Political Leadership without Military Service as More Nonveterans Enter Politics, `Shared Sacrifice' with Troops Will Be Missing

By Donald N. Zillman. Donald Zillman is Dean and Edward Godfrey Professor of Law the University of Southern Maine. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1993 | Go to article overview

Political Leadership without Military Service as More Nonveterans Enter Politics, `Shared Sacrifice' with Troops Will Be Missing


Donald N. Zillman. Donald Zillman is Dean and Edward Godfrey Professor of Law the University of Southern Maine., The Christian Science Monitor


BILL CLINTON'S lack of military service and his history of avoiding conscription received a good deal of attention in the 1992 presidential campaign. What received less comment was that a 40-year pattern of veteran-against-veteran for president may shift to campaigns in which nonveterans oppose each other. Unless Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas secures the Republican nomination in 1996, George Bush will have been the last World War II-era veteran to seek the presidency. That fraternity included Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Gerald Ford. A late 20th-century campaign may well feature President Clinton, Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, Phil Gramm, or Newt Gingrich - nonveterans all.

The decline in military service is also pronounced in the Congress. A comparison of the present, 103rd, Congress, with the 91st Congress - at the height of the Vietnam War - is illustrative. In the 91st Congress, 69 percent of the United States senators and 71 percent of the representatives had seen military service. In the 103rd Congress, 57 percent of senators and 38 percent of representatives had military experience.

The decline in US legislators with military experience is even more pronounced when we examine female, young, and new members of Congress. None of the more than 50 women in Congress has had military service. Of the 22 representatives who came of age after the end of conscription in 1973, only one had military service; and of the 116 legislators first elected to Congress in 1992, only 25 percent of the new senators and 13 percent of the new representatives had seen military service.

This trend likely will continue. The end of conscription is the major factor in reducing the number of legislator-veterans. A number of factors argue against the volunteer officer or enlisted person making the transition from the military to elective politics. Modern politics runs on money, visibility, and prior political involvement. None of these factors favors the serving soldier who is unlikely to have attracted wealth, significant name recognition, or political connections by his or her mid-30s.

Does military experience make a difference? Should we be troubled that few members of Congress have first-hand experience with the Social Security Administration or the National Park Service? Is it likely that veteran legislators would show pro- or anti-military bias?

The prospect of an elective government in which veterans are largely absent does raise concern. A variety of factors can make the issue of military service relevant.

FIRST, the military continues to embody national virtues in a way matched by few other professions. …

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Political Leadership without Military Service as More Nonveterans Enter Politics, `Shared Sacrifice' with Troops Will Be Missing
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