Skip to content

State Department Has Vietnam Veterans; Pentagon Doesn’t

As a Vietnam veteran and a retired Foreign Service officer, I found the article in today’s Washington Post, “Old Vietnam Hands in Charge in Iraq,” an interesting comparison between the State Department and the Pentagon. The State Department has quite a few people who served in Vietnam now serving in Iraq. The senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon is devoid of Vietnam veterans. What’s wrong with this picture? To me it means that more people at the State Department are concerned about their country than people at the Pentagon. People at State answered their country’s call in the 1960’s, while those at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz and company, had better things to do. (Of course, Wolfowitz served at State, too, in previous administrations.) Retired General Barry McCaffrey particularly points to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as someone who did not serve in Vietnam, and thus who is first-hand unfamiliar with the problems encountered there. However, Rumsfeld did serve in the military during peacetime. Of course, the military leadership at the Pentagon probably has a lot of Vietnam veterans, but they are aging and may be retiring too fast to remain in the military leadership. The one general I felt some connection with was Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinsheki, who served in the same general area of northern I Corps (near the DMZ) that I served in, and who was vilified by the Pentagon’s civilian leadership for calling for more troops to occupy Iraq.

I think it is significant that the leadership of the State Department, which has the reputation of being dovish, actually has more combat experience than the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *