Politicians Wage War, But Few Have Ever Served

Many of us have read Tom Brokaw’s books on the “greatest generation” and what these brave men and women did after the war; however, we don’t often get to hear firsthand the stories about World War II directly from people who were right in the middle of the action.

Now two well-known public figures — Bob Dole (search) and Jim Wright (search) — have written terrific books about their own experiences in the war long before either author became a household name.

Dole's book, “One Soldier’s Story,” published by HarperCollins, came out this spring and chronicles the very serious wounds Dole suffered in Italy and the years of convalescence required to make it possible for him to serve a long, distinguished career representing his home state of Kansas in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

What makes this book special is the way he describes the role his family and extended community played in his long fight to regain health. Without the emotional and financial support of his parents and the people he grew up with in Russell, Kan., former Senate Majority Leader Dole might not have survived the ordeal that faced him.

It is a truly moving account of his struggle to have a normal life and should serve as an inspiration to the thousands of young men and women who are returning from Iraq with serious injuries.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright’s book, ”The Flying Circus,” released this summer by Lyons Press, covers Wright's first two years as a young lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in 1942-43. It is a moving, sometimes humorous account of the adventures of a 19- and 20-year-old young man from Texas who took part in numerous bombing missions in the Pacific as a bombardier aboard a B-24.

The accounts of actual combat that claimed the lives of almost 50 percent of his unit (the 380th Heavy Bomb Group) are both dramatic and poignant. Wright emerged unscratched and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (search).

It is a coming-of-age story at a time when our country faced very dangerous foes and when virtually everyone of military age served, many facing real danger.

Ever since the draft was eliminated in the 1970s, going to war has not affected all levels of society and every community the way World War II, Korea and Vietnam did. Most of us know very few, if any, of the men and women doing the actual fighting and dying in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It takes books like those written by Bob Dole and Jim Wright to remind us that war is not a video game and that it has real consequences.

And it also makes you stop and think about the issue of how anxious we would be to go to war if we thought or own sons and daughters might actually have to serve and face danger.

Some people argue that we should return to the draft so that everyone would be subject to military service, regardless of income or social standing. Others argue that we should do whatever is required to expand the size of our military—for example, offering better pay and benefits— so that we can continue to attract a sizable all-volunteer force, even if this diverts funds from pressing domestic needs.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it is a sad commentary that so few of the people making our laws — members of the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, the president and vice president, and the president’s cabinet — have much military experience, let alone combat experience, to draw from. I served six years in the Army Reserves (my unit was never called to active duty in wartime), but the vast majority of congressmen and women who served with me in Congress had never worn their country’s uniform for a single day. This includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, as well as virtually all of the current leadership of both parties.

Let’s hope the people making the decisions on whether or not to go to war will at least take a few hours to learn from Bob Dole and Jim Wright. They have a lot to teach.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

Respond to the Writer