes with the territory, and is in fact a condition of employment.

Indeed, some of these agencies are regularly credited with a great deal of competence.  One of the ongoing criticisms of the Democrats against President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq, is that it was almost entirely administered by the Department of Defense - that is, the military.  The State Department, with its extensive experience in negotiating between different opposing interests, was almost completely sidelined early on.  You might think that sort of skill would be nice to have available in a situation which, if it is not currently a civil war, has often skated perilously close to it.

What are we to make, then, of the news that career State Department staffers are refusing to go to Iraq?  Some are even calling it a "potential death sentence."

Gee, ya think?  If there is a need for diplomacy, by definition it is because parties are not in agreement, and that tends to have the potential for violence.  When accepting a job with the diplomatic corps, isn't it to be expected that you might find yourself in the midst of an international disagreement?

Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer, had this to say about the matter.  "It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment.  I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?"

Hmm, Jack, let me think.  Who raises the children of the 3,842 American soldiers who have died in Iraq - almost four times the total number of State Department staff needed there (1,000)?  Who raises the children of the 3,000 victims of 9-11?  For that matter, what about the kids of the 145 American police officers killed last year, or firemen, or teachers, or coal mine workers, or taxi drivers, or...

Each potential career carries with it a certain level of risk, some more than others.  The risks involved in each job are compensated for in some way - whether by a much higher salary, as in the case of Alaskan fishermen, or by some sort of personal satisfaction or proximity to power, as is supposed to be the case in many government jobs.  Isn't representing your country all around the globe supposed to warm the cockles of your patriotic heart?

Not enough, it would seem.  When we consider that the Pentagon has been able to come up with 160,000 or so U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, and yet the State Department can't seem to get hold of a measly 1,000, then perhaps Bush's chain of authority doesn't seem like such a bad call after all.  Let us not forget Woody Allen's immortal wisdom: "80% of success is just showing up."

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments

its the new way to protest wars you don't like - just don't show up.  there are guys in the military doing the same thing.  crumbbumbs - the lot of 'em.  of course, they should be imm. fired and replaced.  i wonder what croddy makes at his job?  wonder if he'll make the next place he goes

November 2, 2007 9:26 AM

If someone doesn't want to go to Iraq, quit! It's not like most public servants are contractually obligated -- they can up and quit if they so desire.

November 2, 2007 12:32 PM
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