David H. Hackworth
26 Oct 1999
CALLING GENERAL SALK
Okay, okay, I confess. I coined the label "Perfumed Prince." When I wrote HAZARDOUS DUTY, I couldn't resist naming the parasite destroying our armed forces. PP's are not a new disease, they've been around since biblical times -- but never in such epidemic numbers. Smooth, slick, sweet-smelling opportunists who stand for nothing but themselves, PPs are masters of masquerade, manipulation and mentoring their mirror reflection in younger leaders.
In peacetime, PPs have quite consistently weaseled their way into running our Army and Navy. They started bringing down the Air Force in the 1960s. The Marines have fought this outrage as valiantly as they've resisted putting women in the trenches, but lately insiders say the Corps has begun breeding these creatures too.
When I first put on a soldier suit, PPs were almost exclusively full colonels and generals. They were most always staff men who dodged troop duty when the slugs sang as desperately as cockroaches avoid light. Whenever a fight flared, they'd find a staff rock and slither under it until the two-fisted, abrasive warriors took charge and made the world safe again.
Back then, almost before the ink dried on the peace deal, the warrior-leaders were in hot water because they told it like it was instead of morphing into PPs. These "trouble-makers" were quickly replaced by the staff smoothies who immediately returned the war-fighting priorities to tent peg alignment and staff studies. And convincing everyone at the top that they and they alone made the world go around.
Now with few real wars to fight, the warrior leaders are pretty much gone. Guys like Patton (WW11), Ridgway (Korea) and Abrams (Vietnam) are history and instead, the PPs are passing as warrior-leaders. Bombs fall. Victory's declared. The public doesn't pay much attention to the fact that we're still fighting the Saddam Husseins long after the victory celebrations. Why should they? Whenever the war news starts to boil again, not to worry, it's soon spun off the tube by another school shooting or celebrity happening.
Today, the PPs are everywhere. Even at the bottom of the ladder, some West Point cadets no longer yearn to join a rifle platoon and learn their fighting trade. Instead, they want an advance degree, to be a general's aide, then move to a high level positions. Even captains and majors and all but a few renegade lieutenant colonels have been bitten by the bug -- and many senior noncoms are infected as well. Recently, a captain deployed on a maneuver with 40 soldiers from Fort Sill to Fort Bliss. They were billeted in an old gym that had been declared a fire hazard, and the soldiers were told there were no funds for per diem -- the extra living costs were their problem. Meanwhile, the Colonels lived in hotels, drew per diem, had rental cars and flew back and forth from Sill to Bliss by commercial air. One of the royal colonels even found the bucks from the budget to buy 120 chairs at $135 a pop from Lazy Boy just for the exercise.
When the captain, after hearing a colonel grouse about how bad the service was at the "Embassy Suite," complained about how his people were being treated, he was told, "I don't want to hear any more damn bitching." It cost each soldier about 300 bucks just to eat during this maneuver. Remember, most of our soldiers are married and many are on food stamps because of the lousy pay. The captain, who later resigned, says, "Too many officers are too concerned with making the next rank, keeping those above them happy and getting the right punch on their tickets rather than fighting for their troops." At Fort Bragg a PP major saw a great lieutenant working with some of his platoon members. In front of the troops, the major sneered, "Down there with the weeds again, huh, Lt. Wheeler?" Bet your boots the troops weren't impressed. They know better than anyone else that the PPs are in charge and that they approach soldiering with arrogance and disdain.
The troops know that most of their leaders suck. Maybe that's why so many fine warriors are voting with their boots.
Is there a General Salk out there to immunize everyone against this killer disease?