WIRE THE BRASS?

DAVID H. HACKWORTH
17 April 2001

The Pentagon brass have been whispering that the El Supremo Red Chinese civilians might not have gotten the straight skinny from their military Top Guns about who did what to whom regarding our downed recon aircraft.

And the Pentagon's on target. Since guys in soldier suits head up more than 50 percent of Communist China's industries, it's clearly in their best interests to beat the war drums and go for Cold War II. The winds of war are simply too good for military business and their personal perks to let the truth get in the way.

For sure, the hard-liners and jingoists on both sides did their best to whip the Chinese and American peoples into blood-frenzies over our downed bird. Even though in the past 55 years, there've been scores of other such incidents with China, the Soviet Union, North Korea and, recently, even little Peru.

By the time our crew was released, many of our own chest-thumpers had tried to push this episode into another Pearl Harbor. It didn't help that the same type of stuff was happening in China. Or that ratings-crazed television continued to pump up the volume.

But blather from the Rathers and alarmists aside, can we trust our own top brass to tell our civilian leaders the truth? Or are they -- like their Red Chinese counterparts -- dedicated to protecting their bite of the budget and the defense-related jobs earmarked for them once they check out of the Pentagon to cash in at places like Lockheed and Boeing?

Remember, even in the good old peaceful USA, the Pentagon remains our country's biggest employer. And because of their post-retirement plummy work in the defense industry, scores of our generals and admirals live on millionaire row.

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, I no longer have much hope that most of our top brass put Duty, Honor and Country ahead of a war mill that's treated them well and will treat them better once they bring their expertise and contacts to the MICC (military-industrial-congressional complex) machine.

I'm not out there alone on the trust thing. Recent surveys of our armed forces have shown the biggest concern of our sergeants, chiefs and young officers is that they have no faith in the people who wear the stars and run our military.

During the latest flap, Pacific Commander Admiral Thomas B. Fargo immediately reached for his guns when he dispatched three warships into the South China Sea almost before our plane had rolled to a stop on the communist airfield. Then he requested permission to send an aircraft carrier battle group up the coast of China. You know, a little show of force to give those heathens the word about who's the sole surviving superpower. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, pulled out the destroyers, said "no" on the carrier and probably ordered Fargo to take a cold shower.

In light of what went down over China, President Bush should direct a review of all Rules of Engagement SOPs to ensure we don't stumble into a war the way we almost did over Cuba -- when our fleet depth-charged Soviet subs per a U.S.N. SOP.

The president might also suggest to President Jiang Zemin that he use a polygraph on his brass during any future flaps and assure him he intends to follow suit. Neither we nor China can allow ourselves to be brought down by militarists with an agenda.

If Congress had wired U.S. Admiral Grant Sharp -- Fargo's 1960s predecessor as skipper of U.S. forces in the Pacific -- we'd have caught him in the Tonkin Gulf lie that stuck us into the Vietnam War and possibly could have bypassed that disaster. Once we got into the war, had General William Westmoreland told Congress the truth instead of fudging the enemy strength figures, they'd have pulled the plug long before we filled 58,000 body bags.

America squanders about what the entire rest of the world spends on security -- almost $400 billion a year. Who are we afraid of if all the bad guys combined still eat our dust? Isn't it time we started acting like a superpower rather then a two-bit punk with his first gun? But this won't happen until we constrain the war-mongering MICC.