Defending America
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
28 February 2000

MORAL COURAGE IS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

Napoleon was right on target when he said, "In war the moral is to the material as three to one."

Since Desert Storm, I've watched our Armed Forces go steadily downhill. Yet for 10 years, not one general or admiral has had the moral courage to sound off to the citizens of the republic about what's been going on.

Nor has one (and that includes Air Force Gen. Ronald Fogleman, who quit not over principles but for very personal, private reasons) stood before Congress and told the truth: It's not lack of funds that's busting the forces, but wrongheaded, ever-expanding missions like Bosnia and Kosovo; misguided, politically correct social engineering; and the constant lowering of training, discipline and leadership standards -- mistakes that our warriors will pay for in blood on a future battlefield.

Has the moral courage from stand-up guys like Nathan Hale, John Paul Jones and Billy Mitchell been blown completely out of our military and America? Have these giants of moral resolve been replaced by people who don't care how they trample on values and principles, just as long as they get to the head of the line?

Even though the two-fisted straight-shooters seldom make it to the top anymore, I prefer to think moral courage in America is down but not out. It's true the slickies who put self and bottom-line first seem to be running America from the White House to Congress to virtually every big business in the land. Less those few, brave, family-owned concerns that haven't yet exchanged their values for fast-lane stock options.

I naively thought this sickness just prevailed in our military but gradually changed my mind because of the responses to a book I wrote. Over the years, I've received thousands of letters from folks in every walk of life in this country saying: What you described in "About Face" as the sickness that destroyed our military and caused us to lose in Vietnam is rampant across the board in the United States.

These letters bear witness that the same cancer that struck our Vietnam-era military now infects almost every American entity -- from Wall Street to education, from medicine to the media, from the police and fire departments to the unions, etc., etc., etc.

But these letters also convinced me that there are more than a few good men and women out there who aren't afraid to "Stand up and be counted" -- once a standard Army officer fitness-report rating question in the pre-Vietnam era, when speaking out was encouraged -- and fight for right over wrong.

Take Air Force Maj. Sonny Bates. He recently single-handedly took on the Pentagon over anthrax. It was roll up your sleeves and take the needle or go to jail. When the Air Force leaned on him, he chose to take a general court-martial -- which in the military is about the same as spitting in the judge's face and expecting a fair trial. Married with three kids and only seven years from retirement, Bates had a lot to lose. Yet he fought for what he thought was right and steered through the anthrax flak as smoothly as he's flown his airplane during his brilliant career. And the good news is the brass backed down.

Another moral hero is Army sergeant David Gloer. After serving in Korea since 1994, he decided to retire. Petty people in his chain of command bumped back his paperwork, saying "no way." For absolutely no reason, just an uncaring bureaucracy doing its thing. After 20 years of exceptional service, 13 of those in a South Korea on perpetual war-footing, a few jerks arbitrarily told him to get lost. He pulled all plugs -- the media, Congress -- and even took his case to the Army chief of staff. He fought for what was right, and like Sonny Bates, he won. So Gloer's retiring from the Army with a smile and a positive thought: "All that rule are not evil."

Moral leadership should be the top plank in the presidential elections. It's more important than Social Security or campaign reform. Without the right moral stuff, America is going to join Napoleon's France -- which swapped the moral for the material and ended up at the bottom of the heap.