In the film Saving Private Ryan an American mother sends her four sons off to World War II and very nearly loses them all. Perhaps, Ann Romney should make a date with Netflix this Mother's Day.
I won't touch the recent flap-up about whether she has ever worked a day in her life. But I can say with certainty that Ann Romney has never worried a day in her life. That is, she has never worried about the safety of her children fighting overseas.
The war in Afghanistan is now in its 11th year and the five Romney boys -- now in their early 30s to early 40s -- have been of prime military age all the while. But like most of today's political leadership, Ann Romney has never sent a single son, much less four or five of them, to war.
"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," Ann Romney declared, following Democratic commentator Hilary Rosen's recent accusation that she has "never worked a day in her life." But Ann Romney and her husband, presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, clearly did not inculcate in those boys much of a sense of military duty. When asked in 2007, during his first run for the presidency, about his sons' lack of military service, Mitt Romney responded, "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected because they think I'd be a great president."
Yet make no mistake about it, Mitt Romney wants a muscular military. His campaign website accuses President Obama of trying "to slash funds for our fighting men and women" and putting "us on course toward a 'hollow' force." And Romney seems alarmingly willing to send American forces to Iran. His website states on its National Defense page, "U.S. policy toward Iran must begin with an understanding on Iran's part that a military option to deal with their nuclear program remains on the table." The syntax is clumsy, but the threat is clear.
The American sons and daughters who Romney would send to Iran almost surely would not include any of his five strapping lads. In the middle of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007, when the five Romney sons were challenged to explain their decision not to serve, Josh Romney responded, "I feel guilty having not done it." Ben Romney answered, "My goodness, I hope I never have to do that."
Nor, if the past decade serves as an indicator, would the American forces in Iran include many of the children of our nation's political leaders. In March 2003, at the start of the war in Iraq, only one of the 100 members of the Senate had a son fighting in Iraq.
Once upon a time, our political leaders routinely sent their sons to war. Charles Francis Adams Jr. -- great-grandson of President John Adams, grandson of President John Quincy Adams, and son of Charles Francis Adams Sr., the American ambassador to England and former congressman -- served as a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. Alongside him fought many other sons of the elite. Indeed, the 20th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers was known as the "Harvard Regiment."
A half-century later, all four of Theodore Roosevelt's sons fought in World War I. (The youngest, Quentin, was killed in combat.) In total, some 11,300 Harvard men and 10,000 Yale men defended their nation in World War I.
So too, 31 American presidents have served to date in the military. But Commander-in-Chief Mitt Romney would have no military experience to draw upon. During the Vietnam War, he received five-and-a-half years of draft deferments, as a "minister of religion" and as a student. After draft policies were overhauled, his high lottery number effectively guaranteed he would not be drafted after his student deferment expired.
In fact, the most visible action that Romney took during the early Vietnam War years was to participate in a pro-draft demonstration at Stanford University in the spring of 1966. The resulting newspaper headline read: "Mitt Romney, son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, was one of the pickets who supported the Stanford University administration in opposition to [antiwar] sit-in demonstrators."
As one soldier says in Saving Private Ryan, "I got a mother, you got a mother, the sarge has got a mother. I'm willing to bet that even the captain's got a mother." However, until Ann Romney sends a son to war, she, like most of our political leadership, will have no skin -- or son -- in the game.
Mitt Romney earned a Harvard JD/MBA and his three oldest sons each earned a Harvard MBA, but the odds of seeing the volunteer Harvard Regiment reconstituted by the Romneys seem unlikely. Then again, who would have imagined a dog being driven to Canada on the roof of a family station wagon? It must have been mighty drafty up there. Come to think of it, maybe that Canada-bound-canine was a shaggy-haired draft-dodger.
Cynthia Wachtell is a research associate professor of American studies at Yeshiva University and author of War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914, now out in paperback.