h/t to my friend Padre “Gibby” who put me on to this opinion piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, arguing that society needs more ex military men in high elected office, because of the leadership and administrative skills they bring to the table.

Leaving aside the question of whether professional soldiers are suited for political office by their formation and temperament, there is the question of whether the voters want them. The one ex-soldier mentioned in this article, Lewis MacKenzie, retired from the army and then tried running in 1993 as a Conservative in Parry-Strathcona, a rdiing that the Tories had held since 1957, and lost. At the time he was the most well-known and respected soldiers alive in Canada.

Perhaps he lost for the simple reason that being in the military, which requires a scrupulous self-withdrawal from political affairs, precludes a career soldier from building the networks in a party and riding that are necessary for a successful candidate.

As for the author’s contention that military service is almost a prerequisite for the US presidency, that’s not quite true if we talk about career soldiers. If you look at Presidents who have been professional soldiers in the last two hundred years, only two come to mind, Grant and Eisenhower, and of those two, Grant was one of the worst presidents in US history. The rest all had a few years in their
youth, sometimes during war time. Clinton and Obama are recent exceptions, and Obama gets decent foreign policy ratings and has a good relationship w the Pentagon. If you look at big name generals of late that have either refused to get into presidential politics (Schwarzkopf, Powell) or tried and been defeated (Clark), that suggests that generals have no inside track to the presidency.

I think a separate and more interesting question is whether society has grown too distant from its military. When only a tiny fraction of our elites, here and in the US, have done even a few years in uniform, and when the military is seen as a culture of mediocrity for people who can’t make it in the real world (that is to say, the business world), is that healthy for a democracy? I’ve seen some interesting arguments in the US press about that question of late, and I’ll try to highlight them in the days to come.

However, that’s a separate question from whether ex career military should go into politics. It was interesting to scan some of the responses on the Globe website to see a visceral response saying no, they shouldn’t. Perhaps that goes to show what some General (perhaps Joffre?) said, that a government can function without an army, but an army cannot function without a government.