Robert Gates: Our founding fathers' belief in public service is due a revival

Share
Related Topics

I worry about how difficult it has become to persuade talented and capable young people to enter the public arena. Much of the resistance no doubt stems from the perceived hassles, frustrations and sacrifices of public life. The scepticism is somewhat understandable. Government is, partially by design of the founding fathers, slow, unwieldy, and almost comically inefficient. I have just about seen it all, since first entering government 43 years ago and now having worked for eight presidents.

I would add that being head of CIA lets you in for some interesting public comment. There was the time that "Wanted" posters with my face on them showed up on a university campus. I acquired one, and it is a treasured part of my collection. It's a reminder that a measure of scepticism and irreverence about government officials and organisations is always healthy – indeed, necessary. It curbs overweening power and overweening egos – and in Washington DC there are no shortages of those.

Irreverence informed by healthy scepticism is one thing. But cynicism about the people and institutions that govern and protect our country can be corrosive. Too often, those who chose public service are dismissed as bureaucrats or worse and, in many cases, politicians run for office running down the very government they hope to lead. In the eyes of many successful private citizens, the burdens of public service have grown too onerous. To them public life seems too mean, too ugly, too risky, too dangerous, and too frustrating.

I have a different view, a view informed by my own experience and by what I see every day. Public service remains a necessary and honourable calling and, contrary to the perceptions of many, a fulfilling and satisfying opportunity. If in an unguarded moment you asked the public servants I have known what their motivation was, you'd learn that, no matter how outwardly tough or jaded, they were and are in their heart of hearts, romantics and idealists. And optimists. You see, we who have taken this path actually believe we can make a difference, that we can change the lives of others for the better, that we can make a positive difference in the life of our country.



This is an extract from a speech given by the US Secretary of State for Defence to Indiana University on Saturday

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Maths Teacher (Swindon and Wiltshire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths teachers for short-term cover, l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Two lads partaking in boozy banter  

We should be blaming lad culture for sexual harassment on campuses, not universities

Elliot Davies
Iraqi volunteer fighters celebrate the breaking of the jihadist siege on the Shiite town of Amerli on September 1, 2014  

Bombs can't defeat Isis, but Iraq's Sunnis can

Ranj Alaaldin
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week