Last July, Sen. John McCain, a decorated hero of the Vietnam War, called on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to apologize to military families for insulting McCain’s service in Vietnam. During the war, McCain’s plane was shot while he flew a combat mission, and he was severely injured almost to the point of death. He was then captured, tortured and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. He declined to use his father’s high rank in the Navy to gain an early release from prison. Trump believes that McCain should not be considered a hero because he was captured. “I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump jeers.
Now, Trump, who chose not to serve his country in Vietnam, is trying to use his tangential military connections to inspire people to vote for him. On the campaign stump, Trump touts his high school years at the New York Military Academy (NYMA) as having “prepared me to be a great leader.” Selfish, self-centered and self-serving, Trump is the very antithesis of the men and women who sacrifice so much — sometimes their lives — to serve in our armed forces.
Could Trump have received the kind of leadership training that he claims to have had at NYMA? Absolutely. NYMA and our country’s other military academies require students to conduct themselves with the utmost integrity and to maintain strong personal values, such as honor, courage, duty and commitment to others. Trump in no way embodies these values.
Trump’s claim that he has military leadership skills — the qualities that enable extraordinary personalities to lead people into combat — is an insult to the military.'
His campaign rhetoric has consisted mainly of insulting others and bragging about his accomplishments and how much money he has made. Trump feels that he is the best at everything he does and looks back at his training at NYMA as having taught him to try to always be the best. Striving to do one’s best is laudable and certainly a part of military training and leadership, but there is a lot more to military leadership than doing one’s best.
The leadership skills acquired in military training are unparalleled. In the article “Why the Military Provides Great Leaders” published in The Harvard Business Review this past February, Brigadier General (Ret.) Thomas Kolditz, the executive director of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University, explains that military leadership is taught in a carefully planned, methodical way and argues that this kind of leadership training cannot be found in a corporate setting or elsewhere in the government. The reason, Kolditz explains, is simple. Military leaders must do more than motivate people — they have to inspire them. They must lead people into battle, asking them to risk their lives.
Trump chose not to avail himself of this type of leadership training at NYMA. Trump’s claim that he has military leadership skills — the qualities that enable extraordinary personalities to lead people into combat — is an insult to the military.
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Trump told The New York Times that he did not “have to” serve his country in the Vietnam War because he had deferments and a high draft number. Trump had every right not to enlist in Vietnam — it was an unpopular war. Actual military people, however, serve and sacrifice because of a deep sense of duty and honor, whether the war is popular or not.
Trump does make a couple of good points. We are living in a dangerous world and we do need to elect a president with strong leadership skills.
During another frightening time for our country, World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt provided inspirational leadership. Whether or not people agree with his social programs, almost everyone agreed back then — and still do today — that Roosevelt brought our country together during the war. He called upon every citizen of the United States to rally together in the war effort, and virtually everyone did so. He was a gifted leader. Electing a talented leader in 2016, perhaps one with a military leadership background, could inspire and unite our country. Trump does not fit that bill.
Theresa Anzaldua is a Harvard-trained corporate lawyer turned journalist and is the author of We Had A Job To Do – A Basic History of World War II Through the Eyes of Those Who Served. Learn more about her at theresaanzaldua.com.