Lessons From the Front Line

George Washington
Top military rank: General
Presidential term: 1789–97

Lessons learned: After the Revolutionary War, Washington knew the British remained a serious threat. As president, he signed an unpopular treaty that kept the country safe from British invasion.

Andrew Jackson
Top military rank: Major general
Presidential term: 1829-37

Lessons learned: Jackson stood up against a strong British Army and won. That David-vs.-Goliath battle gave him the courage to take on foes like the Second U.S. Bank.

Theodore Roosevelt
Top military rank: Colonel
Presidential term: 1901-09

Lessons learned: He returned from the Spanish-American War strengthened politically as a national hero. He understood the power of personality and how much it can aid a president's success.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Top military rank: General
Presidential term: 1953-61

Lessons learned: After serving in Europe, he knew commanders inflated budgets. When pressured by the Pentagon for an increased defense war chest, he said no and kept the budget balanced.

John F. Kennedy
Top military rank: Lieutenant
Presidential term: 1961-63

Lessons learned: His service during World War II gave him an appreciation for details, how one thing gone wrong can cause larger problems. That mind-set served him well during the Cuban missile crisis.

George H.W. Bush
Top military rank: Lieutenant
Presidential term: 1989–93

Lessons learned: His experience as a naval aviator— he was shot down and lost two crewmen—made him aware of the risks of war. That may have encouraged his presidential support of the Powell doctrine.