Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Mr. President

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.

Military service was a short, yet influential part of my life. For years after I had left the service I could readily tell who had served and who had not…it was something in the way a person carried himself, a sense of humor, and a kind of character they wore easily.

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.

I think there is something more to military service than simply medals and the future show value. For a young person, it provides a very real opportunity to test and prove his mettle. Once done, it can never be taken away. Once missed, it can never again be accomplished. It’s a difficult proposition for a young person to comprehend.

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.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess experience = views.

In training years, up against former high school and college atheletes and top spellers I sought every award or tough route I possibly(!) could.

In the words of one of my friends reflecting years later he said, "We did not do Iwo Jima, but we covered most everything else". We also refused individual medals; most of our group did.

We once (briefly) had a captain of this award heavy and heralded unit (the son of someone special); he was disgustingly bad. If bar rooms cared about how I narrowly escaped getting killed by his stupidity, vex, and disreguard, I could get one free beer drunk off the story; and then get the second beer & totally drunked up by telling how I was narrowly stopped from killing him -- by a friend originally drafted away from Mets try outs. What a sorry scumbag that Captain was, and he of course accepted his medals.

We also had great officers and one a grand friend to this day. And another of mention an amoung the highest decorated (yeah I know, but he was a good one) of WWII fame and VN whom I owe my life for a different incidence...he is now in assisted living quarters. A mighty fine and brave human.

A major flaw of our military is: no ligitimate process for outting of a bad officer in combat! Occassionally we would get a Lt we treated like a 'boy'. Some think it shameful to admit their are the "boys".

Blood spattered type vets know how to think things (+ & -) difficult to gain any other way. The system updates and keeps it fresh. ouch