Carter Eskew: How Vietnam Affected Chuck Hagel

Carter Eskew is co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a liberal perspective on Election 2012.

The imminent nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary means that we could have two Vietnam veterans as leaders of the nation’s diplomatic and military departments. John Kerry opposed the Vietnam War early, while Hagel defended it to the bitter end, but both share a worldview, and indeed a personal approach, that is shaped by that searing conflict.

It is worth a re-immersion in that war to understand who Chuck Hagel is. The best books on Vietnam I have ever read are: “The Long Gray Line,” about the West Point Class of 1966, which had the highest casualty rate of any class in academy history; “We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young,” and the novel, “Matterhorn.”  I mention these books, and there are many other excellent ones, because for those of us who didn't experience the war, they are essential to understanding how it shaped the character and outlook of the people who did. And that understanding, in turn, is important to understanding Chuck Hagel and perhaps his odds of being confirmed. (For a shorter but equally compelling read that goes to the heart of Chuck Hagel's character, see Joseph Lelyveld’s profile of the former Nebraska senator.)...

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