America has lost a hero.
It was with tremendous sadness that I discovered today the online obituary of David Hackworth, Colonel, United States Army (Retired). This tireless crusader for justice, fairness, and the truth on behalf of those who currently serve or have ever served in the uniform of the United States, died in Mexico last Wednesday at age 74 of complications from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during his many tours of duty in Vietnam. The loss of this brave soldier-turned-crusading-journalist has created a void simply impossible to appreciate. Never, in this humble writer’s opinion, has anyone else in contemporary America done more to further the truth or fight harder against the crimes of the Military-Industrial-Corporate Complex (MICC) than this amazing individual.
Anyone who has ever read “Hack’s” regular columns (for the time being still available in the archives of his website, Soldiers for the Truth (SFTT) ) will recognize that this life-long soldier lived for one mission: to expose, for the benefit of all Americans, the greed, corruption, and political demagoguery that have turned the American armed forces, once a proud, honorable institution dedicated to protecting America and its freedoms, into a corrupt, broken machine dedicated mainly to furthering the political interests and careers of the ruling class and enriching well-healed interests of the MICC, all at the expense of the common Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine.
Hack saved his juiciest vitriol for those generals, admirals, and senior civilian leaders who blatantly and arrogantly looked after their own careers and selfish interests with total disregard for or outright antipathy to the welfare and safety of “the grunts on the ground.” He even reserved a special term for these loathsome creatures: “perfumed princes.” Having seen what he thought was the nadir of the military’s capabilities and behavior during Vietnam, Hack was more horrified to discover that the army he so loved and had so faithfully served had learned nothing from the disaster of Vietnam or subsequent campaigns during the 1980s and 90s and had degenerated into new lows of politicization and chaos. One theme ran through all of his work: get back to the basics. Train every man and women in an army uniform to be first and foremost an infantryman, a true fighter and get back to the tough discipline and training that builds an effective force that can deploy and fight with minimal loss of American lives. He also called repeatedly for an end to the use of the military as a global policeman and social worker, roles for which neither America nor its armed forces were created or suited.
He was among a handful of old soldiers uniquely qualified to express this viewpoint. Orphaned as an infant and raised by a grandmother who regaled him with tales of America’s military heroism, Hack gained his first exposure to the Army by shining soldiers’ shoes at an army camp in Southern California just as World War II broke out. By age fifteen he had lied about his age to get into the merchant marines, then into the Army. Rising through the ranks, he received a battlefield commission during the Korean War and served for a total of five years in Vietnam, where he won multiple awards for bravery and heroism.
Alas, it was his experiences in Vietnam, with its lies, politics, and betrayals, that led to his resignation from the Army in the early 1970s as the war ended. Although he had been one of the youngest men ever promoted to the rank of full Colonel, and with an impressive combat record that would have put him on the fast track to General, Hack had too much integrity to play the Army’s political games. After expatriating to Australia for several years he returned to the States and began writing regular editorials on military affairs. His book About Face, published in the mid 1980s, is a stunning expose of the fundamental failures of leadership, military and civilian, that led to the defeat in Vietnam. I never had the pleasure of meeting Hack, but I know that he profoundly influenced thousands like me who, having served our country, came to realize that things simply had to change and that with enough awareness and support, we can make a difference. All it takes is the courage of our convictions and the willingness to speak out. I have realized too that this lesson can serve any of us who value true freedom, whether or not we have served on behalf of the State. I hope that someone out there will pick up the gun and the colors that our dear friend was forced to lay down and carry on with his mission. It’s just too important to let pass. Rest in peace, fellow soldier.