COL Hackworth: A Warrior Against Gulf War II
By Ellis Henican
Newsday - 24 January 2003
When war gets as close as this one is, I don't go looking for a dove.
Ramsey Clark, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the Quakers and college professors and European diplomats - I already know where they all stand. I want to do my war talking with a warrior.
A real American military man who fought for his country time and again, a soldier who stood in harm's way as the bullets and bombs flew in, as wars of grave national interest were lost and won.
Get me Hack.
David Hackworth is one of the most celebrated soldiers in modern U.S. history. He joined the merchant marine at 14, the Army at 15, and he's never looked back. He was the youngest U.S. captain in the Korean War, the youngest colonel in Vietnam.
As a soldier and later a war correspondent, he's been on a dozen battlefields, hot and cold. And he never became a Pentagon bureaucrat. Of all the medals that have been pinned to his uniform, it's the Combat Infantryman's Badge he's proudest of.
Now his country is tilting toward war again.
"Having thought long and hard about war with Iraq," Hackworth told me, measuring his words carefully, "I cannot find justification. I don't see a threat. They are not Nazi Germany. This is not the Wehrmacht. In no way does the situation in Iraq affect my nation's security. That is the bottom line of analyzing threats. 'Does this country threaten my country's security?' In this case, absolutely not."
The awesome risks of this war, he said, far outweigh the potential rewards.
"Focus on protecting the American homeland, which is not adequately defended," Hack said. "Nine-eleven proved that. All of the machinations that have gone on since then are more lip service and crowd-pleasing than real. Our borders are still wide open. Our ports are vulnerable, too. And there are plenty of sleeper cells - Middle Eastern terrorists living among us, waiting to do their thing."
Compared to that dark picture, Saddam Hussein should be an afterthought.
"I don't think militarily it will be a big deal to smack this little broken pussycat out of the way," Hackworth said. "Four weeks, he's history. He'll be tacked up on the barracks wall. Iraq is not a tiger that is roaring with nuclear weapons in each paw like North Korea.
"If you want to look at enemies facing our country, No. 1 is international terrorism, the folks that brought us 9/11. No. 2 is North Korea, which has a huge Army, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons - and ability to deliver them. The third is Iran."
But attacking Iraq could cost far more than most American's imagine, Hackworth said. "There's a real possibility we take catastrophic casualties."
With house-to-house combat in Baghdad, he said, the numbers could go a whole lot higher than the 148 battle deaths and 460 battle wounded from the first Gulf War. Higher even than the "160,000 disabled and almost 10,000 dead as a result of Gulf War illness. All of us that were there, we look in the mirror and still wonder if something is going happen to us."
Then there's the troubling question of once in Iraq, how do we ever get out?
"We're still in Japan, Korea and Germany 57 years after World War II," he said. "My guess is at least 60 years" in Iraq, costing as much as $2 trillion to $3 trillion.
And finally, what about all the anti-American sentiment this war will generate? "One and a half billion Muslims, who don't like us anyway. Now they're gonna look and say, 'Here come the crusaders again.'"
From their ranks rise the terrorists of tomorrow.
As he travels across the country, Hackworth told me, the vast majority of military veterans he meets see this war as a rotten idea.
"They've been there," he said. "They know war is not a blood sport, as cable news make it out to be. Cheney and Bush and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld - they've never stood and faced the elephant. These are the people who gush for war."
But don't expect the generals and the admirals to raise their own private doubts.
"Through the long eight-year bloodbath of Vietnam, not one general sounded off and said, 'Bad war, can't win it, let's get out.' They went along to get along. It's true again. The top generals are head-shakers."
As for the public, just watch how quickly the pro-war sentiment will evaporate.
"My parachute brigade was the first to go to Vietnam," Hackworth recalled. "Eighty-five percent of Americans were saying, 'Hey, hey, all the way with LBJ.' We were there a year, shipping body bags back home as fast as we could. Suddenly, the American public, which is so fickle, did a 180. 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?'"
But smart or not, we're going again, this life-long warrior warned, before getting back to his veterans, his bleak scenarios and his battle plans.
Even though the UN inspectors have barely begun their work. Even though containment has been working. Like a battle-sharp soldier, he's seen the pattern before.
"That comes from my experience in barroom fights - sad to say I've had a few - and on the battlefield," Hack said. "When the fist is drawn back and cocked and locked, it generally gets flung."