Defending America
David Hackworth
12 February '97


Last week, the media dropped more bombs on our proud Marine Corps then the Japanese did from Wake Island to Iwo Jima.

"Bad Marines," "Brutal Marines," "Beastly Marines," chanted the pancaked, blow-dried anchors of the Fourth Estate who'd glommed onto some old video tapes showing elite Marine Recon troopers having their golden jump wings pounded into their chests.

The politicians quickly joined the chorus of wailers. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said he was "disgusted" and "disturbed" and implied that heads would roll.

True, the TV footage was shocking. Like much hazing, the "wing initiation" had gone over the top.

Such behavior is impossible to defend, and now, because of the camera, that practice will come to a screeching halt.

But what if there had been video cameras at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin reservoir, and Hue? I wonder if the shocking footage of these terrible blood baths would have put an end to war?

Wouldn't it be wonderful? No more war. Imagine human beings settling their differences by sitting in a circle, on a grassy, sunny knoll, throwing rose petals at each other. The first person covered from head to foot loses, and the winner gets what he/she wants.

I don't think you'd ever find a combat-tested warrior who wouldn't buy into the Battle of the Rose Petals. Nor would you find many who'd agree that the camera will cause war to go away.

And until war disappears, warriors such as our extraordinary Marine Recon men of the bloodied chests are needed. They are some of the toughest fighting men in the world. They've been forged and tempered in fire and are as hard as steel.

They're special men. Not stockbrokers, accountants and lawyers. They jump out of perfectly good airplanes, mainly at night, dropping behind enemy lines to slit throats and create instant carnage. They do brutal stuff in training because war is brutal, and they must be macho to survive.

In their heads, machismo makes them bulletproof, capable of doing the impossible. They believe they'll all come back from the mission standing tall, singing the Marine Corps Hymn and walking that swaggering, cocky walk that only a Marine who's looked death right in the eye without blinking can.

What worries me about this latest hazing scandal is the inevitable long range aftermath. Cohen's comment that he'll have "zero tolerance" concerning similar antics may end in further diluting the vitally needed macho warrior spirit.

Commanders, worried about their careers, may again overreact and further soften training standards -- which except in units such as Rangers, Green Berets, Force Recon, and SEALs are already soft as jello throughout the forces.

We now have the most safety-first, politically correct military force in American history. Which is jolly great for the War of the Rose Petals. But bad news for America when one day down the bloody track, our soldiers again bump up against fierce politically incorrect warriors and get their clocks cleaned as we did in the early stages of WW II and Korea and most recently in Somalia.

Would the "blood pinning" scandal have been a media event in 1957? I doubt it. Forty years ago, most reporters were vets. They would have dropped this story in the circular file cabinet and asked more serious questions such as: How come the Pentagon can cut our armed forces by almost 35 percent but not cut the generals and admirals proportionately? Why, after a cost of over $40 billion, doesn't the B-1 Bomber work as billed? Why does America spend more on defense then almost the rest of the world combined when we have no serious enemy in sight?

In 1997, few reporters have worn a uniform. Because they have not walked the walk, many seem to take great delight in dredging up military stories long on sensationalism, short on substance. Unlike their older brothers and sisters, most couldn't tell a tank from a taxi.

Today's politicians are not much better. In America, the five most powerful figures regarding matters of war and peace -- Bill Clinton, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, Madeliene Albright and Bill Cohen -- have not served. So, when they hear the horror stories, they react as Cohen did: ready, fire, aim.

Pity our few warriors and pray for America.

The End