Roger Sterling, Veteran

 Posted by on January 7, 2013 at 7:00 am  Characters
Jan 072013

Roger Sterling, Mad Men

World War II is a defining experience for Roger Sterling; in many ways, the defining experience, the one he never gets over. He is never able to heal from that experience, and his worst behaviors are often associated with it.

He talks about his service as far back as Season 1, and Red in the Face is perhaps the first example of bad behavior tied to Roger’s status as a veteran: He drunkenly hits on Betty in the course of telling war stories.

It stays subtext, though, until Season 4. In The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, we find Roger still fighting the war. In Season 5, Christmas Waltz gives us a Roger who is drunk early in the day because it’s Pearl Harbor Day.

When we talk about Roger, we talk about his wit, his sense of entitlement, his silver spoon, and how we love him in spite of himself. We should also include this side of him, because it’s a consistent through-point.


  32 Responses to “Roger Sterling, Veteran”

  1. If Roger continues experimenting with drugs, I wonder if his war memories will start creeping into his psychedelic experiences.

  2. In Downton Abbey a returned, convalescing veteran is asked (of the French Front during the Great War) “what was it like”. The veteran apologizes saying he can’t talk about it.

    Roger speaks of WWII in only the most general terms. The closest Duck Phillips came to a real war recollection is “I killed 17 at Inchon”.

    Of course if Don spoke candidly of his war experience he’d risk a desertion charge.

    1960s American War Veterans were not a lot more voluble than their 1920s British counterparts.

    These days we encourage our Middle East and Vietnam veterans to talk – probably better for them.

    • Go to The New York Times website and search for two words: veteran suicide. In April 2012, Nicholas Kristof wrote:

      “Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”

      • WWI might be regarded as the first “modern” war. I suspect by 1914 suicide statistics in the West were recorded.

        Those kind of “news reports” seem to lack context – typical of lazy American journalism. In this case context would answer these questions:

        What is the current veteran suicide rate as a proportion of living vererans.

        What was this rate over history (say for each year).

        Without this as a minimal staring point, it’s difficult to claim that talking about war is actually better than say drinking (Roger Sterling’s main coping mechanism).

        I’d really be interested to know how Iraq and Afghanistan redeployments/soldier (or months in combat/soldier) objectively compares to other wars/eras/conflicts – I perceive this figure as historically large, but this may be because the news focus on the recent wars seems greater (this could be measured by column-inch/soldier-death or column-inch/soldier-casualty).

        Trouble is to start the reporter has to know how to multiply and divide – and this in a valid fashion.

        • Agreed– this sounds like a made-up number. Once a statistic gets quoted on the internet, it is automatically assumed valid.

          There’s no way to know exactly how many veterans commit suicide. The number could actually be higher, as death causes are not always reported correctly, particularly in the case of suicide.

  3. Serving in The War is the one genuine accomplishment in Roger’s life as he sees it. Everything else he was born into or was handed because of that and the money that came with it. But the victory over Japan was real.. It’s no wonder he behaves so terribly in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. To him, forgiving the Japanese is like denying the value of the only real thing he’s ever done.

    • Deb,

      Great post as usual!


      Interesting analysis! I wonder if another reason Roger’s so attached to his war years was because it was his only experience being “one of the guys.” Roger has always been either a rich boy/man or the boss’s son, or both. But in the army he was just one of the guys and perhaps made some real friendships. So the memory of the experience is particularly deep for him, as is the loss of the friends from that era.

      • Remember when the woman from the dog food company showed up for adver help because it was exposed for using horse meat in the food? During a romantic dinner Roger makes a speech about their past and being at war.

        She talks about picnics in cemeteries, boxing and Casablanca. Roger turned on her sentimental memories and talked about the REAL war while she was out of touch with the war scene.

        Do you suppose The War was a fork in the road for Roger? It changed everything in his life. There could be a spinoff series here. Roger Sterling, flashbacks of his life. I’d pay to watch that AMC if you are reading this!

        • Who would you propose to play young Roger Sterling?

          • Oh John, great question!
            First of all. I am a purist in this department. I think it should be an unknown. The series has been so good because we watch the characters not the actors. To be consistant I think they should give someone with some experience but no household names. Therefore, I would think a “type” is a better way of filling the bill.

            I recall Mr. Weiner saying he thought of Don as a James Garner type from the “Emily” picture.(can’t think of the title, the one with Julie Andrews. Great film)

            So, the “type” should be somebody like, a young Paul Newman, or an unfunny Jack Lemmon….scratch those, the answer is undon’tknow…What do you think?

          • How about a Keir Dullea type?

          • How about a young George Hamilton type?

  4. I think you are really right about that. Some veterans can’t get out of the experience. We had a friend who drank to excess because, even though he came home, he never got out of Vietnam. We were surprised to find out he had been a sergeant, but then we learned it was because he was the only man in his outfit who survived, and he had been given the title by default. He was haunted by all the guys who died, and I’m sure Roger is, too. He even mentioned it a couple of times.

    Roger doesn’t seem to hang out with any other military buddies, and neither did our friend, because none of his squadmates had made it home. Our friend died in his early 40s of liver disease, brought on and exacerbated by alcohol. We considered that a suicide, even though that’s not how the death certificate read. Roger’s drinking has a lot in common with our friend’s. Nam was the defining experience of his life, and I suspect the South Pacific was the defining experience of Roger’s. Both the drinking and the sardonic humor attempt to keep that experience at bay; sometimes it just breaks free.

  5. Roger brought up the war in season 1 when Pete pitched copy to Bethleham Steel. He told Pete that Don was his commanding officer…that his (Pete’s) generation hadn’t served in the war…. It was early in the series and Roger was more involved in actually working.

  6. Can you imagine Roger’s reaction to finding out Don is Dick Whitman. The man who stole a dead soldier’s identity!

    It’s right up there with Don finding out Pete was the baby daddy of Peggy!

    • If Don and Roger really got into a knock down drag out fight over it, it might be enough to trigger Roger’s third heart attack. Not good!

    • Don doesn’t know Peggy had Pete’s baby. One of the few secrets on Mad Men that no one has yet found out. Reminds me that I saw a discusion, maybe here, about whether Kevin really was Greg’s baby. It had to do with when Joan looked pregnant.

  7. I recently re-watched “the suitcase” and I don’t remember Peggy naming Pete. Did I miss it? Anyway, my dad served just after Korea. He rarely spoke of it. At all.

    • Katey, Godloveya, Peggy tells Pete in Season 2 episode 13, Meditations in an Emergeny. They think the world is ending and he confesses he wished he had picked her and she confesses that he made her pregnant and gave his baby away….Wicked sad!

      • I interpreted this post to mean that IF Roger found out that Dick Whitman stole Don Draper’s identity, it WOULD be the equivalent of Don finding out that Pete was the father of Peggy’s baby.

        • Yes, Ruthie, that is what I was suggesting.” Imagine” what their reactions would be.
          I imagine something like;

          Don would probably have to do something to Pete to vindicate Peggy’s pain.

          Roger would work to have Don put in jail for a very long time.

  8. Okay, work is the wrong verb. Maybe he would hire detectives to do a complete background check on Don and find out what a pitiful life Dick Whitman had and decide to have mercy on him and defend him to the court marshal hearing….I don’t know for sure what exactly is the crime. Is it a military crime that only they can punish for or is it a civil crime that the regular courts can prosecute???

  9. I’m not convinced that Roger would freak out about Don lying, you never know with him. He could say since the real Don Draper was killed it didn’t make any differnce. Don finding out that Pete knocked up Peggy…! that would be something. I understand what you mean now

    • I think that if Don ever found out about Pete fathering that baby, it would forever change Peggy in his eyes. Much in the same way Betty finding out about Don’s past changed her feelings about him.

      • Unless Peggy were massively inebriated, feeling confessional, and within earshot of Don – she would never tell him.

        Pete might, if he saw something to gain.

        Still, in The Suitcase a drunken Duck told a drunken Don “that’s right, we were in love”

        (“we” – hah!).

        After Peggy got rid of Duck, Don told her she did not have to explain that.

        Don made clear he disapproved of Pete’s philandering – after dropping Mr. Jaguar Executive Ex-Pat.

        I’m not so sure he’d disapprove of Peggy so much.

        • John, you may be correct but I think Don is going to be B.S. that Pete had his way with Peggy during her early days at Sterling Coo. Don said something about Pete forgetting his manners when speaking to the new secy from Mrs. Deavers Secreterial School. And remember Pete asked her if she was Armish?

          Later Don remarked that he didn’t want to get too chummy with Pete for fear of waking up pregnant!

          Do you think that was forshadowing?

          • Apparently Amish can be sexy – to Pete, when the “Amish girl” is Peggy – even if she’s from Brooklyn with no Brooklyn accent.

            We know of only two “opportunities” for Pete to “give Peggy a child”. The first was at her apartment at the end of the pilot. That one did not take….

            (hold on)

            The episode guide* shows about nine months between the pilot and the last Season 1 show so that was it! It seems the subsequent early morning “opportunity” (witnessed in silhouette by a janitor) was gratutious in the procreative sense.

            “Not too chummy”, eh? Don’s a funny guy.

            Knowing Weiner and his team of writers, that was definitely foreshadowing – even if he/they didn’t intend it as such. The BoK Mad Women (and Men) are known for finding this kind of stuff even if Weiner denies it.

      • It would change his view of Pete, Don would be livid. He saw how devastating the experience was for Peggy and it would be obvious to anyone that Pete took advantage of her. Don is protective of Peggy, he punched Duck when Duck called Peggy a whore in “The Suitcase” Don can be a cad but he stands up against those who abuse their power, with the notable exception of Lee Garner Jr. I see that as an exception: Don didn’t know what actually happened, it was Harry’s screw up, Sal (understandably) didn’t have the vocabulary to defend himself.

  10. Am wondering when how or how didi I miss that Roger is the father of Joan’s baby? When did this happen? Does Joan’s husband know. In what episode did all this air?

    Need details,
    Thank You,

    • Season 4-Episode 9 Beautiful Girls– Joan and Roger go out for dinner and are mugged after dinner as they walk through a bad neighborhood. They are so traumatized/ exhilarated(?) by their narrow escape from possible death that they have sex right there in a secluded spot.

      Episode 10: Hands and Knees– Joan enters Roger’s office and announces “I’m late.” She tells Roger that it couldn’t be Greg’s because he has been in Vietnam too long. Roger offers to pay for an abortion. Joan goes to a doctor in New Jersey for an abortion but we viewers later find out she changed her mind while in the waiting room. When she goes back to work Roger asks how she is feeling. She says “fine” and “we avoided a tragedy.”

      In the last episode of Season 4 she is talking on the phone to Greg in Vietnam and he asks how she is doing and if her breasts are getting bigger (!). Obviously he has been led to believe that the baby is his.

      During Season 5, on a couple of different occasions, she makes it clear that she wants the baby, Kevin, to believe that Greg is his father, even though Greg has sued her for divorce. We learn that Roger has been sending her money. .She is refusing to take his money, and if he doesn’t keep his distance he won’t be accepted even as a friend of the family. Her desire to be independent of Roger’s support becomes a factor in her decision to sleep with the Jaguar dealer in return for a partnership in Sterling Cooper Draper [whatever it is named now].

  11. Really, you can thank Ida Blankenship for the pregnancy.
    If she had not died suddenly at her desk, Joan would not have gone out with Roger that night.
    It was a reaction to the day’s drama that brought them to drinks, the mugging and the hugging.

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