(Wherein I meditate upon the relationship between military members and veterans, and the commander-in-chief – present and most recent last.)
I was not a voter especially enamored of establishing a ruling class, so I was not all that enthused about Bush 2. In the 2000 elections I was considerably annoyed that it was an unedifying choice between the scions of two long-established political families. I thought it was not a good omen, redolent of hereditary politics and an established aristocracy – and that there was not that much to choose between them. At this point Al Gore had not displayed anything of his hypocritical and self-serving fixation on so-called ‘global warming’ – and I basically flipped a coin. But as it turned out, post 9-11, my daughter’s commander in chief was Bush 2, and as it also turned out, his respect and consideration for the troops in wartime was a rock of constancy. To quote the line from the TV series Sharpe’s Rifles, “There are two kinds of officers, sir: killin’ officers and murderin’ officers. Killin’ officers are poor old buggers that get you killed by mistake. Murderin’ officers are mad, bad, old buggers that get you killed on purpose – for a country, for a religion, maybe even for a flag.” Bush-2 was the second sort – he might get you killed, but it would have been for a serious purpose. (Since this is a discussion of how our presidents appear to, or appeared in the past to relate to successive commanders-in-chief, I will not be drawn into a sidebar discussion regarding the wisdom of making war in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2002.)
My daughter and I both had the same opinion of Bush 2 with regard to the military; one of affectionate and mutual respect, which he has carried on in his private life. I suppose one of the best examples of that was on the occasion of his surprise visit to Baghdad in 2003 – when he appeared, the roar of applause and cheers was unforced and spontaneous. (No, it was not a plastic turkey.) One still reads now and again of Bush 2 and Laura B. still quietly coming to meet returning troops at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, or hosting disabled soldiers at private events and marathon mountain bike rides at the ranch, and mention is made now and again of their quiet and relatively unpublicized visit to Fort Hood after the Hassan shooting spree.
Which brings us to the present commander in chief, a man who has perfected the fine art of returning a military salute with a Styrofoam coffee cup in his saluting hand. I’d join in the outrage over this, but really – the man is only behaving in the manner that we have come to expect from him in regards to the military. He appears to like the perks, the toys such as drones and Air Force 1, the deference and being able to whistle up a uniformed rent-a-crowd at any moment, but he doesn’t possess the least particle of understanding of or respect for military tradition. One gets a sense that it’s a perfunctory effort – and that military people really aren’t quite real to them; just automatons, all dressed alike, to be dispatched to Africa because of an Ebola epidemic, to Benghazi to not defend the consulate, or to hold an umbrella … whatever. While he has bestowed honors for valor on individuals at White House ceremonies, and Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden have now and again made a stab at a show of support and concern for dependent family members, the sense is inescapable that the Obama administration is just going through the minimum motions required for a favorable photo op.
Although Obama has made a superficial good showing with military-oriented events, they seem to be scheduled less and less often. I suppose it is a bit of a thrill for the junior troops come through a base and have a meet’n’greet with him. As indifferent as I was to Jimmy Carter way back then, I would have appreciated a visit from the commander in chief – I might even have been rather thrilled to do an interview for FEN, if it had been allowed. More telling, I think is the reception that Obama got, at a speech last month before attendees at the American Legion convention. That was an audience of veterans of all vintages – and the largest portion of them all but sat on their hands and listened with stone-faced courtesy. One might almost feel sorry for a speaker whose presentation meets with such a cold reception, but … well, his is the administration whose Department of Homeland Security head had to walk back from a report which painted disgruntled veterans as likely recruits for terrorist organizations, and was reported to have briefly considered John Kerry, of Winter Soldier anti-Vietnam war protest fame as Secretary of Defense. That such a nomination was even considered sufficiently enough to make it into the Washington paper of record should be proof enough of the veiled contempt in which this commander in chief holds for the larger part of those citizen-defenders who make up the US military.