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Brass Politics

How Retired Military Officers Are Shaping Elections

Retired Admiral John B. Nathman, surrounded by other retired military personnel, addresses the Democratic National Convention in September. (Jonathan Ernst / Courtesy Reuters)

In September, retired Admiral John B. Nathman took center stage at the Democratic National Convention to endorse President Barack Obama. He did so with serious support: behind him stood more than 30 other veterans and retired officers from several branches of the military. Republican nominee Mitt Romney soon countered by publishing a list of more than 300 retired officers and 40 Medal of Honor recipients who endorsed him for the highest office in the land.

Such endorsements, now a regular feature of presidential campaigns, threaten one of the most cherished principles of the U.S. military: its independence from partisan politics. A close look at three sources -- a 2009 survey we conducted of Army officers, a database listing campaign contributions made by retired four-star officers, and a 2012 survey we conducted of

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