Reporter's Notebook

Chickenhawk Nation
Show Description +

Below are notes by James Fallows and others about the modern relationship between the American public and its military, in response to his cover story  “The Tragedy of the American Military.”

Show None Newer Notes

Veterans in Politics: ‘They Are Your Best Bet’

Following this item on a new PAC that is supporting “young veterans” running for Congress, and this round of reader response (pro and con), another set of reactions.

First, a reader with an angle I had not thought about, involving the way people considering a life in politics handle their first decade or so of adulthood. The reader’s conclusion is, “If you want people in Congress who have done something else in their lives besides politics … veterans are probably your best bet.” The case:

I wonder if the "advantage" of having a new generation of veterans entering  Congress (and to the extent it is an advantage, it certainly doesn't outweigh the downsides of the policy choices that made all of these people veterans), is that it creates a path to a political career that isn't this:   

The thing about veterans is they  are often making a career move in their mid 30s or early 40s … prime age to make a first run for Congress, and an age at which much of the rest of the population is fairly locked into their career path.  

I'm 34...there's no way I could take the time off of work for a campaign with no guarantee of a job at the end, and no way I would let go of the job security I have for the uncertainty of a life in politics.

If you want people in Congress who have done something else in their lives besides politics, who are average enough Americans to need to worry about getting their monthly paychecks and job security, veterans are probably your best bet.


Next, from another reader, a more skeptical view of the effect of a military background:

I respect the service of these men and women as well as the With Honor mission.  But the emphasis on military service as some sort of qualification for elected office troubles me.

William Henry Harrison was a veteran-politician. Should we have more? (A.S. Southworth and J.J. Hawes, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Wikimedia)

One more round, on whether in this Chickenhawk era—when the United States is always at war, but 99% of its population is not directly touched by the physical or even financial consequences of combat—having more “young veterans” in politics would improve  politics and policy.

These responses follow this item on a new PAC devoted to supporting young-veteran campaigns; these two rounds of previous reader comment; and my original Chickenhawk Nation piece from three years ago.

First, from a veteran of the recent Long Wars. He writes:

I was surprised by some of the blowback you have received. Yes of course being a veteran shouldn’t be a pre-req for civil service, and yes of course not all veterans are decent and as seen by the veterans in Charlottesville, some are downright un-American.

But most service members are forced to move to small towns all around the country and world and work with people of varying backgrounds and beliefs. We’ve seen American diversity up close and personally, in a stressful and patriotic environment, and worked with people we bitterly disagree with politically because we believed in an American ideal that is greater than Democrat or Republican.

Recently a veteran-turned-CIA-security-contractor threatened that he’d like to strangle Obama because of Benghazi. There’s a lot wrong with that, but it grinds my gears that a veteran-turned-mercenary is a normal thing now. If he still wore the uniform he’d be reprimanded for talking so foolishly (I guess unless he’s Tom Cotton). But mercenaries do what they want. And Erik Prince wants to be the Viceroy of Afghanistan.

This is a problem that only those of us who are part of the 1% have really engaged with, and as long as only 1% serve in the Long Wars, it will continue. ‘Of course our perspective is important, and of course it’s a good thing we’ve begun entering politics.’