HERE WE GO AGAIN

DAVID H. HACKWORTH
24 April 2001

Playing cat-and-mouse off the coast of China is bad news. These high-risk missions aren't about gaining intelligence; they're about twisting a tiger's tail -- and it's doubtful if anything of military value will come from our high-profile snooping. But for sure the missions will ratchet up our new Cold War, not to mention the profits of the weapon peddlers.

At least this time around our Air Force RC-135 recon planes won't be 50 years old like our now-stripped-and-searched Navy surveillance bird. And for Round Two, our aircraft will be protected by F-15 fighters -- backed up by even more sharp teeth.

Expect the Chinese to react. They said stay away, and if history is any indicator, they mean what they say.

On Oct. 1, 1950, during the early months of the Korean War, Mao Tse-tung said, "The Chinese people will not tolerate foreign aggression and will not stand aside if the imperialists (read USA) wantonly invade the territory of their neighbor."

Mao also said that if our forces continued to roar up the North Korean peninsula while chewing up what was left of Kim Il Sung's mob, he'd have a "severe shock" for Douglas MacArthur's Army.

An arrogant MacArthur and an out-of-touch Washington wrote off Mao's warnings, concluding, "The Chinese would not dare to intervene."

Except that's exactly what they dared to do when hundreds of thousands of tennis-shoe-clad soldiers padded across the Yalu River in 20-degrees-below weather and kicked our frozen superpower butt.

The assessment of Gen. Walton Walker, MacArthur's Army commander when China entered the fray, says it all: "We should not assume the Chinese are committed in force; after all, a lot of Mexicans live in Texas."

The primitive Red Army clobbered our modern forces in spite of seas full of our ships, skies full of our aircraft, our mass artillery and more than 1,000 tanks. The score in January 1951, six weeks after they put muscle to their threat: Chinese 100, Yanks 0.

We were whipped because our top leaders didn't understand the enemy; much of our military team was poorly trained; and our soldiers were badly prepared and disciplined.

Today, we're in the same boat, only chances are it'll sink faster than it did in 1950 without the combat-savvy vets of World War II who saved us yet again.

Perhaps there's little we can do to make our Washington leaders learn from the past, break out Sun Tzu and figure out where the folks from Beijing are coming from. But we can demand of Congress that all of our uniformed sons and daughters be as well-trained as Shane Osborn and crew.

Every crew member of his downed recon plane said their training was what got them through -- from crash to grilling to yellow-ribbon extravaganza. They were so rigorously ready for their dangerous mission that they could run through every drill blindfolded.

Most of our other elite troops today, such as Rangers, SEALs, Marine Recon and Special Forces, achieve that same razor's edge.

But, sadly, the training of our regular forces has been allowed to shrivel and marshmallow since Desert Storm.

Defense dollars are going to wonder gear rather than sharpening the combat edge, while a Gen-X-and-Y-oriented military mindset -- motivated by preventing the newbies from quitting -- hasn't helped. Self-improvement, self-indulgence and sensitivity have become the standard rather than kill-the-enemy-and-stay-alive drills.

Other reasons for deterioration are an officer corps that's been conditioned to fear that their careers could go down the chute if a Jane or Joe gets hurt during hard training; and too many peacekeeping missions in places such as Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo -- where our warriors direct traffic in the mud and drill holes in the sky instead of preparing for war. Not to mention the near disappearance of the vital warrior ethic.

As a result, our soldiers and sailors are far from combat-ready in terms of toughness, battlefield skills, discipline and fire in their bellies -- exactly the same deficiencies we suffered in 1950 when we went to war with Mao's China.

Read T.R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War" to see the horrible price paid by young men back then.

Will we ever learn?