The Corner

Blue on Blue

Wes Clark’s a jerk, no argument from me on that. In cases like this, though, it’s worth remembering that military folks’ attitudes to other military folk always have a different tone and flavor from civilian-to-military attitudes. “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier,” and that thought is a restraint on every civilian-military comment.

Eisenhower remarked that he was better able to handle the joint chiefs than a civilian would have been because, having been their peer, he was not intimidated by them. He knew they put their pants on one leg at a time, same as he did.

John McCain’s service to his country was exemplary. Whether it would or would not bring value-added to a McCain presidency is a fair topic for discussion; but military people are much more at ease with that discussion than civilians.

There is even, I often notice, a difference in the way these matters are talked about between the draft and post-draft generations. If you grew up in the 1950s the military was an everyday part of life, the way it hasn’t been for a long time since. Uniforms were everywhere; the generation of adult men just above you had mostly served, often in combat; young men expected to serve; TV and the movies were full of military themes and sitcoms. (What was the last military-themed TV sitcom? C.P.O. Sharkey? How many citizens under forty even know what “C.P.O.” stands for?)

Now, for most people, the military is off in a corner somewhere. There isn’t that old easy familiarity. That makes it easier to hold exaggerated attitudes, including excessive deference. Listening to the culture at large, I don’t think excessive deference is anything like as big a problem as ignorant mockery — e.g. the numbskull general in dozens of movies of the past 20 years. To the degree it inclines conservatives to overlook John McCain’s many, many shortcomings, though, it is something of a problem.

We’re stuck with the guy now, I suppose. Let’s keep in mind, though, that great acts of valor and endurance are no guarantees of executive good sense.


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