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NYTimes: Presidential children don't belong in battle

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by Angus, Sep 28, 2008.

  1. Angus

    Angus Active Member

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    Presidential Children Don’t Belong in Battle

    By JOHN S. D. EISENHOWER
    Published: September 27, 2008

    Trappe, Md.

    As the only living presidential son to serve in combat while his father was in office, I feel an obligation to express my concern that both of the current vice presidential candidates, Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator Joseph Biden, have sons in Army units on orders for duty in Iraq. In addition, the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, has a son who is in the Marine Corps and subject to a second deployment to Iraq at any time.

    Considering how small the force we have in Iraq is in comparison to the nation’s population, this is a startling circumstance. It is not, however, a desirable one. It reflects favorably on the patriotism of those involved, but in itself it can hardly increase the military understanding, the grasp on foreign relations or (least of all) the perspective of the parents.

    My unique position in this regard was called to my attention a few days ago in a radio interview. Did I believe that the children of presidents (or vice presidents) should be assigned to combat zones? I was surprised by my own quick reaction:

    “No,” I declared automatically. “They have no place there.”

    Though my response was impulsive, I have, on thinking about it, concluded that it was the right one. The next president and vice president will be busy enough trying to pull the United States out of its present fiscal, social and foreign affairs problems without being burdened with worries about an individual soldier, especially a child.

    Let me share a story, one that is tinged with regret. In the summer of 1952, when I was 30, the Army assigned me to an infantry unit fighting in Korea. Meanwhile, though, there was other news in my family: My father had become the Republican presidential nominee. As an ambitious young major, I refused any offers for other assignments. Avoiding combat duty was and is an unforgivable sin for a professional soldier.

    As the time for my deployment approached, I discussed my intentions with my father. We met at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, just after the Republican convention, and I explained my position. My father, as a professional officer himself, understood and accepted it. However, he had a firm condition: under no circumstances must I ever be captured. He would accept the risk of my being killed or wounded, but if the Chinese Communists or North Koreans ever took me prisoner, and threatened blackmail, he could be forced to resign the presidency. I agreed to that condition wholeheartedly. I would take my life before being captured.

    On looking back through the years, however, I now feel that I was being unfair and selfish and that my father was being far too conciliatory in giving me such permission. On the other hand, I don’t think that the Army should ever have given me an option in the matter.

    Today the problem is worse than it was in my time. Unlike the Afghans and Iraqis, the South Korean people solidly supported the American military presence, which was part of a United Nations operation. Their president, Syngman Rhee, whom they saw as their George Washington in the struggle for independence from Japan, enjoyed widespread support. Therefore, once I finished a short stint in combat and was reassigned from an infantry battalion to Third Division headquarters, a few miles from the front, I felt as safe as I would have felt walking down a street in the United States.

    Iraq is clearly different. Even though the casualty rate in the combat units is low compared to other wars, the possibility of disaster in the nonexistent “rear area” is always there. A female soldier driving a truck along a major highway can be blown up by a roadside bomb. Civilians are captured for ransom by terrorists; journalists are kidnapped and sometimes murdered. A prize hostage also endangers those around him. The British soldiers serving in Afghanistan alongside Prince Harry were in exceptional danger until he was withdrawn.

    My inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that the assignment to Iraq or Afghanistan of a service member who is the son or daughter of a president or vice president does not make sense. No matter what the young person’s desires or career needs are, they are of little importance compared with ensuring that our leaders are able to stay focused on the important business of the nation — and not worrying about the fate of a child a world away. Personally, I would like to see someone of stature like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arbitrarily reassign them. Too much is at stake.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/opinion/28eisenhower.html?ref=todayspaper

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