Query

When’s the last major war where the Presidential kids were eligible to serve but didn’t?

When is the last time in American history that:

1) the United States was engaged in a prolonged war involving substantial casualties (not, e.g., the Gulf War or the Grenada campaign); and

2) the President had a child or children eligible by age and sex to serve; and

3) the President’s child or children did not serve?

It seems to me that GWB wants the political advantages of being a “wartime President” without accepting any of the correlative burdens.

Updates A reader informs me that FDR was the only wartime President since Lincoln who had military-age sons; GWB is the first to have military-age daughters since that phrase ceaesed to be oxymoronic.

Another reader objects: Last time I checked, Georgie’s progeny were free adults entitled to make their own decisions. Now I am sure that it’s not for altruistic reasons that they are declining to participate in daddy’s war, but I fail to see how the ‘correlative burdens’ of their father’s decisions should fall on them.

Fair enough. But if Bush were doing his job by asking for volunteers to fill the military’s thinning ranks he would be confronted with questions about his daughters. I think that’s part of the reason he hasn’t done that part of his job.

Of course, they’re entitled to make their own decisions. But he has decided not to put them in the position of rejecting their own father’s call to service by never issuing such a call.

It isn’t just Bush, of course: As far as I can see, there is no movement at all for the children of politicians to join the ranks, at a moment when America’s military options are sharply limited by the constraints on available manpower.

And it’s a matter of quality as well as quantity: I don’t think much of Jenna and not-Jenna, but I don’t think I can see them holding those leashes at Abu Ghraib, can you?

For those who regard our current adventure, and the additional adventures the Axis of Incompetence might engage in if they had the troops, as ill-advised, there is some justification in not helping to relax that constraint. But those who proclaim the importance of the Global War on Terror ought to be asking people they care about to join up.

Another reader points out that women did serve in the military, though not in combat, during the Vietnam era, which would add Johnson and Nixon to the list of President whose children didn’t serve. It seems to me that today’s circumstances with respect to women are quite different, but my reader is technically correct.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com