Pundit attacked Hagel, all GIs
Letters to the Editor, January 17, 2013
While there have been several recent columns dismissing former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s military service as not being “relevant” to his possible role of secretary of defense, none has been as offensive as Eliot A. Cohen’s Jan. 14 column “Hagel’s war service admirable, but not relevant here.”
It is offensive not only because Cohen ignores how prior military service has enriched the experience and enhanced the performance of hundreds of representatives, senators, Cabinet members and of the more than 30 U.S. presidents with such prior service and ignores how, during recent campaigns, such service has been considered, especially by Republicans, as one of the highlights in their candidates’ biographies — but also because Cohen attempts to use the fact that Hagel “only” saw enlisted military service (that he was “just” a grunt, “just” a sergeant) as additional ammunition to try to derail Hagel’s nomination.
In his column, after ridiculing what he alleges to be “President Barack Obama’s chief case for nominating [Hagel]: that he served honorably as a sergeant in Vietnam, where he was twice wounded in combat,” Cohen says this about Hagel’s enlisted wartime service: “What is it, precisely, that one would bring by service as a sergeant in a war more than 40 years past — almost as distant from today as the charge up San Juan Hill was from D-Day, or the Battle of New Orleans was from Gettysburg? It was an important, even searing, life experience, no doubt.”
Apparently Cohen believes that Hagel has been in some state of suspended animation for the past 40 years, a period during which Cohen assumes that Hagel has not kept up with the “utterly different” technology, strategy, tactics and organization we have today, which have transformed “a band of reluctant conscripts caught up in the Big Green Machine” into “a hardened professional army.”
Such comments are not deserving of our present and former enlisted men and women, of the tens of thousands of enlisted personnel — including this writer — who have gone on to receive their commissions in our armed forces, of the thousands who have gone on to become successful generals, entrepreneurs, CEOs, diplomats, congressmen and senators, even after 40 years. And they are hardly deserving of a man who served honorably and heroically in combat in Vietnam, a man who was awarded two Purple Hearts and of a man whose military experience as “just” a sergeant — when combined with his other vast business, financial, executive, political and senatorial and Department of Veterans Affairs experience — will make him a great secretary of defense.