THE USS Stark disaster now heads the list of our military failures, and I think it is high time that the citizens of America shout "Enough is enough!"
The litany of major blunders since 1945 makes the U.S. military look like dogtag-wearing Keystone Cops at their most fumbling hour. It would be funny if it were not so damn tragic. It would be funny if tens of thousands of Americans had not died because of this longstanding and shameful ineptitude.
To review some of these shames, past and present:
The spectacle of our Marines swapping secrets for sex in Moscow.
The Iran-contra affair, where generals, admirals, and colonels operated as a law unto themselves (with some, when called to account, then unabashedly pleading the Fifth).
The needless slaughter of our Marines in Beirut, there on a "presence" mission that had little military rationale.
The fouled-up bombing of Lebanon in 1983, in which we used the wrong weapons and hit the wrong targets.
The bungled invasion of Grenada, the mismanaged Desert One operation, the failed Mayaguez and Sontay raids, all conducted not unlike Chinese fire drills.
The staggering defeat of our military in Vietnam.
The stalemate no-win of Korea.
America has not had a clear military win since World War II. There is a reason for this, and it can be found in the insidious evolution in the years since in the character of the high-level leadership of our armed forces. Part of the problem may be inevitable in a peacetime military. But not all of it.
Someone, somewhere along the line, decided that our military forces would be better led by managers than by romping, stomping Arleigh Burkes. As a result, no longer are America s top military leaders true fighters. The rugged warrior-types who took Saipan and Normandy have been replaced by erudite, urbane corporate generals and admirals who have a minimum of an MBA from one of America s top business schools, know which dessert spoon to use, and are smooth, cool and management-capable.
Now, these senior members of our military s best and brightest management team will never make a diplomatic faux pas, or not be able to read a computer printout or walk with kings -- but on the downside, they will not win a battle or a war, either.
The George Pattons and Chester Nimitzes were considered too abrasive, too demanding and too out-and-out ornery to fit into the New Look military that followed World War II. They were too hard to control, and they always made waves through an unwelcome habit of speaking bluntly. So they were given their gold watches and sent to the sidelines to watch as their once-proud services became pathetic caricatures of fumbling incompetence.
These gruff old nasties -- whose men would have followed them to hell and back -- were replaced by a new generation of smoothies who managed the downward spiral starting with Korea and got the speed of defeat going full thrust in Vietnam. And since then, disaster has only followed disaster, right up to the most recent sad debacle in the Persian Gulf, where 37 more white crosses were hewn by the corporate generation.
There is nothing wrong with our young sailors, airmen and soldiers, or their junior leaders. If these good men were given tactically and technically competent senior officers we d not worry about how they would perform. The radar would be scanned, the anti-missile system energized, the secrets would remain in the safe, and the missions would be accomplished with minimum casualties.
The citizens of America are paying roughly $300 billion a year to be defended. With this price tag the country should be free from fear and proud of the boys who serve in America s finest. It seems safe to say that the American citizen is not getting his or her money s worth.
The problem is easy to fix. Simple, as a matter of fact. . . .
President Reagan, the commander-in-chief, must do a little selective ass-kicking and some wholesale firing of incompetent civilian and military leadership. He should stop giving those stirring memorial speeches and stop wearing mournful black, and instead find out a way of rendering both unnecessary -- rather than allowing them to become routine engagements of his administration. He should cease and desist from eagerly copping the responsibility for each military snafu and instead demand that our military get it right. He should send the corporate generals and admirals packing quicksmart to industry where their brilliance would be well used, and replace these perfumed princes with colorful, knowledgeable warriors who will return our armed forces to the winner s circle.
It is virtually a guarantee. These fighters will get the right hardware, at the right price, and use tactics and strategy that work. They won t lie about operational reports, covert operations or the state of current Cold War confrontations. They won t over-supervise their juniors, but they ll damn well make sure they re fit and ready for any test. They will love their charges but ruthlessly demand perfection. Our military will once again become Centurians who will live by the selfless rule of Duty, Honor, Country.
The military will no longer be an occupation but a calling, its membership composed of dedicated, stout-hearted men and women. And if politicians and military industrialists come up with expensive, harebrained, worthless weapons systems or plans for international adventures, the fighters will be the first to scream, "It won t work!" and not be afraid, as they must be now, of being kicked out of the service by the corporate yes-man types who support the schemes through ignorance or to further their own careers.
David Hackworth, a retired colonel, was the most decorated Army officer in Vietnam, with two Distinguished Service Crosses, ten Silver Stars, seven Bronze Stars, eight Purple Hearts and three Legions of Merit. His book, "Line of Departure," co-authored by Julie Sherman, will be published next year.