The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society

By Kenneth Paul O'Brien; Lynn Hudson Parsons | Go to book overview

9
Did the "Good War" Make Good Workers?

John Modell


THE UNIVERSITY OF HARD KNOCKS

The University of Hard Knocks, especially if it is war, is an expensive and dangerous way to obtain experience, but it does develop men." Men so developed, according to the president of the Scott Paper Company in 1943, constituted a manpower-training boon that alert employers would shortly reap. 1 Three years later, just after World War II ended, The Personnel Journal echoed the thesis that military experience was generically valuable, easily transferable to the civilian economy. "Training in the U.S. Army develops in each individual the following qualities: morale, discipline, health and endurance, technical proficiency, initiative, adaptability, leadership, teamwork, and tactical proficiency. . . . The veteran returned to civilian life after a successful period in the Army will be possessed of these qualities. The qualities desired by any personnel manager in an employee include most of those named above. Where else can he find men who have been so trained and proven?" 2

The scene for the triumphant accession of war-tested men to the civilian labor force had been set by a decade and more of "human relations" emphasis in management theory. Well before the United States had to raise a mass army for the second time in a quarter century, 3 theorists who sought to provide guidance to employers had spoken with heightened reverence of the need for "leadership." Tight supervision of low-level employees had increasingly come to seem counterproductive and was slowly, then more rapidly, replaced by less hierarchical arrangements, especially where unionization was achieved or might be. 4 Workers must be led rather than driven to produce.

Characteristic of this emphasis was the brilliant work of Chester I. Barnard, telephone executive and informal colleague of Elton Mayo and the Harvard Pareto group. The ideas about organizational leadership enunciated in Barnard, 1938 The Functions of the Executive--which made an explicit analogy to the military--were explored at more length in a 1940 essay. Barnard noted here an increasing tendency for organizational leaders to be chosen exclusively from those who already possessed specific technical capacity, often understood to be

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