Democrats would like us to believe that John McCain is more likely to get us into war than Barack Obama. Some of this opinion is based on his military record; the idea is that a person who has been a soldier is more likely to get us into war. That got me thinking – when soldiers become presidents, are we more or less likely to have a war break out?
Let’s look at this question from two angles. First of all, let’s look at the presidents who had experience with military combat, list their rank, and discover whether they presided over the beginning of a war. (Note: I am making no judgments about the rightness or wrongness of any particular war.)
Washington General No
Monroe Captain? No
Andrew Jackson General No [If you think John McCain has a temper, read about Jackson sometime.]
W.H. Harrison Colonel No
Zachary Taylor General No
Ulysses Grant General No
Rutherford B. Hayes Major General No
Benjamin Harrison Major General No
William McKinley Brevet Major Yes
Theodore Roosevelt Colonel No
Harry Truman Artillery Officer Yes [I didn’t find out if he saw combat]
Dwight D. Eisenhower General No
John F. Kennedy Lieutenant No * [Vietnam was brewing, but became a full-blown war in the Johnson administration]
Richard M. Nixon Lieutenant Commander No (Don’t know if he saw combat.)
George H.W. Bush Lieutenant J.G. Yes
This list is obviously a a bit controversial. Some presidents had military experience but no real combat. (For example, Lyndon Johnson, as a congressman, was a commissioned officer and flew in the Pacific as an observer. Abraham Lincoln served in the militia, and was called into duty, but reported that he had received his greatest wounds from mosquitoes. And Ronald Reagan was disqualified from combat due to poor eyesight, but spent much of WWII serving stateside making movies.)
Now, let’s look at the question from the opposite angle. When a war started, who was the president, and did he combat experience?
War of 1812 Madison No
Mexican War Polk No
Civil War Lincoln No * [see comment above]
Spanish-American War McKinley Yes
WWI Wilson No
WWII FDR No
Korean Truman Yes? [He was an artillery officer. I don’t know if he saw combat.]
Vietnam Johnson No* [Again, see comment above]
Iraq I George H. W. Bush Yes
Iraq II George W. Bush No
We have had 43 presidents, of whom 13 had combat experience. They have presided at the beginning of 3 of 10 wars. [Note: Counting wars is a tricky business too. For example, I have left out the Indian wars and our dealings with the Barbary Pirates, to name a few.] The ones who were there at the start of each war tended to be lower ranking, and no general was involved at the start of a war. If military men were war-mongers (which seems to be a belief of many liberals and Democrats), then we would expect them to be involved in the beginning of 5 or 6 of our wars. Instead, they appear to be less likely to start a war.
So, in conclusion: If you want peace, voting for the veteran is not, statistically speaking, a bad idea.
[Note: If any history buffs have corrections to this, please let me know in the comments and I may edit this post.]