Should our government leaders be required to have had military service?

I was just thinking, a surprising number of the Bush cabinet are referred to as “chickenhawks,” in other words, pursuing aggressive military policy without having had any military experience. However, Donald Rumsfeld, one of the most despised Bush officials, did in fact serve in the Navy as an aviator and reached the rank of Captain.

Personally I think that Donald Rumsfeld has not been a good leader, but at least he has military service under his belt. The same cannot be said for Bush or Cheney. Nor can it be said for any of the neocons (Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle for example. Nor can it be said, for that matter, for William Cohen, Clinton’s secretary of defense.

When I read that Cohen had never served in the military, I was quite surprised. I would think that any man in charge of waging war should know what it is like to actually have been in a war. And Wolfowitz, long known as an advocate of pre-emtive strikes and other very aggressive military tactics, is a quintessential Jewish intellectual, a member of the academic intelligentsia who has spent his entire life in a university office - why the hell is someone like this in charge of anything remotely related to the matters of life and death on a battlefield?

I would think that in an ideal government, every member at the upper level of the department of defense would have to be a veteran of combat. I mean, how can someone make decisions about it if they don’t know what it’s like? It’s like Ray Charles designing a suit. It doesn’t compute.

Does this sound reasonable? Say whatever you want about John Kerry (personally I am a huge fan of his and was absolutely crushed when he lost the election) - the guy had been in combat, he had been fired upon by enemy bullets. The Swift Boat Veterans pulled a really despicable smear campaign on him, and a lot of people fell for it, but even if every single thing they said was true, Kerry still would have been a veteran of combat. Al Gore was in Vietnam as a journalist, which some might say is not “real” combat experience, but he still witnessed the war first hand on the ground. I think both of these men would have handled our military better than it is being handled now. Do you agree?

Completely unreasonable.

Grossly discriminatory.

Many people are excluded from military service for reasons that don’t otherwise exclude them from being good public leaders. For example, homosexuals, people with asthma, people who were once mentally ill, but have recovered, people who are very short, etc.

No. Military service should not be a requirement for any type of government work, whether as an elected official or a civil servant. Nor do I believe that military service would automatically make them better at the job. Believe it or not, there are incompetent buffoons in the military.

What about areas other than the military? Should governmental officials with power over the economy have spent time as accountants? For agricultural policy, as farmers? And the President himself should presumeably have been all of these at some point?

Extra experience is always a help, but not to the point of requirement.

Another one who thinks that military service shouldn’t be required for anyone looking to be in government. There are positions (Secretaries of Defense or the various Armed Forces.) I’d feel better with people having military experience, but even there I don’t want to say that it’s necessary.

I consider it a plus for government leaders to have some military experience but I don’t think it should be a requirement. Just like it isn’t a requirement for a government leader to have graduated college but as a general rule I would prefer it if they had.


Out of idle curiosity, why do you think that National Guard service is not military service?

I disagree. What matters for someone in a Cabinet level position is can that person successfully manage (<==note the key word there, which is not wage) the Executive Department of which that person is the head.

It’s possible for someone, after careful thought and considered research, to come to the same conclusion as a career military officer as to how to conduct a conflict.

I fail to see the relevance of his religion to this issue. And “spent his entire life in a university office” is merely hyperbole; it’s a meaningless charge.

I’m a Navy retiree, and yet I don’t consider that to be the case. As I mentioned above, what matters above is capability and knowledge of how to perform the currently assigned task, that of the Cabinet level post.

If Ray Charles were to receive education in what many people consider to be fashionable, what colors complement each other, what patterns and colors clash with each other, what is considered men’s styles and women’s styles, then there would be no problem with him designing a suit. Just because someone’s knowledge is academic does not mean the knowledge is invalid.

And, if you don’t mind, I’ll just not mention the rest of your OP.

Alright, well as of now the consensus seems to be that military experience ought not to be required for those involved in the oversight of military action. I don’t know much about this topic (I was just going by my first instinct about it) so I’m not pretending to be some kind of political authority. I mean, some of the best football coaches never actually played football themselves.

To ask another question then, do people like Wolfowitz or Dick Cheney learn the specifics of war and combat from generals or other military people, or are they basically going by what feels logical and right to them? Does Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, know anything about the structure of combat battalions? Does he have a deep knowledge of combat strategy and tactics?

Could Paul Wolfowitz take the place of a given general on the battlefield and command the troops (not could he literally, I mean does he have the skills neccessary) or is his knowledge of war more vague and based on pragmatic political ideas?

Just so people understand, he was in the Army but assigned to writing for the base newspaper.

Looking at a list of presidents by military service, it looks like it has little corelation with how good the president was.

For instance, Washington obviously had distinguished military service and is considered one of the best. Grant had distinguished military service and had one of the most corrupt administrations. Andrew Jackson had distinguished military service, and is often considered one of the worst presidents. Lincoln had rather indistinguished military service but is often considered on of the best.

Jefferson had none (though he commanded a militia) and is often considered one of the best. FDR and Wilson never served in the military, but both led us through World Wars.

I will not draw conclusions about the quality of their presidencies, but for a modern comparison, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. all had military service and Clinton did not.

If you ask me, it looks like its six of one, half dozen of the other. Besides, its not like the president actually works out the intricate battle strategies, he has a much bigger picture approach and will likely have numerous recommendations from which to choose.

I think military service is always a major issue because it is perceived as doing service for the country, being willing to die for freedom and the American way, ability to lead, ability to understand and enact strategies, etc. Most of these are desirable attributes when trying to sell oneself as a candidate. Many of these things can be portrayed or obtained in other ways. Military service just generally gets a positve gut reaction from people

Nowadays of course many in the NG are facing enemy fire and getting killed and wounded. Back in the Vietnam era, the NG was where people went if they pulled some strings to avoid going to Vietnam with the regular troops. Not that some NG didn’t go to Nam, but at the time it was seen as an honorable way out. For Bush in particular, the “champagne squadron” was an apt nickname for this group that knew that combat was not going to be in their future.

For presidents, absolutely not as far as requiring or even desiring military service. The president is obviously in charge of much more than the military. For secretaries of defense, I think it is highly desireable. As little use as I have for Rumsfeld, at least he has not only talked the talk, he has walked the walk. This personal experience is a definite plus in my book. Certainly there are men with no military experience who would have made better defense secretaries, but all else being equal I’ll take the combat hardened guy every time for that job.

But why should he? Let’s put it this way. I do computer maintenence and product testing at work. I have a manager. Should my manager be expected to jump in and take over my work at a moment’s notice? I don’t think so. If I dropped dead he wouldn’t take over my job, he’d tell one of my peers to take over my job, or hire someone new. He probably could take over my job with a few months of learning, but he wouldn’t do that because he has a different job…managing budgets, planning, etc. He doesn’t need to know exactly how to deploy and test our product, although he does need to know how long tasks take, who is capable of doing what tasks, and such.

So, would I rather have one of my peers, who knows how to do my job, as my manager? Hell no. No offense to those guys, they know their way around a server but most of them need to be kept on a short leash, they aren’t capable of managing themselves, let alone a large team. It’s very helpful if a manager has some technical background, but having a technical background isn’t neccesary to run a team, in fact it is often a detriment because the boss is busy getting his hands dirty rather than making sure everyone is doing their job.

I’d like the President and his cohorts to have military service. I can’t honestly say I’d make it a requirement, but I think that if they had actual battlefield experience, they’d think twice before sending thousands overseas to their deaths.

My boyfriend was an Airborn Ranger in the Army during the first Gulf war, and he’s one of the most gentle people I know. When asked about it, he says he’s seen enough pain, suffering, and death in his life because of him. I think that if everyone in the President’s administration saw things that way, things would be a lot better off for all of us.


I don’t think military service should be required nor do I believe simply having worn a uniform sets someone apart from the rest of us. I know plenty of ex military who are no better or worse leaders or people than anyone else.

That said, a candidates actions and acomplishments during their military service can tell you a lot about their character.

Under this theory, every generation will need a war so its future political leaders can meet this qualification. Is that really a position anyone holds?

Ronald Reagan never served in the military, so far as I recall.

Haven’t we done this before? He didn’t serve in a combat unit, but he did serve. Granted, he was basically an actor for the Army/Air Corps, but I can’t say it was a poor decision on the part of the Army.

Nah. I’ve often thought, though, that people might be made a lot more protective and conscious of the loss of civil rights. Every ten years or so make them spend a summer in a place where they were under the thumb of a sadistic sergeant who had the whole weight of the US government behind him.

Oops. I forgot - :slight_smile:

That was my question too. My own country hasn’t had a war in 200 years, so where would we get our leaders?