I am very disappointed that none of the ten Republican presidential candidates who appeared in the main Fox debate were veterans. At least two of the candidates in the earlier kids’ debate were veterans – Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham. This is due to changes in priorities in the US which have affected both the military and politics. Twenty-six of our forty-four Presidents have served in the military. This includes George W. Bush, whom I don’t include because he avoided service in Vietnam by joining the Alabama National Guard. In the past, men who wanted to serve their country politically would often want to serve in other ways, such as defending it in the military. When I was growing up, almost every man who could pass the physical had served in some military capacity during World War II. The big change in attitude came during the Vietnam War, when the military became an object or derision, and the draft was eliminated.
Before the elimination of the draft, the military was a rather democratic institution with people from across the US, socially, racially, financially, etc. When the draft was eliminated, men from good families served much less than those from lower classes. The military particularly drew from lower class white men, rednecks, to whom the military still appealed as a patriotic calling, and one that was financially as good as or better than any occupation they could find in the civilian sector. It also took in many blacks and Hispanics, who had less family connection to the military and who were thus attracted mainly by the financial aspects rather than by patriotism. In any case, we have less diversity in the military and fewer veterans in most segments of civilian society.
One example of the elite’s contempt for the military is the fact that while she was dean of the Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan blocked military recruiters from using the school’s office of career services to talk to prospective recruits. Harvard is not a hotbed of students seeking to serve their country; they are too interested in getting rich on Wall Street. Harvard is producing brilliant, selfish, greedy narcissists. It’s an example of how America’s economy is doing well while its moral structure crumbles.
Traditionally the military has represented some of the best qualities of America and its citizens, but as the pool of military recruits shrinks, it has fewer high class individuals to draw from. There are of course many fine people serving in the military, but there is a higher proportion of people who are not so fine.
As a result, the military has fewer leaders to offer to the American political system. Colin Powell was one who served in many important positions, but who never ran for public office. In this respect, he copied General George Marshall, one of the finest men ever to serve in the military, but who also refused to run for office, leaving the field to General Eisenhower. Eisenhower is the last military leader to follow in the footsteps of General George Washington. Other Presidents, like Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter, served in the military, but did not distinguish themselves as military leaders. Eisenhower was primarily a soldier who also entered politics. Kennedy and his cohorts were politicians who had served in the military. Kerry and McCain fall in the latter category.
McCain is rightly characterized as a hero for his actions while a prisoner of war. However, he was not a great military leader. His father and grandfather were military leaders, but they did not go into politics. McCain did not succeed in the military as his ancestors had. Neither McCain nor Kerry carried the mantle of “great military leader” into their failed campaigns for President. There is no military leader today with any claim to that title. Even Colin Powell’s military success came mainly as a staff officer, not a line officer commanding troops in combat. The closest probably has been General Petraeus, for his successful surge campaign toward the end of the Iraq war. Unfortunately, his political chances have been undermined by his immoral personal life. In any case, his success in Iraq pales beside the accomplishments of previous military Presidents like Washington and Eisenhower. McCain’s and Kerry’s military accomplishments don’t even deserve comparison to those predecessors.
I think America is poorer for not having a military cadre to draw from for political office. Generals don’t only fight. Marshall was known in WW II as “the great organizer.” We could use a great organizer, or just someone who inspires confidence in their leadership. Reagan did inspire people, and I think that is why the Republicans look up to him so, although many of his so-called accomplishments have paled in the light of history. Obama, on the other hand, may have more lasting accomplishments, but he generally fails to inspire the confidence of American citizens, or the respect of his international cohorts.