The impersonal nature of military costs plagues us in our efforts to control them. So often men have been heard to give the shoddy excuse, “If it were my own, I’d probably be more careful,” when asked to explain some carelessness in the maintenance or safeguarding of an article. This is the story of one officer’s struggle to understand and to overcome that vital problem, and the solution which amazed even himself.
Lieutenant Walter P. Jones, U. S. Navy, was the Executive Officer aboard the U.S.S. Hermitage, one of those strange amphibious craft which ply the Pacific Ocean waiting for something to happen. Tonight he was just one of the millions of Americans who was struggling over U. S. Treasury Department Form 1040. As he struggled, and vainly tried to hold down the mounting figures, he grew angry. Taxes were too high! Government expenditures were too great. Worse, the individual citizen had lost his importance in the scheme of things. Machines did the work of men; impersonal stock market quotations measured the health of American industry. America was such a complex maze of factories, farms, labor unions, management groups, that little Walter Jones had lost his importance in the country which was so dear to him. He could no longer understand what was happening around him, let alone control those events as one lone man. Confused and frustrated by the complexities and expense of modern life, Jones was just about the most normal and average man in the United States as he fought with the income tax form.
It was different, he assured himself, “in the good old days,” about which he really knew very little. The spirit in which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written was very clear.
When the infant America gained her independence on the radical assumption that all men were created equal and that Mr. Individual was a very important citizen, life had been so simple. The United States owed France two million dollars after that original war. The inconsistent mind of Lieutenant Jones understood with ease the manner in which a Mr. James Swan had patriotically stepped forward, reached into his right front pocket and, withdrawing a roll of bills, paid off the entire debt. It was easy enough for our founding fathers to believe in the power of the individual under such circumstances, for they were never confronted with any real problems. What would poor Mr. Swan do in 1953 confronted with a National Debt of almost 273 billion dollars? What would be his reaction when asked to pay for expenditures in just one year, when every man, woman, and child in the country was running up a bill of $448 apiece in the National Treasury? In 1953 the Military Establishment alone would be spending $45 billion! Mr. Swan wouldn’t, and Mr. Jones couldn’t, understand what 273 billion dollars meant, let alone the problems which created the figures. But line five, page 1, of Form 1040 made a great deal of sense. It read, after many, many calculations: $501.25. This being his money, Lieutenant Jones could shed real tears and arouse within himself a considerable amount of righteous indignation.
Be cost conscious, the flow of directives pleaded with him! But how could he do anything about this monster which had him by the throat when he couldn’t even pay his own share? After all he was only one lone swimmer, already going down for the third time in this flood of dollars, billed against him and all the others. No Mr. Swan would step forward this time to pay billions of dollars out of his pocket. Oh no! Some force greater than that of the individual would be necessary now, for the principles upon which our democracy had been founded were as outdated as the Model T. Ford.
Outdated, Lieutenant Jones? It must have been his conscience which caused him to remember the little Italian barber in New York City who once staged a one man campaign against Communism in his native land. He wrote one letter to a friend back there, and then another! He talked a relative into writing one and talked a friend into writing another. Soon Italy was engulfed by an avalanche of mail arriving from across the Atlantic. In the subsequent election which refuted Communism the importance of the little barber is a matter of conjecture. He likes to think he was very important. And do you remember, Lieutenant Jones, the Midwest housewife who decided that beef prices had risen too high in 1949? By what miracle she was able to cause even your wife to take up the chant no one can exactly explain, but the fact remains that she did cause a break in the butcher shop prices! The sum total of millions of very real people goes to make up that complex maze of factories and farms which confuse you so, and each of them has a very loud voice. Once they chant in unison, there is no force in the world so great. No individual, nor any system, is so powerful that it can defy the voices of an aroused collection of individuals, shouting in concert!
And so had Lieutenant Jones been thinking to himself as he wondered what could be done to reduce line five of his income tax form and probed for an answer to this very serious problem of Cost Consciousness. The Navy spent money in units of billions ... it might as well have been expressed in light years, for his mind and salary understood only in terms of dollars. Why even the maintenance allotment for the ship was only thirty-two thousand. What an impression that would make on the national debt, if by some miracle he could prevent any of it from being spent. The effect would be as important as if a tiny speck of the milky way should grow dark! But his thoughts kept returning to that little barber and the Midwest housewife. If the military budget could somehow be expressed as simply, on a very personal basis, how real would become the meaning of cost consciousness? The effect of every officer and man in the Navy embarking on a spree of saving would send such a flood of dollars flowing back into the U. S. Treasury. . . . Jones almost laughed at the imaginary scene of government employees frantically battling the flow of dollars, trying to stow them away as they mounted higher and higher. But who would be the barber, what could be the key?
And then during a conversation about the withholding tax with the Disbursing Officer, one of the answers hit his brain like a bolt of lightning. Such a simple one it was. All the while he had added columns of figures on his income tax form his mind had visualized that precious money of his being spent in far away places by a far away government. Foreign aid, restoration of the White House, Social Security payments, a new Post Office in Oshkosh—all these took his money and more. The truth, which startled him as nothing had since he had first realized that the world consisted of boys and girls, was that every nickel of his precious $501.25 had been spent no farther away than on board the U.S.S. Hermitage.
The Bureau of Ships allowed his ship to expend $32,000 a year on rags, paint, bright work polish, spare parts, and all those other materials necessary to keep the ship operational and in a good state of appearance. The Disbursing Officer, in chance remark, mentioned that the Withholding Tax totals of all the officers and men aboard was $27,600. That the taxes were paid to the Treasury Department and lost in a maze of books did not alter the simple fact that the ship was being supported directly by the crew. Instead of withholding from the payroll, then by sleight of hand sending the money on a journey from the Treasury to the ship via the Bureaus, Supply Offices, stock rooms and on back to Washington, Uncle Sam could just as well have directed the Commanding Officer to maintain his ship out of the pockets of his officers and men. Every penny collected was being spent aboard. The billions were only the accumulated totals of some 825,000 individuals who made up the Navy as a whole, each spending in blissful ignorance of his extreme importance. More remarkable was the fact that each was taxed, in a rough manner of speaking, according to his ability to spend money. The Captain, who paid the most for the operation of his ship, had the power to make sweeping decisions, but at his own expense. “Paint the side” (at a cost of one hundred dollars), “brighten up the gangway” (at a cost of fifty dollars), “do this,” or “do that,” until he ran up his bill of over six hundred dollars. The seaman who bought paint, brightwork polish, and rags could waste them! When he did, it was his own sixty dollars being paid for the privilege. The system couldn’t have been better if Jones had worked it out himself, he had to admit! If the system were carried to its logical conclusion, then it followed as night does day, that very dollar which is NOT spent by the crew, is a potential saving which must inevitably reduce the cost of operating the military machine, and so be returned to each individual through lowered taxes. If every individual saved only a dollar, a million dollars would be lopped off the budget. If . . . if . . . if. The power of the individual, if each thought the thing out and took positive action, was a staggering matter to contemplate. Yes, Lieutenant Jones, we do have a system which not only allows, but depends upon, the individual control of costs within the military establishment! It is just as important now, as it was in 1776, for you, as one of the leaders on your ship, to make that fact understood and to capitalize upon it!
The primary concern of higher authority in focussing your attention upon the quarterly allotment as the first target in economy has sometimes bewildered you, Mr. Jones. It needn’t have. The money is spent upon materials necessary to keep a ship operational and in such appearance that when she shows her flag in foreign ports the prestige of the United States will be upheld in a consistent manner. No thinking individual would deny that a- rusted, oil stained hulk would but connote a poverty stricken, helpless, and slovenly nation to the foreigner who gained his impression of the United States from her. But economy of materials is now an urgent matter. The United States is no longer blessed with an eternal and overwhelming supply of raw materials. The exhaustion of such common materials as iron, lead, copper, asbestos, and so many other items common in shipboard usage may now be measured in terms of our own lifetime. Every material waste hastens the day when we will no longer have the materials within our shores necessary to resist the military forces of the world. Or should we know the blessings of a lasting peace, our country will have been so stripped that we will be unable to enjoy the material advantages of that peace. The conservation of materials is mandatory. The fact has become more and more apparent with the passing of time. Now, Lieutenant Jones, you have the key to an important phase of your country’s security. You must take the place of the barber and the housewife. You may start the avalanche!
It has been three months since Jones launched his one man campaign against costs. The plan of the day, published to the crew, reminded each man on a very personal basis of the cost to himself of each mishap or act of carelessness; each item in common usage was described in terms of the cost to the user. Acts of economy were praised to the skies. In fact the Captain signed as many commendatory letters as there were criminal charge sheets at his masts. And most important, as the end of the quarter arrived and the results of the program were evidenced by the credit balances in various departments, the savings were transferred to the Captain’s personal control, “to be reserved,” and to be returned to the Treasury on June 30, if no emergency arrived to necessitate its use.
The results have not been spectacular. Three months is a short time compared to years of complacency. Millions haven’t been saved, only hundreds. But the movement was gaining momentum; every day there was another voice added.
Johnny Smith, BM3, was in charge of a small area of the Hermitage which contained ladders with rusty metal treads. Each week busy feet wore through the paint, exposed the metal to the rain and the damp salt air. Each week before inspection the treads were repainted at a cost of two dollars. One day he realized that he was spending all of his tax money on each ladder. He had his men cover the treads with rubber, secured by a thin brass strip. For three months the ladder treads have not had to be painted. The Captain was pleased with the improved appearance. Smith was more pleased with the fact that he was saving about $90 a year of his own money!
The side of the Hermitage was usually a sight to behold. Swabs were cleaned of their dirty water, the engineers emptied oil cans, slop, coffee, and all the little nuisances that unthinking sailors can create, were collectively added to the hull of the ship. The sides were always so discolored that the only solution was to repaint every month or so ... at a cost of $100. Frank Smith, MM2, realized that it was his money which painted the side one day. He got permission from the Executive Officer to place little signs around the ship, teaching the men to be more seamanlike. The plan saved about three hull paintings a year!
Big fenders manufactured from cane or cocoa matting cost about fifty dollars apiece and last only a year. Moreover they become so waterlogged that if they cast loose they sink without a trace. The Ship’s Boatswain evolved the idea that airplane tires, strung four abreast on a wooden hub, would serve just as well as cocoamat fenders. For $3.75 apiece he constructed fenders thereafter from salvaged airplane tires.
Paint brushes were used at an exorbitant rate on the Hermitage. At least four dozen a quarter hardened up in old cans in neglected corners. They did until a thinking BM2 realized that this waste was the exact cost of his payment to the ship, $124 a year. He spent two dollars on sheet metal and constructed a paint brush holder, with compartments for each color paint commonly used aboard. Each night paint brushes were “put to bed” in a bath of linseed oil. By actual count forty-eight brushes were saved during a three month period, at a saving of almost three dollars per brush.
There were others.
Jones couldn’t honestly say that the economic millennium was at hand. Compared to the cost of Foreign Aid, the money the Hermitage had saved was a bagatelle. After three months the Captain had recaptured about one thousand dollars of his quarterly allotment, representing money which was not spent. Not a great deal? If every ship and station would do as well, on a per man basis, the Navy would save three million dollars worth of materials. Social pressure is developing against wasters on the Hermitage, for men do not enjoy seeing their own money thrown away.
Your ship and your shore station are probably on a pay as you go basis also. Check the withholding tax totals against your maintenance allotment and learn how quickly the comparison will help you to be aroused. One man’s price is another man’s cost! That gets very personal when the man is the same.
Yes, Lieutenant Jones, an individual is very important. Once aroused, his wrath will cause even the proverbial woman scorned to take cover!