One line in the oath any new soldier accepts as a condition of his or her enlistment pledges their allegiance to the President of the United States and states that he or she will obey the orders of all officers appointed over them. It didn’t take me too long to question the practical application of that contract term and I took it up with an officer appointed over me.
The problem, I related, was with the word, “all.” I went on to explain that in my short time in the service I had seen a few officers of higher rank that were clearly idiots, or to be more charitable, inept.
What would you suggest I do, I asked, should one of these inept officers order me to charge a machine gun nest and I deem both he and his order insane? The man I chose to ask the question was fairly high up in that particular military organization and I had established a reasonably good relationship with him...he seemed to have a good practical head.
He replied, you have to first take care of yourself. Your duty is to respect the rank and uniform, not the man wearing it. Respect for the man was something he had to earn.
It was sage advice and meant that one was doing no good for anyone, including himself, by sacrificing for no good reason. That kind of judgment was for each individual to make. His advice implied that it would be best to ignore idiots, regardless of their rank.
Until Vietnam, essentially all young men having high political ambitions were counseled by their fathers and mentors to volunteer for military service and if possible, seek assignment to a war zone. Some medals for heroism could translate into thousands of votes later. The older advisors also knew that a young person had only a few years within a long life to be a part of a military service and the opportunity, once gone, could not be repeated.
Since Vietnam, we have seen a couple of examples of Presidents who did not serve in the military. It became fashionable during the Vietnam period for young men, especially the smart and well-connected ones, to seek ways to avoid serving. It was certainly a safer route to take and joining the political opposition to the Vietnam War provided a kind of assumed moral superiority cover for those who chose it.
However, as the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military force in the world, I think it’s a plus for that commander to have some practical knowledge of that which he commands. It’s probably also a plus in the forming of his or her character.
The accompanying pictures show our post-WWII presidents both in office and in their youth. Draw your own conclusions about them.