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LTE: We Don't Need a President With Military Experience

By Patrick O'Connell, MCAS '20, in response to "Hail to Whom? Democratic Candidates Have Little Military Experience," published on April 1, 2019.

It's quite interesting to claim, as Megan Traudt does in "Hail To Whom? Democratic Candidates Have Little Military Experience," that veteran status is "equally important" as the economic or social justice aspects of a presidential candidate's platform.

The author states, in support of her argument, that the vast majority of presidents have been veterans. Try this line with other characteristics: the vast majority of presidents have been white, the vast majority of presidents have been men, etc.

Additionally, these heroic soldier-presidents haven't had a great track record. George W. Bush, a Veteran of the Texas Air National Guard, displayed his military savvy by lying to the American people to justify his disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ronald Reagan, who bravely served in the First Motion Picture Unit during World War II, used this valuable military experience to sell weapons to Iran in order to fund and train right wing rebels in Nicaragua, who assassinated nurses, teachers, and children in the name of US interests. Yellow-bellied coward Franklin Delano Roosevelt, despite never having the courage to enlist, somehow made it through World War II, cementing U.S. victory and propelling the country to superpower status.

These facts aside, the article manages to encapsulate an all-too-threatening trend in American discourse. The author concludes by saying that because "the armed forces remain deeply embedded in American political, social, and economic culture," and because of our "tense political situation," we need a president with a military background.

It is true that the troops—and more recently, supporting the troops—have become unquestionably associated with Americanism, despite the fact that veterans make up just seven percent of the U.S. population, and active duty military make up less than one percent of the U.S. population. Traudt uses the ubiquity of the military in U.S. culture and politics as justification for her argument without ever questioning why such a small share of Americans command such a large share of the culture.

Even more worrying is the idea of a benevolent military figure uniting the nation in a time of political crisis. In many settings, this is called a "military coup," but Traudt is not alone in seeing veterans and the military as a non-ideological force with only America's interests in mind.

To some, previous service may be an important qualification in a presidential candidate, but it is in no way more important than a candidate's economic program or views on social justice. The armed forces are so deeply embedded in American political, social, and economic culture, and the current political situation is so tense, that civilian control of the military is more important than ever.