This is from a speech Robert Heinlein gave in 1973 to the United States Naval Academy. I’ve picked it up where he gets to the heart of the subject he wanted to impress upon the midshipmen; the fundamentals of morality and why patriotism is a practical matter of survival.
…why would anyone want to become a naval officer?
In the present dismal state of our culture there is little prestige attached to serving your country; recent public opinion polls place military service far down the list.
It can’t be the pay. No one gets rich on the pay. Even a 4-star admiral is paid much less than top executives in other lines. As for lower ranks the typical naval officer finds himself throughout his career just catching up from the unexpected expenses connected with the last change of duty when another change of duty causes a new financial crisis. Then, when he is about fifty, he is passed over and retires. . .but he can’t really retire because he has two kids in college and one still to go. So he has to find a job. . .and discovers that jobs for men his age are scarce and usually don’t pay well.
Working conditions? You’ll spend half your life away from your family. Your working hours? “Six days shalt thou work and do all thou art able; the seventh day the same, and pound the cable.” A forty-hour week is standard for civilians — but not for naval officers. You’ll work that forty-hour week but that’s just a starter. You’ll stand a night watch as well, and duty weekends. Then with every increase in grade your hours get longer — until at last you get a ship of your own and no longer stand watches. Instead you are on duty twenty-four hours a day. . .and you’ll sign your night order book with: “In case of doubt, do not hesitate to call me.”
I don’t know the average week’s work for a naval officer but it’s closer to sixty than to forty. I’m speaking of peacetime, of course. Under war conditions it is whatever hours are necessary — and sleep you grab when you can. Read the rest of this entry »