Presidents and Military Service! Does It Make A Difference

Our first president was George Washington. A very brave man who led the army which fought the most powerful army in the world which was being aided by the Hessians – 30,000 troops hired by the British to fight for it in America with most of them being drawn from the German states of Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Hanau. Aside from sitting on his horse as an exposed target and being one of the last to flee New York City after the British fleet invaded there; he stood in the open outside Yorktown as the British fired at the American troops. When one cannon ball shot at his group caused all around him to hit the deck Washington stood tall. He went and picked up the ball and gave it to a doctor who was getting up off the ground and brushing himself off. He suggested he might want to keep it as a souvenir.

We were lucky as a country to have such a man as our first president. He was a model for others to follow. Between 1829 with the election of Andrew Jackson and the 1889 election of Benjamin Harrison, a period of sixty years ten presidents had been generals. A hiatus of 64 years would pass before Eisenhower took office in 1953. He would be our last general to serve as president.

Of our first 26 presidents up to Theodore Roosevelt who became president in 1901 on the death of William McKinley only four did not have military experience. They were the two Adams, Martin Van Buren, and Grover Cleveland. The six presidents following Roosevelt did not have military service; while eight of the nine following them from Truman to George H.W. Bush did served. The one who didn’t but claimed he did was LBJ who was in Congress and received a Silver Star from General McArthur for being in a plane that may or may not have been near a Japanese plane.

Since Clinton in 1993 only one has served in the armed services. George W. Bush did serve a bit in the National Guard in Texas and was considered  “a top notch fighter interceptor pilot.”  The present holder of the office ducked the draft having the influence to gain deferments in the same manner as Bill Clinton. They were not the first presidents who were draft dodgers. That honor belongs to Grover Cleveland who paid a Polish immigrant to take his place in the Civil War. Of the 45 presidents, 13 did not serve in the military.

I wondered if there was a connection between not serving in the military and the ability one had as a president. It is hard to suggest that one exists. The historical ranking of presidents aggregate poll shows that the top ranked presidents, going from 1 to 10, that Lincoln is number one followed by FDR, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson, and JFK. Neither FDR or Wilson served. The bottom ten from worst up are: Trump, Buchanan, Harding,  Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Filmore, William Henry Harrison, Tyler, U.S. Grant, and Zachary Taylor. Eight of the ten had military service.

Polls are of limited value because as time passes those that served in the 19th century become relatively unknown so they get poorer ratings. The first few presidents are ranked somewhat high, after Jackson up until Grant most occupy the bottom rung. One item that seems to push a person high in the rankings is the connection of the person with a war that is successful. Of the top ten all oversaw or served in the Revolution, Civil, Spanish American, WWI or WWII.

Trump right now is ranked bottom of all presidents. He’ll probably stay there because he is everything we really don’t want in a president. Who’d ever hold him up as an example for their children. Let’s hope he doesn’t realize the only way he will ever get out of the cellar is by getting us into a big war.




15 thoughts on “Presidents and Military Service! Does It Make A Difference

  1. Reagan was no intellectual. Das Kapital was way out of his league. He could only shallowly smart off about it in the way that people who haven’t read it often do.

  2. If one asked the American public who the great liberator was they would pick Lincoln who freed 3.5 million slaves. The Czar of Russia freed 23 million serfs. But the greatest liberator of all was Reagan who freed hundreds of millions behind the Iron Curtain from Soviet Bondage. Reagan was clearly the best president of the 20th Century. The Gipper was asked once was a communist was. He said someone who reads Marx and Lenin. He was then asked what a non communist was. He said someone who reads Marx and Lenin and understands it. 2. The Soviet Union didn’t collapse by accident or because of corruption. Why didn’t it fail under Carter , Nixon or LBJ? Reagan’s policy was to leave it on the ash heap of history where it will remain for eternity. The fellow travelers, sputniks and useful idiots will have to reconcile themselves to Reagan’s defeat of their beloved system.

    1. Glasnost, Perestroika, and a system that was doomed. Russians seeing Westerners buzzing around in dependable cars etc. 70 Years of promise of the culmination of the Revolution and being strapped to the machine indefinitely.

      I notice that the Deficit King gets a pass. How Trump-like.

    2. “Reagan’s policy was to leave it on the ash heap of history where it will remain for eternity.”

      So he didn’t have anything to do with it.
      “I forgot to take my memory pill, Nancy.”

  3. Beats speaking deutch. Reagan, Father of the Super deficits. He didn’t take down the Wall. Western Capitalism did. Not unrestrained Darwinian capitalism, but social democracies that allowed for a burgeoning middle class that could afford the meager goals of decent food, decent housing and decent education for a majority of the population and the accumulation of wealth for a significant number of others.

  4. 600 thousand dead is a good thing? 70 million dead in WW2 was a good thing? Majority civilians. Thomas Flemming argued that Lincoln misunderstood what the slaves were. They were property. Could the North have purchased all the slaves and then set them free to live out West or in the North or go to another country? Would avoiding that bloodshed have been preferable? Lincoln preserved the Union and Emancipated the slaves. They were good things but the slaughter wasn’t. Was there no alternative? The South never would have seceded under a Jackson who was a strong military leader feared by all. Lincoln wasn’t. Lincoln’s wife viewed Grant as a butcher for all the lives lost. The war presidents were failures. Reagan was the greatest president of the 20th century winning the Cold War without firing a shot.

    1. Stonewall Jackson was a religious kook with absolutely no political acumen. He was a redoubtable tactician, but, it is highly unlikely he could have led the Army of Northern Virginia as well as Robert E. Lee did (Bruce Catton / Shelby Foote / Douglas Southall Freeman.)

      Grant was the first modern general (Catton). He used the superior industrialization, and, greater population of the North, to crush the Confederacy (Catton). Lee, a master of nineteenth century strategies and tactics, sought to use the homogeneity and cohesion of the ANV (Army of Northern Virginia) to defeat the Army of the Potomac in offensive battles of maneuver (Foote/ Freeman). Grant knew that, if he could trap Lee behind the defenses of Richmond, the Confederates could be ground down in battles of attrition. After the Union victory at Gettysburg, Grant initiated an offensive campaign that continuously turned the left flank of the rebel army forcing it to retreat to the southeast. The bloody battles of Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and, Cold Harbour, forced Lee into series of strategic withdrawals that, eventually, led to his being trapped in the defenses of Richmond. Lee’s foremost problem was replacements. Every battle of maneuver he fought cost the Confederacy as many lives as the Union lost. The South couldn’t take the expense in blood. By the time Lee took up his last stand behind the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond, the casualty replacement problem had become critical. Lee, himself, suggested that the slaves be recruited to fight for the promise of their manumission from servitude. The North had a better offer, and, the rest is history.

      Mrs. Lincoln, in addition to suffering from a mental complaint, was an avowed Southern sympathizer, and, great embarrassment to Lincoln.

      Reagan, and/or, capitalism did not cause the fall of the Soviets. Corruption, combined with police state totalitarianism, rotted the Soviet Union from within.

      I was around to see Reagan’s work up close in Guatemala, Honduras, and, El Salvador. I hope he burns in Hell, as, I write. Reagan’s neo-colonial campaigns in Central America contributed greatly to the miserable plight of the dirt poor, and, desperate people, we see coming to the US border, today. In his day, Reagan was a bigger asshole than Trump. Don’t sweat it though, Glorious Leader still has time to surpass the Gipper’s score.

      1. Reagan apologized. MS 13 may have been allowed to flourish after El Salvador was torn open during the genocide we financed. Lets just turn away, Khalid.

        Oh, look! A Quetzal!

        1. The original cliques of MS-13 {Mara Salva Trucha) were Salvadoran chollos from LA, who, after serving drug bits up here, were deported back to El Salvador. They used the gang smarts they learned in the City of Angels to set up back home. The “G” kinda shot itself in the ass.

  5. It’s largely historical accident. The Civil War and WW II were massive undertakings and involved the entire population in the effort. So for 40 years after each we elected first the victorious General and then largely a succession of junior officers. Vietnam produced, appropriately, 2 draft dodgers and a guy who used connections to get into the National Guard.

  6. One of the best parts of Boston is the statue of Washington on horseback in the public garden. Why, because it only has the words Washington on two sides of the statue. In other less smart parts of the country an explanation would be in order.Eisenhower in his last addess to the American people spoke of the dangers of the military industrial complex. I wonder how much of the Massachusetts economy is military based? I wonder if Liz Warren could even answer that question? I am wondering what the author of this blog thinks of Seth Moulton?Trump seems to be a never ending soap opera which is draining to follow, never mind try to comprehend.

  7. These rankings are absurd. They are the biases of Academic liberals. Reagan isn’t in the top ten? Wilson and LBJ were the worst presidents. They ran as peace candidates and then plunged us into useless, unnecessary wars costing hundreds of thousands American casualties and millions of civilians. WW1 which Wilson gave us was the condition precedent for WW2 and tens of millions of deaths. The real quality presidents were the redheads. Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Coolidge and Reagan. Their administrations produced peace and prosperity along with restraining government growth. Ike and Trump. the blondes are close behind. The war presidents were the failures. Lincoln. 600 thousand deaths. FDR, 400 thousand dead Americans. Wilson, 100 Thousand dead Americans. LBJ 60 thousand deaths and Truman 40 thousand dead. Guess the Academics didn’t factor in any of these wars. 2. Using the nonsensical criteria of the Academics the Bushes who gave us useless wars in the Middle East and Obama with his exploits in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan should merit a high ranking. Bush and Obama gave us a no growth economy and were taken to the cleaners on trade. 3. If Trump proposed a 20 billion dollar addition to the higher education budget all would be forgiven and he would top their list as the greatest president ever. The Academics are as credible as the NYT and Globe.

    1. Stupid take on history. NC, go back to the books. You couldn’t be more wrong. Lincoln an unsuccessful war president? That’s just plain dumb.

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