Disheartening and wrong are the kindest words to characterize the Dec. 19 editorial attack on former senator Chuck Hagel [“Pentagon mismatch”]. A defense secretary who views war as a measure taken as a last resort is a wise choice for leadership. As the nation extricates itself from wars that will end up costing about $3 trillion and thousands of American lives and have not endeared us to the allies we need to fight terrorists, it is a shame that Mr. Hagel was not defense secretary a decade ago.
I first met Mr. Hagel in 1981, when he was the No. 2 man at the Veterans Administration. He had just thrown out of his office some people who were demanding that he stop his support for Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. His integrity and toughness were impressive then. Both qualities have grown since.
Long before he became a senator, Mr. Hagel was an infantryman in Vietnam. He fought the enemy up close, and he had to put Americans in body bags. I am sure that as defense secretary, he would not hesitate to use military force aggressively if our nation or its allies are in danger. Yet he knows well that war is terribly unpredictable and needs to be avoided. He has shown some fury at those who have never seen war but encouraged it during the past decade. This is called courage. He has earned his stripes.