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From Serving to Commanding: Veteran Presidents

George Rex
Only 11 of 44 Presidents from George Washington to current President Barack Obama did not serve in the military.

Military service was long seen as, if not a prerequisite, then certainly as a desired quality for people wishing to be President of the United States.  But in more recent years that attitude has shifted, and today only a minority of the field seeking both major parties’ nominations has served in uniform.

"Only with World War II did we start on a regular basis to have military veterans serving in the White House - every president from Harry S. Truman through George H.W. Bush," explains Cyr.

While veterans of World War II are deemed "the greatest generation," the Vietnam War was a turning point in how Americans viewed the military service with subtle alienation.

In the past few elections there were several Vietnam veterans such as John McCain, John Kerry, and Al Gore. However according to Cyr, despite changing views towards the military since the 1970s, it all depends on the leader involved. "I do believe we've recovered from the Vietnam hangover, but there are more subtle and important economic problems associated with the relationship between the military and the wider society," he says.

As foreign relations and political outreach change in today's society, having served in the military won't hinder a candidate. However, Cyr says there are greater problems today that revolve outside of the military and into the public sphere.

"The Republican party is generally viewed as the party of the rich," explains Cyr. And being a business leader can hurt political campaigns and careers as seen in Herbert Hoover, Mitt Romney, and possibly Donald Trump.

Cyr sees today's important qualifier in a candidate outside of military service is the ability to communicate with the average American. Franklin D. Roosevelt started the mass media outreach with the radio, and today's age of media is making this task even more of a challenge.

Foreign policy contributor Art Cyr is a professor of political economy and world business and director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha.

Arthur I. Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center for World Business and Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha. Previously he was President of the Chicago World Trade Center, the Vice President of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, a faculty member and executive at UCLA, and an executive at the Ford Foundation. His publications include the book After the Cold War - American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia (Macmillan and NYU Press).
Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.