Monday, September 15, 2014

The Lawyer's Answer

I'm reading Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the U.S. Army in North Africa, An Army at Dawn. I've mentioned this before.

I was discussing it on the train just now with a guy I know, a successful Midtown lawyer.  I said that I found the book heartening because of how screwed up everything was back then, how despite the fact that we think of those guys as The Greatest Generation, they damned near lost the war in 1942 in North Africa.  And my friend says, "The greatest lesson of history is that it's all about personal relationships.  I'm sure somebody there said something to somebody important, and that's why we won the war."

I had to laugh.  Because that is absolutely the perfect lawyer's answer.  Fuck the chain-of-command, the reason the Allies won in World War II was that some smart guy was standing next to a general during some conference somewhere, and just at the right moment, the guy whispered something smart in the general's ear. And that made all the difference. Fuck rank, fuck command, fuck everything. It's all about personal relationships and being in the right place at the right time to make the right impression. 


I controlled my reaction. Instead I said that I thought that was the problem rather than the solution, at least in 1942. I said that guys got promoted and got command based largely on interpersonal relationships and who-liked-who, and it took quite a lot of death and destruction to get that un-fucked and to then get generals with actual ability into positions of authority. 

But like I said, the book is heartening exactly because it shows that some things never change. 


  1. I'm reminded of a conversation (re: the financial industry) that I had with an old engineering classmate on Saturday. He railed against how nothing is really created in finance/banking; I think we Engineers tend to see things in these kind of terms - which is probably why I identify with your view of things (though I lack any military background) and condemn the Lawyer's answer.

    1. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine in the City a few weeks ago. I said something similar to what you did about the financial industry, and his repliy was to paraphrase the move WALL STREET: "I don't work; I own." Meaning that he didn't have to work because he'd supplied the capital. We were (are) all working FOR him.

      I guess if you own the seed and the land, everyone around you starts to look like a sharecropper.