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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  • JAMES GOLBY, a major in the U.S. Army, is an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. HEIDI URBEN, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, is an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. KYLE DROPP is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Stanford University. PETER D. FEAVER is a professor of political science at Duke University. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.
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