Friday, January 29, 2016

“PR” can Boomerang : Humor in Uniform

Humor in Uniform

PR Can Boomerang
Hilarious Memories of My Glorious Navy Days
A Spoof     


If you have read the inimitable war novel Catch-22 – you will surely remember the episode of “generic condolence letters” in Chapter 31 of the book.

In his desperation to get promoted to General – the ambitious Group Commander Colonel Cathcart devises a stratagem of personally sending letters of condolence to the ‘next of kin’ of all those killed in action – since he feels that this initiative may help him get positive publicity – though – in actual fact – he is least concerned about the lives of the men under his command.

As is customary in impersonal formal military correspondence – a prescribed ‘standard format’ is prepared for these “generic condolence letters” – and copies of the standardized “condolence letter” are cyclostyled and kept ready as a form – so that only the name of the addressee has to be inserted.

The moment there is a fatal casualty and someone is “Killed in Action” (KIA) – the dead man’s name is promptly inserted in the form – and the “condolence letter” is immediately put up to the Air Group Commander Colonel Cathcart for his signature – and dispatched.

The condolence letter reads:

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. …….

Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.

One day Doc Daneeka – a squadron medical officer is declared dead by mistake (he is actually alive) – and a condolence letter from Colonel Cathcart is promptly dispatched to his wife:

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. Daneeka:
Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.


Many years ago – during my unforgettable Navy days – I once came across a similar episode.

But – here – it was a case of “generic congratulatory letters” – instead of the “generic condolence letters” of Catch-22.

Our tough-talking no-nonsense hard-taskmaster Boss (a “Sea Dog”) was replaced by a slick smooth-talking shrewd “Sea Doll”.

If you have read my earlier post “Sea Dogs” and “Sea Dolls” – you will understand what the term “Sea Doll” means.

Well – if you haven’t read my spoof on  “Sea Dogs” and “Sea Dolls”  – just click the title above – and the article will open in a new window – but you can read that article later – so first – please read this story.

Our new “Sea Doll” boss had spent most of his career as a “wheeler-dealer” pushing files in the “Northern Naval Command” – and like all such careerist officers – our new ambitious boss believed in cordial “Public Relations” (PR) and polished “Social Graces”.

Our old “Sea Dog” boss had no taste for sham, pretension or tact – he was a coarse tyrant – but he was a genuine straight-talking autocrat – an original officer of the “old mould”.

In contrast – our new Boss was a “refined” fake – and his “mantra” for success was simple:

“Boot-lick your seniors – Boot your juniors – and – Cut the Throats of your course-mates”

But – he did this with finesse – especially – the “throat-cutting” part – he cut his competitors throat so smoothly  that even his victim did not realize that his throat had been cut.

Having made it to senior rank using these dishonorable methods – maybe due to guilty conscience – our Boss was overcome by a desire to “liked” by all – and so he developed a rather “patronizing attitude” towards his juniors – especially his course-mates and erstwhile seniors who had become junior to our Boss – since they had been passed over for promotion – and had fallen by the wayside as superseded officers – and – of course – our Boss continued his sycophancy towards his seniors  he continued boot-licking his senior officers with full gusto.

As I said – maybe this “compassion” towards his juniors was due to his guilty conscience – or – maybe – he felt that good “Public Relations” (PR) would help him get further promotions.

As a part of his PR drive – he started sending congratulatory letters to one and all.

Taking a cue from Catch-22 – in the same manner as Colonel Cathcart – our Boss asked his Secretary to prepare a “generic congratulatory letter” to be sent to all “select list” officers the moment a “promotion signal” arrived.

When the letter format was put up to our boss for approval – he added a last line:

I believe that behind every successful man is a woman  so my wife joins me in congratulating your wife for your success...

(Well – this maxim about a woman being behind every successful man was certainly true in his case – and almost everyone knew the immense “contribution” that our Boss’s wife had made towards her husband’s career success – but I would not like to digress and delve into specific details over here).

One day – after the AVS 2006 Bonanza – a large number of officers were suddenly promoted Captains, Commanders and Lieutenant Commanders.

In true Navy Style – Promotion Signals were released immediately.

Our Boss endorsed on the promotion signals: “Put up congratulation letters to all before lunchtime today.”

On seeing his Boss’s remarks – his Secretary, a young ‘Logistics’ Lieutenant, came in – and he said: “Sir – this is a huge list of names…”

“I know it is a big list – but I want all the congratulatory letters to be dispatched today itself – I desire that my letter should be the first congratulations letter to reach them…” our Boss said.

“Sir – actually it is a ‘Time Scale’ promotion – due to the AVS Cadre Review…” the Secretary said.

“I don’t care – a promotion is a promotion – you don’t argue with me – you just get the letters ready immediately – stop all other work – put everyone on the job – marshal all resources – I want to sign these all congratulatory letters before I go for lunch – and you will ensure that all letters are dispatched today – do you understand…?” the Boss shouted at the hapless Secretary.

Everyone got onto the job pronto.

Since the format of the “generic congratulations letter” was readily available – it was all a question of churning out copies on the personal letterhead of the Boss – entering the officer’s name on each letter – and putting up the letters in bunches for the Boss’s signature.

Meanwhile – tapping his contacts in Naval Headquarters (NHQ) – the canny Secretary had already found out the ship/unit addresses of all the officers in the promotion lists – and – another group was busy making envelopes ready for dispatch.

The stupendous task was completed – and by afternoon – all the congratulatory letters were successfully dispatched marked “urgent” – and – once the letter writing spree was over – normal duties were resumed.


By next morning – all the newly-promoted officers in the same station had the congratulatory letters on their tables – and the outstation officers would get them in a day or two by priority mail/Speed-Post.

(By the way – this story happened many years ago – when “snail-mail” was still the prevalent method of correspondence – and – since these were personal congratulations from our Boss – sending them by FAX would be crude and “unofficerlike” – so all letters were sent in tastefully designed sealed envelopes)

Next morning – our Boss got a few “Thank You” calls from some newly-promoted officers who had received his congratulations letter.

Our Boss seemed pleased that his PR effort had borne fruit and he was in a good mood during our forenoon meeting.

It was past noon – and after a long meeting – we were about to break for lunch – when an officer barged into our Boss’s office.

He was our Boss’s course-mate.

Sadly – he had been passed over for promotion to a few years ago – and – like most superseded officers – he was appointed as a nondescript staff officer in the adjoining Headquarters.

He was in his 30th year of service – and he was reconciled to retiring as a Commander – since he had missed all 3 chances for promotion to Captain.

But – suddenly – AVS 2006 happened – and he found himself wearing his fourth stripe – and – now – at least – he would retire as a Captain.

The newly promoted Captain was furious – he was waving the congratulatory letter in his hand as he shouted at our Boss – who was his course-mate.

“What is the matter…? Why are you so angry…?” our Boss asked his course-mate.

“What is the meaning of this letter…?” the furious Captain asked our Boss.

“Well – at long last – you have been promoted to Captain – so I sent you a congratulatory letter…” our Boss said.

The angry Captain placed the letter in front of our Boss – and he said to our Boss: “Read the last line of your letter…”

Our Boss put on his reading glasses – and he read the last line in the letter  the coup de grâce sentence which our Boss himself had personally inserted in the letter: 

“I believe that behind every successful man is a woman  so my wife joins me in congratulating your wife for your success…”

The Captain looked at our Boss – and he said angrily to our Boss: 

“You are my course-mate. You know that I have been through a bitter divorce – you know the circumstances that caused my divorce – and you are shamelessly congratulating my wife – how can you be so cruel – I never expected such disgraceful conduct from you…”

With those words – the angry Captain walked out in a huff – while our stunned Boss kept staring at the congratulatory letter in his hand.

Sometimes – “PR” can boomerang !!!

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This story is a spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This is a re-post of my story PR BOOMERANG earlier posted online by me in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal on September 24, 2015 at url:

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