David H. Hackworth
December 6, 1994


Bob Dole's call to use powerful airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs not only scares the hell of our NATO allies, but it shows the Senator from Kansas is totally out of touch with the realties of modern warfare. He has fallen victim to the problem which haunts most generals and many conservative politicians: fighting today's wars with yesterday's tactics and weapons.

When Lt. Dole led his World War 11 platoon in the hills of northern Italy, our air arm had slow flying aircraft that could loiter over the target for a long time, take a lot of ground fire and flat raise hell with a conventional enemy.

Since Vietnam, US fighter aircraft have become jet- powered fast burners. Deep behind enemy lines, they do a deadly job striking soft targets -- cities such as Tripoli and Baghdad, electronic grids, water supplies, transportation systems, military headquarters and supply depots -- but they just don't hack it against hardcore, frontline unconventional troops such as the Bosnian Serbs.

Throughout the Vietnam War, where I served almost five years as a grunt, the USAF frequently used the units I commanded as bombing targets. We survived the not so "friendly fire" as did hundreds of other US units that were bombed, napalmed and straffed, but so did the enemy -- to win the only war America has ever lost, even though we used more bomb tonnage than both sides dropped during all of WW11.

During Desert Storm, I again observed USAF close air support from a foxhole, where I was bombed by USAF A-10s. The Green Beret team I was with simply hunkered down and survived the 500 pound bombs dropped within our perimeter. Throughout the 45 day air war, F-15E and F-16s dumped tons of similiar ordnance on Iraqi armored vehicles that had no place to hide in the open desert. Yet when Marine grunts took Kuwait, they found most of the Iraq armor undamaged.

Noted military writer Colonel David Evans says USMC estimates "...only 15 percent of Iraqi weaponry was destroyed from the air. Nor had the F-15E Scud Busters, as they were known, succeeded in knocking out a single Greyhound bus-size mobile Scud missile launcher."

Having first skirmished against the Serbs as a grunt from 1946 to 50, near those very rugged hills that Dole wants to bomb, I more recently covered the insane Bosnian bloodbath on the ground for NEWSWEEK. I know those fanatical and brutal fighters as well as I know their equally fanatical and brutal Croatian and Muslim foes. Just two years ago, I was with a dug-in Croatian unit along the Sava river. We were bombed and straffed by Serb MIG 21s. Total Croat casualties: zero. The rugged, wooded terrain and the constant low lying clouds were our allies along with airplanes that flew too high and too fast to do much but scare the hell out of us. I can report first-hand that Close Air Support won't work in the Balkans. It will just suck the US into an unforgiving swamp as surely as it did in Vietnam.

The US solution for Bosnia -- which is in Europe's backyard and no way threatens our security -- should be to stay out. If the want-to-do-something crowd insists on involvement, let them volunter their kids, not ours.

I worry about the people like Dole about to take over the leadership of Congress. Most -- Strum Thurman, 93, Jesse Helms, 73 -- are old men who were powerful cold war fighters. Their mindset is for bigger and better bombs built for another era, because bombs have been good to them. You can't turn around in their states without stumbling into a military camp or a defense factory.

The Republican's "Contract with America" calls for beefing up defense spending when they should be braining it up instead. The Pentagon already has more than enough money, it just doesn't spend it wisely. Sec Def William Perry is trying to change US warfighting style, and he's right. The microchip is the new ultimate weapon, not the bomb.

21st century military thinking is needed at the top. But I doubt if an antequated senate seniority system, which seems to promote only the braindead, will allow a fresh thought.