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Understanding The Country

I recently finished reading (again) the memoirs of Generals William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant. These two men developed a tremendous trust, respect and friendship for each other at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. It was a collaboration that would keep them together throughout the rest of that war.

One of the factors that comes across in reading their accounts of that conflict were their references to the experiences they had gained prior to the war in coming to understand the country. Both were Midwesterners and graduates of West Point, and both had been thrust into the activities of this young and growing country. Grant had been sent to Texas and then into the war against Mexico–a conflict which he criticized as the U.S. imposing its will on a much smaller and weaker nation.

After a military tour of South America, Sherman had been sent to help quell Indian unrest in Florida and had traveled extensively in the south. And, just before the Civil War, Sherman had served as a civilian in the State of Louisiana in establishing their state’s military academy. Through all of this, he had seen slavery, the plantation system and had ridden a horse over much of the ground he would later be fighting on.

Both men knew and understood the country. They had a feel and grasp of what was behind the growth and expansion of America, the role of the federal government in assuring its continuance, as well as having an appreciation of the forces that were about to tear the country apart. Grant would go on to become the 18th President of the United States.

Today, it seems that we have side-lined this value of “understanding the country.” Not having governmental or military experience has been promoted as a political virtue. The ability to raise money to run a political campaign has been made more important than the ability to govern after the campaign. Somehow, we have gotten our priorities mixed up.

Fortunately, I do believe that our current President does have in-depth experience as to what the country is all about. He served for many years in the U.S. Senate and was Vice President. His son served in the military. He understands how government works, that being President is more than a one-man show, and that our nation must work through international alliances to protect the future of democracy in the world.

To reassure my Republican friends, I also found such qualities in George H.W. Bush. He had learned about war the hard way — having been shot down over Japanese waters in his Navy fighter plane during World War II. He served in the Congress, headed the CIA, and was vice president of the country before becoming President.

Above all, H.W. Bush had another important attribute–he was inquisitive.

“I know we are on the road to Baghdad in Iraq and could take it. But who will govern it? Who will be our allies if we do it? And most importantly, what will it cost and who will pay for it?” He decided not to go to Baghdad.

Unfortunately, such inquisitiveness was not a gift given to his son. But, you get the point. Understanding the country and the job of the Presidency is important. Let’s hope we have learned some lessons and that “understanding the country” will be a determining factor in our future decisions as to who should hold that job.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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