Having children serving in the U.S. military can't help but give parents a special perspective on the nation's military engagements around the world.
While this year's candidates for president and vice president may not see eye to eye on foreign policy issues, their views seem almost certain to be influenced, and perhaps informed, by the fact that three of them have sons in the military - two who soon will be stationed in Iraq. The military connections in the candidates' families also buck the criticism that the nation's elite lawmakers don't have a personal stake in America's military actions.
During the Vietnam War, the military draft depended too heavily on poor or minority men who weren't eligible for the deferments available to young men attending college. Even after the draft was ended, the military too often has depended on personnel who couldn't afford or didn't meet the academic requirements to pursue college or other training opportunities.
That triggered valid criticism that members of Congress and other national leaders mostly were part of an elite class whose children were able to avoid military service, especially in the world's hot spots. The children of current candidates now blunt that criticism.
Two of them are young people who chose to join the military out of high school. Jimmy McCain, now 20, already has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Marines. Track Palin, 19, is set to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Army this fall.
Beau Biden, 39, represents a different kind of service. He currently is the attorney general of Delaware but is also a captain in the Delaware National Guard. He will take a year's leave from the AG's office to work as a military lawyer in Iraq. Biden and the thousands of other National Guard troops who have served in Iraq represent a renewal of the "citizen soldier" tradition of World War II. During that war thousands of American G.I.s, from all walks of life, put on a uniform and fought on this nation's behalf and returned to civilian life after the battle was finished.
It's often been pointed out that Americans now are too insulated from the realities of war. During World War II, every American was touched by the war. Their sons, husbands or brothers were serving abroad or their mothers and sisters were working in factories to produce military equipment. They planted victory gardens and lived with rationing. For them the war was personal; it involved personal sacrifice.
Most of us now go through our daily lives relatively untouched by the conflicts involving U.S. troops around the world. For those with family members in the military, that isn't the case. They have a personal connection to those conflicts and the dangers involved.
As we do with all of our troops, we hope the candidates' sons serve with distinction and return safely to their families. We honor their service and appreciate the added perspective and special connection to U.S. military actions that their service offers to their candidate parents.