The trumpets had sounded long in advance on the main claim for Mr. Hagel—i.e., that his experience as an enlisted man, a combat veteran, had endowed him with special expertise not given to others, on matters of war, on our nuclear capacity, the size of our defense budget, a capacity to take the measure of Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Hagel had come by this wisdom, we were informed, because he had been at the front, seen men die, and knew, as we were frequently reminded, what the ordinary soldier thought and felt. All of this, the argument ran, gave him a unique capacity to head the Defense Department.
Could rational men and women seriously credit such a claim?
They think that we’re as stupid and illogical as they are. This is almost as nutty as thinking that shouting “What difference does it make?” is somehow an effective rejoinder to your mendacity.
Not all that many decades ago, it would not have been considered exceptional that a senator or congressman had served in the military. The halls of Congress were packed with Americans who had seen war. It says something about the political class today that the experience of having served in the military is such a rarity that it is seen, not infrequently, through a distorting lens. In no other period in the country’s history would it have been considered unseemly, indeed ungrateful, that a combat veteran nominated for high office should be forced to face aggressive questioning.