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Should presidents be required to have served in the military?

Updated on May 12, 2013

John McCain, 1954


I respect those who are serving or who have served in the military almost more than any quality. There are so many characteristics involved in dedicating yourself to such a position - loyalty to your nation and its people, passion, strength, courage, ambition, a love of adventure, commitment, and more - that I hold them very high in my regard.

I am a Democrat, I suppose more moderate as well, and I will vote for the Democratic nominee, whether it's Obama or Clinton. However, the one thing that really bugs me is that Obama, the presumptive nominee, was never in the military. John McCain certainly was, having served in Vietnam, and though I don't agree with many of his proposals, I am almost more swayed to go with him instead.

To me, his service shows real dedication to his nation and its citizens. I feel like he really has a right to give his opinion about what's going on and what can be done because he has worked for the country in so many ways. Serving in the military can be a matter of life and death, and I don't know how often a president has been willing to give his own life for his country. You didn't see George Bush throwing his daughters in the military after increasing tour lengths or sitting amongst talk of a draft.

John McCain was born on a military base in the Panama Canal. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and became a naval pilot. He was almost killed when the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal caught on fire and he tried to save a fellow pilot; 134 died, and he was struck in the chest and legs when a bomb went off during the fire. He was also a prisoner of war for five and a half years, captured after his jet was shot down in North Vietnam. He was beaten and interrogated while nearly dying from his injuries and dystentery. After being released, he served as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate. He received 17 awards and decorations during his 23 years of service, including the Silver and Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Navy Commendation Medal.

I guess Obama's unwillingness to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance probably doesn't help with my negative feelings toward him in this respect, but I don't feel someone who hasn't served in the military should talk about what's best for the country.

As the military is such a large part of the workings of the United States, should all presidential candidates have some experience, past or present, with the military? I think it would certainly help form more complete ideas in developing policies and proposals, don't you?

George W. Bush - Draft Dodger


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    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      2 months ago from Northern California

      Thank you so much for your comments and perspective Ed!

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 

      2 months ago from Tualatin, OR

      In my opinion, a president with good military experience has a better grasp of military capability and the roles of different branches as defined by the National Security Act of 1947 and subsequent developments in tactical development. A president without that awareness lacks productive understanding of military tradition and the roles of different branches even as they support each other or work together in joint operations. We have witnessed the inability of a president who cannot (would not) relate to the military, and it was counterproductive at best, insulting and disdainful at worst. The role of leadership requires a working knowledge or rank structure and chain of command, and there are consequences for that ignorance. A wise former military leader manages well without micromanaging. If one absorbs the lessons of military service, that person should (ideally) build better teamwork and delegate responsibilities more effectively. Lacking that background, one should choose effective advisors and rely on them to assist in improving communication without interservice rivalry becoming an issue.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you E. I updated the page to fix the grammatical error you pointed out. Thank you all for your comments.

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      This is an old thread, but not an old idea. I think that if you examined the history of a few nations ruled by military men, you might change your opinion. Fidel Castro, for example. The skill set required of a good political leader is very different from that required of a military man. Our nation has always been careful to subordinate the military to the will of the making the elected President the Supreme Commander of the military. Remember also that Eisenhower worked very hard to warn America about the "Military-Industrial Complex". Our leaders need to be a counterbalance AGAINST the powerful influence of weapons manufacturers and military men. Finally, you describe some traits you admire, listing "adventure". Adventure is not a trait: "adventurous" is. This sort of attitude was displayed by Andrew Jackson, who started a phony war as an excuse to steal land from Mexico. No, military men make lousy leaders.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      cjcs is actually wrong. T. Jefferson did serve in the military.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      As a 22+ year military man I feel that it should be a requirement that the president should have served.  And I have felt this way for a long time.  Not necessarily a career but at least a tour of duty.  Those that have not been in the service really don’t know what hardships our veterans go thru day in and day out. Evan a family member doesn’t know the mental aspect of serving whether in combat or peacetime. 

      Just my thoughts, and isn’t fortunate that our veterans have given us the privilege to live in a country that we can have our own thoughts and express them freely!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      As a veteran, I feel that the Commander in Chief should have some military experience. He/she should know what it's like to wear the uniform and understand what it's like to serve in such capacity. With such experience under his/her belt, the Commander in Chief could make better decisions where the military is concerned.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      It should be a requirement that the president candidate served in the US military.

    • cjcs profile image


      11 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Lincoln was elected captain of his Illinois militia company during the 1832 Black Hawk War.


    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you both for your contributions. I really wanted to see what people thought about this. It's true that many great presidents haven't had military service, and that many under-par ones have. I guess it can just be a good additional factor to many other things. It just seemed interesting to think about compared to other requirements, such as age and place of birth.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      As noted above by cjcs, such a requirement would have excluded many of our greatest presidents. Cjcs didn't mention Lincoln, arguably our greatest president. I don't recall that he served in the military before becoming a genius commander in chief as president. Correct me if I'm wrong on this.

    • cjcs profile image


      11 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      It's an either/or sort of thing that tends to be a wash. While having served with honor gives a new president some immediate cred with the JCS, there have been a number of military leaders that I wouldn't want to see anywhere near the Oval Office.

      There is also the thought that the founders made the Commander in Chief vested in a civilian. As we've seen around there world, there can be a danger of military people in charge of a government. More importantly, the founders thought it might be helpful to have a leader that wasn't too-schooled in military options, so that some less violent solutions might come to the fore.

      For the record, the presidents without military service are: J. Adams, Jefferson, J.Q. Adams, VanBuren, Fillmore, Cleveland (hired a substitute in the Civil War), Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Clinton. The list grows longer if we include those who didn't serve during combat or in-theater during war time. Overall, some have been good, some less so...just as has been the case with the ones with military backgrounds.

      All in all, I think it mostly comes down to character, philosophy, and judgment. The CiC needs to be, I think, neither a dove nor a hawk. If the military option is kept on the table but used as a legitimate last-resort tool when necessary, then it doesn't matter the CiC's background. I think both the presumptive candidates have the sort of character it takes to make the sorts of decisions that might need to be made.



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