I didn’t do a blog post yesterday because I attended the Naval Institute’s conference on the military and politics, a discussion of the proper role for military personnel, especially senior officers, in politics. Among the participants were Colin Powell, John McCain, Bob Woodward, John Allen, and Michael Mullen. Definitely an all-star show.
There was a broad consensus, with various shadings and disagreements, that professional military people can properly participate in the shaping of policy but should remain neutral in politics. Of far greater interest to me were observations offered by various panel members on issues directly bearing on this blog.
I was surprised that Vietnam came up frequently. The panelists generally agreed that the Vietnam war was misguided. The U.S. saw the enemy as communists when they were first and foremost nationalists, striving for independence. Their dedication went much deeper than ours did. They were willing to fight to the last man to oust the corrupt South Vietnamese government and foreign domination, first by the French, then by the Americans. U.S. commitment was nowhere near as strong.
Moreover, if Vietnam taught us nothing else, we should have learned that you can’t win a war when the U.S. population is not supporting the war effort.
To my understanding of the nature of leadership—that the leader must be focused equally on the mission and the well-being of his followers—John McCain, in a video interview with Bob Woorward, introduced another factor that was new to me: determination to do the right thing, no matter what. That adds a moral component that I had never considered.
The judgments about Vietnam, especially coming from the military, greatly comforted me. As a regular reader of this blog will recognize, they closely match my own views as expressed in text posted here going back to last November. My broadened understanding of leadership was more than welcome. In days to come, I’ll post a blog summing up my definition of the leader’s role.