Does military service still matter for the presidency?

But there are costs to this all-volunteer military that are not immediately apparent, even on this weekend dedicated to remembering its sacrifices. The disconnect between those who give the orders and those who have no choice but to follow them has never been wider; all Americans salute the same flag, but only a few carry it forward against enemy fire. The military has become a caste apart from the nation it protects, with many of its fighters the sons and daughters of military leaders — a family business that asks much of a few. Service academy alumni journals are full of photos of multi-generational family reunions in combat zones, while most of us do no more to support the troops than stand, remove our caps and cheer when they present the national colors before a baseball game.

Now, nearly 30 years into this experiment with an all-volunteer force, and more than a decade into America’s longest war, the nation will elect a president who has not known the tender courtesies of a drill sergeant at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. Military service is not the only way to demonstrate dedication to country or capability for high office, of course; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents despite never wearing a uniform, although his appointment as assistant secretary of the Navy gave him a useful perspective on the military he would lead with such distinction…

And after this election, there will be a new generation waiting to enter the political arena, veterans of a tough decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike those who fought in Vietnam, the veterans of these wars have been embraced by an American public that supports the troops, even if they oppose the conflicts in which they fought. The admiration offered to today’s veterans bodes well for the prospects of future political candidates who have known firsthand the burden of carrying out the orders of the president abroad.

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