Why Combat Matters

Recently there have been several articles in our major newspapers arguing not only that Senator Chuck Hagel’s Vietnam combat experience may not be relevant to his ability to be an effective secretary of defense but could actually be a hindrance.

Eliot Cohen in the Washington Post argued that President Lincoln was a better wartime president in the Civil War than Confederate President, West Point graduate, and combat veteran Jefferson Davis. (Does this mean that if Lincoln was president of the Confederacy, the South would have won the Civil War?) Fouad Ajami, also in the Post, claims that because of Hagel (and John Kerry’s) Vietnam heroism, they would be unwilling to help people in distress—as the United States did in a different era. (He does not give any examples and overcooks situations like Poland, Hungary, Cambodia, and Romania where we did not help people in distress). Finally Bill Keller argues in the New York Times that the fact that Hagel has tasted combat should not be a reason to confirm him. In fact, according to Keller it could be a handicap.

This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.