It's a war for soul of U.S. military


In war, the moral is to the physical (material) as three is to one.

% -- Napoleon Bonaparte THERE'S A WAR going on for the heart and soul of America's post-Cold War military. The tragic suicide of Admiral J. M. Boorda is just the latest and most public skirmish in this struggle.

Arrayed on one side are the materialists, also referred to as technocrats. This group is composed of Cold War careerists from the Pentagon's E-ring, and their defense contractors and congressional allies. They believe that any problem with the U.S. military can, and must, be overcome with more of the taxpayers' tithe. Their solution to security issues is to acquire new systems or to create new units (force structure). They always seek the more expensive answers, i.e., more defense pork, more jobs for an already inflated number of generals and admirals.

The materialists seek to avoid accountability for their misuse of the nation's treasure and their poor stewardship of the lives of young Americans entrusted to their care. The materialists' mantra is "trust us."

Opposing them is the insurgent force, the moralists. They see war in its fundamental essence as a contest of human wills, not decided by whose weapons have the latest embedded software, but by the side with the hottest fires burning in the bellies of its warriors. They believe that the bond between soldiers and leaders is a sacred one, deserving the highest respect, and not to be abused by the vaingloriously ambitious, the greedy and the amoral.

The moralists demand that accountability be exacted from those given trillions of public dollars to spend, and millions of lives to play with. This demand, startling in its simplicity, strikes craven fear into the hearts of the materialists, who prefer to labor behind locked vaults where their work is labeled "classified in the interest of national defense."

The forces most often employed by the materialists are brigades of sleek, well-fed Washington lobbyists selling Cold War weapons no longer needed. They are reinforced by platoons of be-ribboned flag officers, many of whom in retirement will metamorphose into the same Gucci-wearing fat cats.

The senior military technocrats are in turn reinforced by battalions of ambitious staffers. One astute observer of the Pentagon wrote that many congressional staffers routinely refer

to these uniformed briefing officers as "designated liars."

Some of the most effective fighters for the moralists serve in the ranks of the materialists -- in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and, yes, even wearing Gucci loafers as they wine and dine key Congressmen.

Many of the moralists are relatively junior active-duty officers who serve as military assistants to senior technocrats and provide inside intelligence on the materialists' battle plans. Just as importantly, these officers also report the personal peccadilloes of the high brass, who fear public disclosure above all things.

The moralists' principal weapons are the pen, and increasingly, television sound bites, as much as they dislike television's limitations. Many of the issues are complex and even arcane. They'd like to have 7,000-word articles but settle for 1,200 words because the shorter one will reach many more citizens. They'd like to have a 60-minute documentary on PBS' "Frontline," but settle for 12 minutes on ABC's "20/20" (with more than 20 million viewers).

The materialists argue that these military and national security issues are just too complex, and can be understood only by a select few. Refuting this elitist view, the noted Prussian military philosopher, Karl von Clausewitz, said nearly 200 years ago: "War has its own vocabulary, it does not have its own logic."

The moralists contend that the ordinary citizen can comprehend these issues once they are translated from Pentagonese into plain English. The moralists are dedicated to having these decisions made by those who pay the taxes and send their sons and daughters to serve -- and perhaps die -- in uniform.

And that gets us to the media where most of the fighting between materialists and the moralists takes places.

The publicity given Admiral Boorda's tragic suicide speaks volumes about how little today's journalists understand military matters.

Boorda incorrectly, and I believe intentionally, wore the two Combat "V's" since at least 1985. Yet little attention has been given the issue of how we select and promote the most senior officers within the military services. How could Boorda's

conduct, punishable by court-martial, escape his seniors' notice? How could someone, who advised the president on the most sensitive matters of war and peace, have such mental instability and yet go unnoticed?

On Thursday, May 16, the same day that Boorda took his life, another event took place that potentially had far more importance to the future of the U.S. military.

A class-action suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of thousands of former Air Force officers who had been victims of illegally conducted promotion boards that ignored very specific federal law. This law specified that fairness and due process were at the heart of the Air Force promotion system. It was willfully violated over a period of decades.

According to conservative estimates, the taxpayers may write a $5 billion check to compensate these officers fairly for their lost pay and benefits, including adjustments to their retirement pay. And, given several similar individual cases currently progressing through the Court of Claims, there is serious reason to believe the class action suit will succeed.

The mind boggles. How could senior officers -- who had sent some of these same subordinates on deadly missions -- treat them in such a patently unfair and illegal fashion? And how could they do so in such a premeditated manner over an extended period?

The moralists will argue that rather than stick the taxpayer with the bill, the Air Force should pay it by taking money from bloated budgets for unneeded hardware. The materialists will argue that this injustice should be written off as another cost of winning the VTC Cold War and that these whiners should not be given a dime.

And the kicker? Those senior officers and their civilian co-conspirators, in the Pentagon and Congress, who were directly responsible for this atrocity will continue to draw their pay from the public trough. In many cases, the retired culprits will continue to receive generous pensions that in some cases now exceed $100,000 per year.

This is the military story I had hoped would be news on Friday, May 17.

Instead, the senior Navy admiral gave his service more negative publicity than even Tailhook garnered at the height of the media's feeding frenzy over that misreported and shameful episode.

As with most insurgent campaigns, the moralists do not expect a single, defining battle to result in victory. Their protracted war has many skirmishes. It has few quick, major battlefield successes.

Besides, the moralists know most wars are lost, not won. The materialists don't have a clue; they've been too busy dreaming up fantastical rationalizations for the next generation of multi-billion-dollar and unnecessary post-Cold War toys.

The day-to-day reality of the moralists' guerrillas fight is a steady grind of study and observation while they wait for the materialists to make mistakes.

The materialists' most common error is to lie, and to lie badly and often. The moralists seek to expose these likes to a largely apathetic public that mistakenly assumes that a watchdog press and a vigilant Congress are guarding the public interest.

Too often they aren't, but the moralists are.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Roger Charles is a reporter for the National Security News Service in Washington. His reportorial efforts raised questions about combat insignia worn by Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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