Saturday, September 16, 2006

Flashback: November 1994 
I wrote the following essay back in 1994. It first ran in November, 1994, in the Honolulu Advertiser. It was my first published clip as a writer.

An army cannot be run according to rules of etiquette

-- Ts'ao Ts'ao, 155-220 A.D.

During the height of the U.S.-British invasion of Sicily in 1943, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton toured an American Field hospital to personally award Purple Hearts to American wounded soldiers and express his gratitude for their great sacrifice in the cause of freedom.

He came upon a soldier in a hospital bed with no visible wounds. He asked the soldier what was wrong and the soldier replied, "I just can't take it any more."

The general removed his gloves from his belt, slapped the soldier across the face and had him returned to duty.

There was an uproar in the press and in Washington. Pols and pundits clamored to have Patton relieved of his command for the crime of insensitivity. The path of least resistance for his superiors was to simply relieve him, stick him behind a desk, or retire him early and replace him with a lesser man.

America should be thankful they didn't. Patton apologized to every soldier under his command. But he went on to save thousands of American and British lives by slamming his legendary Third Army across France and into Germany faster than anyone had ever imagined was possible.

Patton wasn't much on tact, but he understood that winning wars meant hurting people and breaking things. By driving his men to the limit, the men of Patton's Third Army killed, wounded or took prisoner nearly 1.5 million German troops, at a cost in Americans killed, wounded or missing of less than one-tenth of that number.

* * *

The forced resignation of Adm. Richard Macke, the highest ranking officer in the Pacific region, over an admittedly stupid but off-hand gaffe over the Okinawan rape trial, demonstrates conclusively that the U.S. Armed Services have now reached a point where the guidon of command is awarded not to the best fighters in the officer corps, but to the politest conversationalists.

The slightest trace of boot polish in an officer's mouth can now negate 30 years of accomplishments in readiness, administration, supply, maintenance and even in the crucible of battle itself.

Confirmation hearings for senior military posts rarely center these days on readiness reports, but seem all to often to degenerat to investigations of peripheral issues that have nothing to do with fighting and winning wars.

Adm. Frank Kelso was brought down over the drunken behavior of lieutenants at "Tailhook." Adm. Charles Larsen was raked over the coals for an off-color joke at at a staff meeting. The entire Navy will cease operations this month over the conduct of one drunken petty officer on an airplane. Gen. Carl Mundy, the former commandant of the Marine Corps, had his heels locked together over his 'insensitive' proposal to increase Marine readiness and cost-effectiveness by barring married recruits.

And last year, Adm. Macke was awarded his last post after Adm. Stanley Arthur was forced to withdraw his name from consideration because he had the moral backbone to refuse to award pilot's wings to a woman who had failed flight school, but appealed on the grounds of sexual harrassment.

By doing so, Arthur may have saved an aircraft and a life, but sacrificed his distinguished career on the altar of political correctness.

Increasingly, it seems that promotions in the senior ranks are awarded as if there were some other mission in mind - one having more to do with pleasing the core constituencies of politicians and catering to the equal-opportunity bean counters.

Good combat leaders can seem callous and insensitive and develop a black sense of humor. In the long run, though, we remember officers for their success on the battlefield, not for their sensitivity or tact. We pay them to win, not to charm.

We are losing som of our best officers to the "sensitivity" feeding frenzy, and many more fighters in the less senior ranks are reading the writing on the wall and getting out.

We need to promote the Col. Pattons and Cmdr. Halseys of today. Not sack them.

Or mark my words: We will pay the price in blood.

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