Hazardous Duty by David H. Hackworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an excellent book written by a military hero who sees a lot wrong with the military industrial complex, politics, and the military itself, calls it like he sees it, and offers solutions to the problems he points out. It should be required reading for just about anyone.
I’ve been reading Hackworth since the 1990s when he was writing for Soldier of Fortune magazine. He’s dead now, which is a shame, but he served in post-World War II Europe, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In this book, he comes back as a war correspondent accompanying our military to the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Somalia, Korea and Haiti. What he discovers along the way is horrifying.
I could write a LOT about this book and quote a lot from the book, but I don’t have the time or energy for that. Suffice it to say that this book was published in 1996 while Clinton was in office, so much of the time Hackworth, a conservative, reams Clinton. I’m a Clinton lover, so I didn’t enjoy that, but at least Hackworth was bipartisan, because he rips Reagan and Bush 1 too. He interviews the grunts, as well as numerous officers, to get at the truth that today’s generals and admirals are political pansies, looking out for their own advancement, not giving a damn about the troops. He takes issue with our spending billions on super duper weapons we’ll never use or are terrible to begin with while not issuing armor to our fighting vehicles, body armor to our troops, meals, logistical nightmares, etc. It’s very demoralizing and he consistently demonstrates how NOT ready our military is for action. Here’s one quote:
“Our modern generals put first priority on their headquarters. In days of old, General Ulysses Grant would hit the field with six or seven aides and they traveled light and slept on the ground. The rest of his men were fighters. Today, inflation of military brass and headquarters staff is so bad is should embarrass us. At the end of Word War II we had a military force of 13 million. Today we have a total of 1.5 million active soldiers and sailors. But we have more generals now than we had during World War II. We also have more bureaucrats so that all those generals won’t be lonely. In 1945, with 13 million under arms engaged in a multitheater, multinational alliance, the War Department had about eight undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and special assistants. Now with about those 1.5 million in uniform, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty undersecretaries, deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, and special assistants. All draw six-figure paychecks and have aides, offices, and all the other trappings of Pentagon royalty.”
Wow. That’s just a tiny portion of what this book holds in it. In addition to going to the theaters of military action already mentioned, he also goes to South Korea to assess our combat readiness and finds it sadly lacking too. He thinks we should just get out. After all, what are our 6,000 fighting men and women out of 34,000 troops stationed in South Korea going to do when a million North Koreans come pouring over the border? Additionally, South Korea has an army of five million with better weapons that we do. It’s nuts. We have to have parts FedExed to us because the military can’t handle the logistics. Amazing.
Later, he writes, “The essence of leadership is integrity, loyalty, caring for your people, doing the honorable thing. Over and over since Vietnam, I have seen political expediency killing these values. When slickness and cheap compromise run the show, people who refuse to cave in and play the game get zapped. And when that happens, the ultimate loser is our country.”
Hackworth also has things to say about our government’s priorities, writing that we spend over 300 billion a year on defense, but only 10 billion on education. Point taken.
Towards the end of the book, Hackworth offers a series of suggestions to serve as solutions for curing what’s wrong with the military. After showing how inter-service animosity has hurt the country and cost our country countless millions, he begins by suggesting that the Army and the Marines be merged, while the Air Force be entirely eliminated. He would put the Navy in charge of all strategic missiles, and get the missiles moved from land to subs asap. He would form a new agency to take control over all of the cargo demands of the forces, and reconfigure the Pentagon, eliminating the separate service chiefs and civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force in favor of a combined Defense Force headquarters run by one civilian Secretary of Defense. He would eliminate the current evaluation reports that encourage unwarranted promotions, merge the National Guard and the Reserves into one organization to cut waste and more. He would also merge the duplicate, non-war-fighting functions of the services — intelligence, medical, legal, R & D, logistics, training, etc. — so that we have one and not four separate entities. He would do a whole lot more to get the military back to where it once was, and these suggestions should be read and considered by all military officers and thinkers.
In addition to stats, criticisms, and suggestions, this book also has a lot of exciting stories of harrowing experiences that Hackworth endures to get the real picture. This is a great book to read and I think many people would like it if they give it a chance. Highly recommended.