If you haven't had a chance to read Now The Hell Will Start, the gripping historical thriller by Brendan Koerner (who guested here last week), I humbly importune you to get up on that. Much of the book, about an epic manhunt for a black soldier during World War II, takes place in Burma far far away from frontline combat. The Army needed warm bodies to throw at a dubious boondoggle that they hoped would make supplying China easier, and so they sent battalions full of black troops who had been drafted—but who weren't allowed to fight or do much else—to build a road. Think about that. The Army conscripted men who were doctors and mechanics and engineers in their civilian lives, but because of its policies, couldn't find much use for them in wartime besides having them crush rocks in the jungle. There are all manner of compelling moral and ethical arguments against codifying inequality, but there are obvious practical ones as well: institutions that do so are wasteful and inefficient.
This oddly comes to mind whenever I watch Mad Men. You have Joan, who is hypercompetent and discreet, playing the back to twits like Harry and Pete. Does anyone doubt that she could do their jobs better than they do? The soap opera project from a few seasons back hinted that this, and she's every bit as charismatic and shrewd as Don is. In the season premiere, we first catch her behind a desk in her own office (!) which hopefully augurs big things for her at the fledgling Sterling Cooper Draper Price, which is struggling to drum up business. Maybe with their backs against the wall, they'll finally let Joan and Peggy loose.