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Presidential mettle determined by active duty in armed forces? Jury still out on that

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By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
maureen.a.rose2.civ@mail.mil
Since this is the month when America celebrates two of its most famous presidents, this is a good time to take a closer look at the presidency and how it relates to the military.
Of course, the president is also the commander in chief. But does that guarantee he’s a better leader?
Of the 44 men who have sat in the Oval Office, 31 of those served in the armed forces. Some rose much higher in the ranks than others; for example, George Washington, as any second grader can tell you, was a general of the Continental Army before he was president. Seven other presidents wore stars on their uniforms before taking on the White House: Franklin Pierce, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower.
Arguments can be made on either side of the military battleground. Some of the country’s best presidents—Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan—were experienced military leaders with three of those four leading men in combat.
However, some of the nation’s arguably most ineffective presidents—Andrew Johnson (the only president to be impeached), Richard Nixon, George W. Bush—were also men of military service, proving that sterling leadership isn’t a trait common to all veterans.
Many would argue that veterans have proved their dedication to their country through their military service, especially those who served without the Sword of Damocles (known as conscription) hanging over their heads.
Especially after the world wars, most Americans would wonder about any man who didn’t serve, questioning what ailment would classify him as 4F (physically disqualified). More
than one young man was deemed a coward or perhaps even
traitor if he had the physical ability to serve but failed to bear arms.
After Vietnam, however, the public opinion of Soldiers swung in the opposite direction and, as many can still attest from their personal experiences, they were treated badly upon return from the conflict. Too many equated the unpopular war with the Soldiers who fought that conflict.
Today while Soldiers are generally held in high regard, a wider disconnect has developed since so few serve in uniform. Quite a bit fewer than 1 percent of the American population has raised a right hand to take the oath of enlistment. More and more, Americans admit to not understanding the challenges of the military and its veterans. They have no clue what sacrifices are involved for military Families who wait while their Soldiers, husbands, fathers, brothers and sons are in harm’s way.
As noted by John Nagl, a veteran of both wars in Iraq, retired Army colonel and professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, the presidential campaign of 2012 was the first in recent history in which neither candidate had a military background. In his commentary for the “Washington Post” in May of 2012, Nagel answered the question “Does the military still matter for the president?” with a qualified “yes.”
“The crucible of combat not only created these United States, but has also given us many of our most successful presidents,” Nagl said.
Most veterans today, according to a study funded by the Bush Institute, said they don’t consider themselves heroes or victims. But they do consider their military service to be the formative experience in their lives.
Few would deny that military service teaches Soldiers about teamwork and to contribute whether they are the team leader or follower; Soldiers work with others of diverse backgrounds; Soldiers know how to work under pressure and meet deadlines; Soldiers know how to accept responsibility for others Soldiers, equipment as well as their own behavior. Many veterans claim they grew up in the service and became better people—whether men or women.
President Barak Obama has defined those who serve in uniform to “embody the spirit of service.” As the presidency of the United States must be the ultimate in service, such qualities should be one of the most desirable for a public servant.
While some of today’s voters have voiced concerned that Soldiers would be more inclined to pursue military actions as opposed to diplomatic channels, military historian Kenneth Jackson of Columbia University answers that with a claim the military community can support.
“People who have actually been to war are less inclined to go to war. Generals know what war’s about and they’re less enthusiastic to go rocketing off than civilians,” Jackson said.
Fort Knox has hosted a few commanders-in-chief and those occasions were marked by a few of the photos here.
Happy President’s Month!

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