DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
February 6, 1996

HISTORY ALWAYS REPEATS ITSELF

In 1916, America's military was spread so thin it couldn't stop Pancho Villa and his gang of Mexican raiders from sacking our towns and killing our citizens.

In 1939, our armed forces were again in the same sad shape. Had Pancho Villa's son climbed on his old man's horse, he could have conducted similar search-and-destroy operations along our southern borders with equal ease.

U.S. military leaders, both in 1916 and 1939, fought to fulfill their sworn duty: to defend America from its enemies, both foreign and domestic. Gens. John Pershing and George Marshall battled to strengthen our defenses, both predicting our involvement in the two world wars well before those blood baths made the burying business a global boom industry.

But true to form, the American people wanted strong armed forces without paying for the freight. In both world wars, this wrong-headedness resulted in thousands of unnecessary U.S. casualties. Our troops weren't ready for battle, and there weren't enough of them.

As we rock into a turbulent 21st century, the folks back home are again singing their favorite tune: "Give me enough men who are stout- hearted men -- only don't bill me."

In 1996, $263 billion was given to a Pentagon whose primary purpose is no longer war fighting, but banking. The Pentagon has become a big, fat piggy bank, dispensing cash to the armed forces, defense contractors and a rabble of White House and congressional porkers who are busy ripping off defense dollars for pet projects that have nothing to do with defending America.

Now, many American citizens are catching on to this shell game. This awareness and the fact that the nation is broke mean that, beginning with the 1997 budget, defense dollars just won't be there for the looting. And unless someone at the top wakes up and restructures the priorities, by the end of the century the United States of America will be in the very fix it found itself back in 1916 and 1939.

There are serious potential fire fights on the horizon that involve America's national security: China wants Taiwan back and has the military muscle to take it; Iran has an unstable leadership crazy enough to try and close our primary gas station, the Strait of Hormuz; Iraq could retake Kuwait with its rebuilt army of 12 armored divisions before we could say 'George Bush"; North Korea, always a loose cannon, is acting goofier than ever and, just for the hell of it, could go for a final manzai attack; and then there are Pancho Villa's great-grandsons and pals, who could become bored with flooding our cities with drugs and look to start a different kind of war.

Besides foggy thinking at the top by the many airheads in the White House, Congress and the Pentagon, another killer gutting our war fighting capability is our post-Cold-War peacekeeping effort.

The U.S. bleeding hearts have sent our warriors off on missions of salvation to Bosnia, Haiti, the Sinai, Macedonia, northern Iraq and a dozen other local brawls around the globe.

These do-good misadventures have stretched our military machine to the breaking point. Not only do they tie up our deployed fighters, but they wreak havoc on the outfits relieved and the ones training as re- placements. So for each battalion deployed, two additional battalions are getting ready or retraining.

Besides costing megabucks, peace- keeping missions are blunting our military's combat edge and raising hell with the morales of both the warriors who go and their loved ones who stay behind. Spirit wins wars, not volunteer armies whose personnel can't wait to walk.

Now the chairman of the Pentagon bank, Secretary of Defense William Perry, says he's hot to dispatch U.S. troops to the Golan Heights as peace-keepers.

An Army sergeant I talked to in Bosnia -- on his third peace mission in three years -- got it right when he said, *Who's going to be left to defend America when real trouble comes our way?'

Clinton, Perry and Congress must be reminded of what our founding fathers had in mind when they created an army and a navy.

At least the grunts and their NCOs down at the bottom know: it's to defend America, not get sucked into every problem going down in a screwed-up world.