03-19 bill patrick

Herald-Press Journalist William Patrick

More than 70 percent of U.S. presidents have spent time in uniform – not surprising for a nation born from armed revolution.

Today, however, 244 years after the “shot heard round the world,” having a Commander-in-Chief who has ever seen battle is quickly becoming the norm.

From George Washington, through Dwight Eisenhower, and as recently as George H.W. Bush, presidents typically built their notoriety, and honed their leadership and diplomatic skills, as officers and enlisted personnel in the armed forces.

Having served in the military was almost an unspoken expectation for holding the office of U.S. president. Within the last thirty years, however, American voting trends have turned almost 180-degrees.

Data suggests presidential candidates without military experience have a much higher chance of success today.

Three of our last four presidents – William Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump – were born within 10 weeks of each other in the post-World War II “baby-boom” generation. Although all were old enough to serve in Vietnam, none saw a moment of action in Southeast Asia.

Clinton and Trump both received student deferments, with Trump additionally receiving a medical deferment for bone-spurs in his feet. Bush, whose father was a pilot in WWII, joined the Air National Guard, guaranteeing him a stateside post for the duration of the conflict.

Barack Obama, who was seven when President Richard Nixon, a veteran, abolished the draft, never volunteered to serve. Obama was of age to enlist during the first Gulf War.

Some believe the individual in charge of the nation's armed forces should have military experience to back up his or her leadership role.

With an entirely volunteer military, however, and only 0.5 percent of Americans currently serving, limiting our presidential options to the veteran population would exclude many worthwhile candidates.

Combat veterans who have run for president since 1992 have all struck out. Bob Kerrey, John McCain, Al Gore, Wesley Clarke, and several others all failed to secure the country's highest office.

Perhaps old grudges and memories of college protests of the Vietnam War, which divided the country more than any other conflict since the Civil War, are being manifested today at the polls.

The war currently being waged in Afghanistan is going on its second decade of U.S. participation – despite the fact that outside of trite monickers like “the War on Terror,” most Americans cannot offer a definitive reason for our involvement.

As a result, many voters, either consciously or subconsciously, often compare Afghanistan and Vietnam.

This could spell disaster for Democratic presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard and Pete Buttigieg, the only candidates out of a field of 20 hopefuls who are combat veterans.

Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, and a major in the U.S. Army, saw combat in Iraq. Buttigied, former mayor of South Bend, Inidiana, served six months in Afghanistan as a lieutenant with naval intelligence.

If either candidate, or any like them, are ever elected president, it will most likely be in spite of, not because of, their service.

Our country no longer reveres veterans as it once did, irrespective of platitudes offered by non-veteran statesmen.

Instead, we have become a society of pop-culture enthusiasts, begging for sound-bites, desperately trying to distance ourselves from the painful realities wars bring home. It's not surprising the country elected a reality television star as president.

Military service has its benefits in the political arena. Still, being a combat veteran should not be a requirement for serving as president.

From 1909 through 1945, U.S. voters elected six presidents who never wore a uniform, but carried us through both world wars, as well as several armed conflicts, and the Great Depression.

Nevertheless, as a veteran, I would still rather have a president who knew the realties of combat before making the decision for our nation to go to war.

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