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
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. …