You’re in the Army Now— Or Standard Oil, Same Thing?

The number of Americans who served in World War II was 16.1 million. Though that generation’s experience with the military gave rise to the word SNAFU (situation normal: all fouled up), it nevertheless also accustomed them to the benefits of planning and regimentation.

Anyone who came through the Great Depression would attribute postwar prosperity in part to the benefits of organization and hierarchy.

A book that was hugely popular and became a film was The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in 1956. An ex-GI, Tom Rath enters the corporate world and discovers that what was morally acceptable under the duress of war doesn’t wash in private life. Tom is not overly upset about the amount of killing he did during the war; what torments him is having to tell his wife that he has a child living in poverty in Italy. The carryover implication is that being a good soldier in corporate life— although it may feel at times like being in uniform— doesn’t offer same camouflage for objectionable acts. Tom tells his boss that he’s going to turn down a promotion to spend more time with his wife and family.

From Wikipedia:


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“Historian Robert Schultz argues that the film and the novel are cultural representations of what Adlai Stevenson had described in 1955 as a ‘crisis in the western world’, ‘collectivism colliding with individualism,’ the collective demands of corporate organizations against traditional roles of spouse and parent. That increased corporate organization of society, Schultz notes, reduced white-collar workers’ (represented by Tom Rath and the other gray-suited ‘yes men’) control over what they did and how they did it as they adapted to the ‘organized system’ described and critiqued by contemporary social critics such as Paul Goodman, C. Wright Mills, and William H. Whyte, Jr.”


2 thoughts on “You’re in the Army Now— Or Standard Oil, Same Thing?

  1. ed young

    good take … civ and its discontents … mills’ daughter went to hampshire college when i was there, they also had a policy of hiring academics who had been blacklisted in the fifties.


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