Defending America
David Hackworth
17 June 1997


Air Force General Joe Ralston's career crashed and burned after he admitted committing adultery back in the '80s.

Since 1989, by conservative count, over a hundred senior officers have been quietly given their walking papers for doing the Big "A." Only a few were punished. Most got their gold watches, handsome retirements and tickets to cash in with defense contractors.

Unfortunately, a few were our nation's best leaders with the promise of achieving the greatness of George Patton or Dwight Eisenhower.

Probably the majority of our senior serving officers and NCOs -- young bucks during the Vietnam War -- are now looking over their shoulders dreading a knock on the door. "Hi, I'm Suzy Wong. Remember me? Dragon Bar? Hot nights? Heavy flights?"

There are few who did the R and R trip that didn't sin. One day they were human targets in a kill or be killed game and the next they were sitting in a dark bar with a few drinks under their belt, an easy target for some beautiful young thing to sidle up and whisper "You look lonely. Buy me a drink and tell me about yourself. "

Most of us didn't set out to be adulators. But hormones, youth, loneliness, hot blood, booze and living on the edge are a potent brew that can weaken the will-power when temptation beckons. When there might be no tomorrows.

I've already 'fessed up in my book ABOUT FACE, and, of course, I no longer serve in the military, but most uniformed old timers simply have to hope that Suzy or whatever her name was when he strayed in Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tokyo doesn't bang on the door or a reporter doesn't call with a hard question.

These days, with the passion of a late-in-life convert to straight - arrowness, I'm strongly opposed to adultery. And the truth is adultery cannot be tolerated in a military composed of about 20 percent women and seventy percent married personnel in any case. Sexual harassment aside, if a spouse is worried about the faithfulness of his/her mate, no way can they concentrate on their job. In war-fighting, mistakes end up on the casualty list.

But there must be some way to stop the witch hunt. Some way to cut everyone some slack. Or we're not going to have any seasoned senior leadership left, and we better make it mandatory for every American to learn Chinese in order to get along with the new management.

Just as Carter gave amnesty after Vietnam, perhaps Clinton would be the perfect guy to say "I give every serving airman, marine, sailor, and soldier amnesty for past sins. But if adultery happens in the future the perpetuator's dead meat. Whoever it is -- whatever their rank ­ they will be punished. There will no longer be one standard for male Generals, another for male and female sergeants and yet another for female lieutenants."

Then maybe our armed forces can go back to their job of defending America. If these witch hunts continue, no one of talent will seek the jobs that attract the spotlight. These tough spots will have to be filled by Popes, monks and eunuchs, and history tells me fighting wars and commanding armies are not their bag.

With instant communications -- phones, faxes, email, TV -- there's no place to hide, no place to run. When the Ralston thing exploded, my phone didn't stop ringing. Reporters looking for blood, generals, colonels and senior airmen looking for revenge. Many had a Ralston horror story. "Let me tell you what went on at McDill AFB or at Langley AFB. There was this sergeant named Patty"

When Georgie or Ike got caught up in an adulterous whispering campaign, their transgressions got buried for years, and never became the lead story on the evening news.

But it's best that Ralston didn't get the top job. He's part of the system, groomed to become a business-as-usual Chairman since he was a Colonel like Powell and Shali.

What we need is a war-fighter dedicated to cleaning up a grotesquely corrupt lash up. My vote is for USMC John Sheehan, the perfect guy to implement Clinton's amnesty program and make the reforms that would return our military to the finest fighting force in the world.

The end


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