Art Chance: Embrace the suck



The military has long, probably always, had its own vernacular. Those who have been in the military and those of us especially of ‘Boomer age learned a lot of the vernacular from our fathers and grandfathers, most of whom served in some capacity. 

We’ve all heard that something was FUBAR, “F—ed Up Beyond All Recognition.” We’ve heard of a SNAFU, “Situation Normal, All F—ed Up.”  Most of us knew the word “scuttlebutt” as a term for rumors. The scuttlebutt was Navy slang for the potable water fountain on a ship and the crew would gather around the scuttlebutt and exchange rumors and lies.

When our youngest joined the U.S. Army, we quickly learned that he spoke a foreign language. We bought a slim volume from Amazon called “Embrace the Suck, The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life,” which is a guide to military speech. The underlying premise of military thought is encapsulated in the WWII slang phrase, Snafu. It is also the underlying philosophy of those who actually do things in civilian government, where it is usually expressed as something like, “expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when you don’t get it.”  At its essence, it all sucks, so deal with it.

The guys in charge of cutting and transporting the stones for the Egyptian pyramids probably complained that the guys drawing the plans and giving the orders had never worked with the tools and didn’t understand what it took to cut and move stones. In my State of Alaska days, I had something of a reputation for being cynical and negative, and that’s not usually a good thing in the “rah-rah” world of political management. I didn’t care; I wanted to be able to say, “I told you so” if anything went wrong.

Neither British North America nor the new United States had much in the way of wage labor or regimented factory production. The federal government and state governments were tiny groups of clerks and secretaries, the little “s” kind of secretary. The Post Office was probably the most powerful department in government because postmasters were appointees and Mail Carriers were patronage appointees. The Customs Service wasn’t far behind because of its presence in the port cities.

There was very little unskilled, semi-skilled labor in industry. Machinists, ironworkers, wheelwrights, shipwrights, cordwainers, printers, and the like were organized into guilds or unions and the owners bargained with the guilds/unions to arrive at wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. The sort of labor scheme that had existed since the Middle Ages began to unravel with the expanded industrialization and immigration from the 1850s onward. 

The U.S. workforce began to rely more and more on unskilled and semi-skilled labor doing repetitive work and by the 1920s the U.S. was riven with labor strife. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 extended the sort of bargaining practices that the skilled trades had once enjoyed to all employees of businesses engaged in interstate commerce. That sop to Labor and WWII bought a period of relative peace – for a little while.

Nobody in world history had ever run anything as big as the Allied war effort in World War II. The U.S. military had less than 200,000 men in 1939. At the end of the War in 1945 it had 12.5 million men in uniform. For those of you who’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan,” there is a scene a day or so after the landing, when the Tom Hanks character is summoned to see his commander. There is an horizon-to-horizon view of the English Channel from the bluffs above the beach. The beach is covered with materiel, the sea is filled with ships and landing craft, the sky is covered with aircraft, and the men look like ants on an ant hill. That scene is a reenactment of an actual photograph. 

A reality check: The only things in that scene that existed on Dec. 7, 1941, were two World War I battleships in the bombardment fleet and the men themselves, most of whom were in high school at the time.

The military, industry, and education worked mightily to teach men, and some few women, how  to keep this mighty host fed, supplied, and armed. Harvard Business School led the charge with the University of Chicago not far behind. Holding military office, going to Harvard or the University of Chicago at government expense, then after discharge going on to Harvard and Chicago’s pro team, McKinsey Consulting — that was the path to the stars in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Now the military isn’t the entrepot to the big-time but the path to the big-time still goes through McKinsey. Go research the CVs of the people running the US these days.

Those of us in government and to some degree in corporate management learned to hate people with Master of Business Administration degrees 20 years or more ago. Probably those grizzled non-commissioned officers in World War II learned to hate them long before that. This is the guy that the Egyptian stonemason complained about 4,000 years ago who gave him plans and orders but who had never cut or moved stones. The whole notion behind the MBA is that you don’t have to be able to do something to be able to tell other people how to do it. I really don’t want to listen to some Ivy League punk with a Gantt Chart in his hand telling me what I should do when s/he can’t analyze a grievance or put on an arbitration successfully.

My last experience with the world of the MBA was my “get off the sofa” job at Cabela’s. Above the store level, the managers were all the sorts that had a BA in Retail Merchandising and an MBA, and who had never worked in a store nor would they sully themselves by doing so.   Things that I could get done in the early 1970s with a pencil and a clipboard just couldn’t be done. For that matter, nobody could even make change if the registers were down.

All that said, America was beginning to suck in 2019 but it still sort of worked; you had to go find the suck. Then we were incarcerated for the better part of two years and then as we emerge nothing works. 

The service in almost every restaurant sucks because they don’t have enough help. 

You can’t get your car fixed for three weeks when it used to take three days, and it also costs half again as much.   

Calling customer service about anything, anywhere is just an exercise trying to talk to someone who speaks broken English and who doesn’t know anything. 

Years ago when I was young and poor, I could fix most anything whether I wanted to or not. Today, I’m just going to embrace the suck and do it myself.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.


  1. For many of “us” that remember how to fix, repair, and apply physical “Effort & Try” there’s a great opportunity to monetize our skillset, resilience, and Can-Do Attitude that will enhance our wallet!

    • If I were younger, I’d be looking to invest in a used car business in one of those states that is going to outlaw gasoline powered cars.

  2. Art, get off the sofa and start writing more for MRAK. It’s a hot and nasty political season and we need your temperament to help right the ship.

  3. So true, we have so many that are “college educated” but have never held a real job. It’s all theory learned in academia. This is why we see such horrific failures displayed by the Democrats. An entire life in academia, then on to a non profit or foundation, then political office. No experience, zero in the way of any kind of street smarts. But, they’re book smart so they think they’re a cut above anyone else not like them.

    • Jim: did someone smarter than you embarrass you as a kid? Seems a lot of MRAKers are opposed to intellectuals

      • I haven’t met an intellectual in awhile. I have met a lot of lefties who think that lefty and intellectual are synonyms.

  4. When your 5-tube radio stopped working you took it to the guy down the street who fixed it. A little later, with any sense of adventure, you’d pull out the tubes and take them to drug store and stick’em in the “tube tester; buy a new one or two then bring the collection back home and plug them in where they from if you remembered which went where and they worked OK provided there was no smoke when you turned it on.
    Then came the transistor and for a very short time a few had plug-in transistors but that didn’t last long.
    Still, the guy down the street probably could make it work again.

    Then they got smaller and the guy down the street gave up on ’em and would fix your TV instead. For a while.

    Then the same guy looked at how the flat-screen TVS were put together and moved to Florida.

    Now you live in an age of choice!

    TV broke? Call “customer service” if you’re deep into masochism. It it under warranty? Take it to a service center – maybe in Los Angeles. OR mail it to China. Then look at the comparative costs of a long-wait repair or just buying a new one bigger than the old one and, until 2020, likely costing less than the old one. But with inflation, probably costing twice as much.

    It’s progress.

    But whose progress?

    You’ll know when you have to mail your toilet to China to have it fixed. Or work with their customer service. Tell ’em your toilet is running and be asked where it goes and how fast it can run!

    Come on November.

    Not that it will actually help.

    See, art’s not the only cynic. Now there’s a thought for 2023 State Fair competition.

    • Yeah but we don’t have to worry about that bothersome horizontal hold knob that was constantly used. Remember when your TV just to roll and roll and roll and he got tired of getting up and tune it in with that little knob to get it to stop? Then we got remote control. The good old days.

  5. At least we know how to install and set the gap on a set of ignition contact points.those days are long gone. Sucking to some is embracing the present and the future. They do not know the past.

    • Well, Greg, we should probably have a pre-77 or so vehicle that doesn’t have any electronics and has a points and condenser ignition; it will survive an EMP or nuclear attack, and these idiots are setting us up for one.

    • Still have my tach/dwell meter. Granted, it is useless for the vehicles I currently own, but maybe someday I will get that classic muscle car.
      Knowing how things work is an important and valuable skill that is rapidly getting lost. It is a shame, but with some luck, folks like us can teach a new generation, perhaps only for the “cool” factor, but if they can learn, they will.

  6. Art nails it. Our country’s standards have slipped so badly since the Covid scamdemic. We don’t even expect things in business or government to work right anymore. Our children can’t read and they’re being taught how to live in an alternate gender universe. We don’t expect service anywhere. Heck, we don’t even expect there to be milk on the shelves reliably. It shows you how quickly our nation can be torn apart, and our enemies have taken note.

    • Long before that. Since when did we start caring about what sour kraut eaters thought we called them after they brought in the Holocaust?or the shortened name of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor? We used to reference people’s origins by scientific names like Caucasoid, Mongoloids, or Negroids. Now everyone is a color. White, brown or black. I’ve never seen a white person before that wasn’t dead being fished out of the water. I’m still not over the Romans after they slaughtered Jews. With all the bad guys in the world’s history like Gingus Kahn, Peter the Great, Hitler, the Ceasers, Mussolini, and most early Popes, why do leftist have a huge erection for Donald Trump? There’s plenty of real bad guys if you want to be mad at somebody. Yeah, it’s been sucking around here way before 1998.

  7. Want to REALLY embrace ‘the suck’? Try this one on for size: Have a non chinese cristmas…No chinese decorations, lights or gifts.

    That will tell you a lot about the current state of affairs in this country.

  8. So, when the world closes itself off from us, resist the temptation closing yourself off from everyone around you, encouraging self with these words ‘i got this, and can do all on my own,’ while your neighbor gropes in the darkness of ignorance, and you have the means to teach them how to walk so to speak.

  9. I’m a combat vet, and I think this guy has no clue what he’s talking about. Permitting this comment means you care about free speech and multiple viewpoints that real military people have fought for.

    • Most of the guys I see out on the streets claiming to be combat vets are just stoners or junkies. I know what it was like when I was out with my son when he was on leave and the fuck-ups would come up to him trying to pretend. Convince me you’re not just full of it.

  10. In your “The only things in that scene that existed on Dec. 7, 1941” you neglected to mention the submarine fleet. Without them in that first year we might be speaking Japanese.

    • Art is talking about 1944. From the time we landed in Normandy it took less than a year for Hitler to eat a bullet. Yes after we got a hold of an enigma machine with the help of the British, who have always been Masters at espionage, we were able to decipher some of the Wolfpack location and take them out along with the invention of enhanced sonar and radar. But during the time of the photo that you mentioned most of the Wolfpack was rendered useless. They couldn’t get that Mercy hail Mary sub out of Norway with all that mercury gold and jet parts on it. That was the first sub on sub thinking while underwater but the British did that. The underwater service played a role in getting the Liberty ships over but mostly that was successful because the Germans simply couldn’t sink them fast enough for us to continue to supply the allies.

      • But to get back to your comment about the U-boats on D-Day, they simply weren’t around. The Allies had done a good job of disinformation and rope a dope, that much of the Wolfpack was up near Calais or in the med and because of the fact that we put 6,000 ships in the channel on that day with over a thousand of them being worshiped, the Wolfpack simply didn’t have a chance but because the invasion took a day to get that many men and equipment landed, some of the U-boats were able to slip in and pick off about 20 of our ships. But by that time the war in the Atlantic was all but over and U-Boat crew were deserting while on shore leave rather than go back into the death traps.

    • Well, there might have been some submarines off the Normandy beaches, probably were, but they weren’t visible in that scene in the movie; that is the whole point of being a submarine.

  11. Well embrace this suck then, last weekend I was watching some classic movies. I’m a John Wayne fan and I was watching true grit and El Dorado. They got to the part in true grit when they’re talking about the bed that rooster was laying in and Maddie Ross called it a bed that needed some slats and rooster said that’s the problem with it it doesn’t have any slants at all some kind of a damn Chinaman torture chamber. They let that part through but they blurt out the part when he’s playing cards with chin lee and rooster says you can never know what’s on a chinaman’s mind. They beeped the chinaman’s part out. In El Dorado they cut out an entire scene where Mississippi and the sheriff are trying to sneak into the back of the bar and Mississippi takes a flower pot and puts it on his head and gets a blanket and throws around his shoulder like a shawl and begins speaking in Chinese gibberish and doing his little chopstep thing to get closer to the back door of the bar so that he can ambush the guards. They cut all that part out. Then there’s top gun. The part where the captain is cautioning Maverick that if he screws up one more time he would have him flying a plane load of rubber dog s*** out of Hong Kong. Now everybody knows Hong Kong makes those carnival toys, they proudly put the maid in Hong Kong label on all that stuff but for some reason A&e thought they needed to blur Hong Kong out. This kind of censorship on classic movies has got to stop. I’m sure there’s parts of the wizard of Oz and the ten commandments that have been blurred out. Why do we care that people around the world get mad if we reference them in a certain light? We’re at war with China right now so why do we care if they’re feelings get hurt?

    • Greg–At least one more censored item. My husband is descended from the genetic line of people portrayed in Braveheart so he wanted to watch it again. I knew it would be bloody and gory but the one rape scene was particularly repugnant to me. Voila–it was removed. I didn’t really want to see it again but thought it was a little strange that “Hollywood” would worry about that when all the war stuff was still left in it. Who are the censors?

  12. You know the trolls have succeeded when you get to the end of the Comments, and the subjects being discussed are completely (purposefully?) unrecognizable from the initial focus of the article. As aspiring intellectuals, and self-appointed experts, many of you are much too easily distracted!

    • Sky trooper. Not here regularly enough to
      not know these guys
      you talking about are all mrak regulars-the men(some
      are absent) who’d meet for a couple
      beers and talk.

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