David H. Hackworth
June 14, 1994


U.S. Navy Post Graduate School Monterey, Calif.

What a charge it is being around young leaders. I was invited here to talk to the 2,500 students of this fine institution. My subject: the melt- down of character in the top ranks of our military, and the lack of moral courage in the junior ranks to sound off against the wrongdoers.

I expected to get blasted off the stage by a barrage of tomatoes. It was like going to Rome to tell the Pope and his top aides they were in league with the devil.

For one hour I argued my case. I told the best and the brightest of our armed forces that in the past few years, over 100 U.S. generals and admirals have been nailed for honor violations, lack of leadership and lying. Here's just the tip of the slimy spear

A Navy three-star, responsible for the Navy's code of ethics, covered up for a homosexual sailor who hit on another sailor:

A Marine two-star falsified his flight records;

An Army two-star hit on his female driver;

An Air Force four-star lied to the secretary of defense concerning aircraft performance in combat;

A Navy four-star lied about the location of the USS Vincennes when it shot down an Iranian airliner:

A Navy four-star "lied under oath" and manipulated the investigation to "shield his personal involvement in the Tailhook '91 sexual harassment incident;

An Air Force three-star "lied under oath" concerning his tampering with a promotion board:

An Air Force three-star juggled the books and paid $1.5 billion to McDonnell Douglas Corp. for services not rendered.

U.S. generals and admirals shouldn't act like a lot of our politicians who lie, cheat and steal as a way of life. Our top military men and women are our most trusted leaders, responsible for the security of our country. They've sworn to God and country to do right and always place America first.

If our brass hats violate their oaths and do their own thing, we could soon follow the paths of banana republics, with a military coup exploding whenever they don't feel like following the orders of their civilian leaders. Remember, they have the guns to defeat an enemy from without; it would be easy for them to defeat a perceived enemy from within.

Sadly, many -- not all -- who are promoted to the top ranks become laws unto themselves and put their own needs and those of their armed service over the welfare of their country. Many are motivated by personal gain rather than the selfless service that was and must remain the hall- mark of the American profession of arms.

Many, such as Adm. John Poindexter, Gen. Richard Secord, Cols. Oliver North and Robert McFarlane -- all academy graduates, taught as cadets not to lie, cheat and steal -- became corrupted by the Cold War and increasingly obsessed with the mission. During the shameful Iran-contra episode, they clearly violated their honor code and disregarded the Constitution they'd sworn to defend.

Others become equally obsessed with a piece of hardware their armed service wants. Getting the gear means money for their service and eventual promotion for the guy who brings in another cash cow. They'll do anything to get the wrong stuff into production, even though -- as in the cases of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the MILSTAR satellite system or the B-1 bomber -- it doesn't work or isn't needed.

I stressed to these future admirals and generals that they could stop this dishonesty in its tracks by having the moral courage to stand tall and choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. I told them they must follow the dictates of their conscience, not sell themselves short for a career carrot.

I told them they could not look away from corruption without becoming corrupt themselves, and they must not blindly follow their leaders' unlawful orders or accept their wrongdoings.

My talk hit these fine young men and women right dead center in their hearts and belief systems. Instead of chopping off this messenger's head, they responded with a rousing 10- minute standing ovation.

At present, our future military leadership appears to be in good hands, but many of our top leaders need to take their oath again, and Congress needs to bust the system that causes so many to dishonor themselves on their way to the top.