David H. Hackworth
January 19, 1999


There's no question America has a mighty military machine. But are our soldiers being instilled with the right inner stuff to fight a hard war?

Over the last decade, thousands of soldiers have told me the warrior spirit is disappearing along with the "Jody" songs and NCOs having the clout to drop soldiers for push-ups simply for having attitude.

Sadly, this is true. The loss of the factors that make warriors hasn't happened just on Clinton's watch. The erosion began after the Korean War. Just the way relentless rain beating down on a hillside eventually causes a mudslide, the warrior ethic has slowly washed away. Without a strong warrior ethic, we could lose against enemies like the WWII Japanese and Germans. Without the warrior ethic, we could lose regardless of the stealthiness of our aircraft or the plethora of high-tech gadgets that are strapped on our tanks and soldiers - despite how many trillions of dollars we spend on the most whiz-bang gear.

Without the warrior ethic, we could lose regardless of the brilliance of the Power Point briefings or how handsome and articulate our generals and admirals are or how completely our military has sexually integrated to give all genders social opportunity, equality and a level playing field.

Just what is "warrior ethic"? It's what the Spartans displayed at Thermopylae in 480 B.C when 300 warriors held off thousands of invaders for seven day until - with their weapons broken from the slaughter - they fought with bare hands and teeth until death. It's what Jackson's Brigade showed at Bull Run in 1861 when it "stood like a stonewall" after it was attacked by a Northern force twice its size. It's what Sergeant Jose Lopez did in Belgium in 1944 when a German tank-infantry force overwhelmed his unit. Alone, he moved a machine-gun to an exposed position from which he killed 100 Germans, buying crucial time for his company to withdraw and set up on better terrain. It's what hundreds of thousands of our airmen, soldiers, sailors andmarines have done on battlefields stretching from Bunker Hill to the dusty streets of Mogadishu, where Special Operations warriors Sergeants Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart knowingly gave their lives so others might live. Back in the 1940s, our military was run by sergeants and petty officers. Decentralization was the rule. NCOs made out the schedules, gave the classes, handled most of the discipline problems and ran the show. NCOs knew how to instill the magic warrior ethic into the men they trained, molded and led.

Officers commanded back then before the birth of the term "zero defects." They did not micromanage every detail as they do today, terrified that a mistake might hurt their climb up the ladder. Then, when soldiers failed, their leaders picked them up, dusted them off and told them where they went wrong.

Today, a rifle company commander has less authority than I had as an 20- year-old platoon sergeant. Today, generals do majors' work, majors do sergeants' work and those that aren't quitting are atrophying. Then, it wasn't a game of musical chairs. My first CO stayed as skipper for three years and this was his fourth company command. He knew every soldier, and he knew his job like a pro. He trained us. We didn't, as is often the case today, train him.

Today, officers spend 80 percent of their career in schools and staff. In a 30-year career, only seven will be spent in command of troops. Imagine the skill of a surgeon who only held a scalpel 20 percent of his career. Back then, we trained more realistically, without a risk assessment tail wagging the training dog. Training casualties were an unfortunate part of a tough game, not a career killer or a training inhibitor. There was no such thing as "consideration for others training." Just kill-or-be-killed training that taught soldiers how to win on the battlefield.

Then, the military's purpose was to win wars. It wasn't a job, a comfortable place to raise a family or a union-sensitive corporation where show was more important than go. Back then, top brass knew their objective was to inspire warriors to stand like a stone wall and that this could only be done by instilling an unflinching warrior ethic.

The End