"The Military Tradition"

Columbia, South Carolina | October 26, 1972

Great military expenditures do not make a nation strong. Sophisticated technology does not make a nation impregnable. A weighty and deceptive military bureaucracy does not make a nation secure. These did not make France secure -- they do not make America secure now.

I come to South Carolina as a man from Maryland whose grandfather rode and fought with Jeb Stuart at the Battle of Gettysburg and later fought as a V.M.I. cadet in the Battle of Newmarket. From David Shriver in the Revolution to Admiral Winfield Scott Schley in the Spanish American War and Admiral Lynde McCormick in World War II, my family has long been proud to serve in military life.

I come as one who enlisted in the United States Navy in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, who served proudly under combat conditions for the duration of the war against Germany and Japan.

I come as the Vice Presidential running mate of one of the heroes of World War II, a winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. During 35 combat missions against Germany, through some of the heaviest flak in history, George McGovern piloted a B-24 bomber. Three times he brought his crippled and endangered plane home to crash landings, once after a direct hit, saving the lives of his crew.

I come here to speak about the military tradition. Its erosion during the last decade…the necessity to restore that tradition now.

"Duty, Honor, Country" --these are the motto of West Point. They are the values embodied in our military since the days when, short of equipment but long on spirit, the men of Lexington and the men of Concord fired "shots heard round the world."

A decade ago, General Douglas MacArthur expressed these beliefs on his last visit to West Point:

"Duty - Honor - Country," he told the cadets, "those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn...you are the ones who are trained to fight; yours is the profession of arms -- the will to win...the very obsession of your public service must be Duty - Honor – Country."

Often this nation has been poor in arms, but rich in spirit. While Tories danced in opulence in Philadelphia, Washington's men wrapped their feet in newspapers at Valley Forge. -- Most of the wealthy, in those days, preferred the status quo, just as our modern Tories do today. .

In 1941, half the American fleet went down at Pearl Harbor. Men trained for the infantry with wooden guns. For months -- at Bataan, at Corregidor, on Wake Island -- only a fighting spirit carried us.

Today, by contrast, we are the richest nation in the world in weaponry. We can destroy the planet nine times over. But on all sides, our military men warn us that we are weak in spirit -- that the armed forces face a crisis of morale -- that we are insecure, not because of lack of armaments, but because of lack of heart.

Barbara Tuchman, the distinguished historian of wars in Europe and Asia, recently wrote that "There is nothing the professional officers want more than to get' the ground soldiers out of Vietnam as quickly as possible" because "morale is so near ruin."

General Matthew Ridgeway said one year ago: "Not before in my lifetime -- and I was born in the Army in the 19th Century -- has the Army's public image suffered so many grievous blows and fallen to such low esteem in such wide areas of our society."

Contrast these two mottoes written on the helmets of our soldiers.

In World War II, Colonel "Paddy" Flint died leading his men among the hedgerows of France. On the helmets of his men was chalked: "AAA-O" ("Anything - anytime - anywhere - bar nothing").

In Vietnam, another Colonel led his troops from a helicopter circling overhead out of rifle range. His men chalked U U U U on their helmets: ("We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful.")

What caused this alarming change in the mottoes these Americans scrawled on their helmets? Let us look to history for an explanation.

Ours is not the first nation to fall prey to illusions. In 1939, the French Government boasted of the most sophisticated defensive system in the world: costly, systematically organized, elaborate, ingenious, full of the latest gadgets of detection and defense. It was called the Maginot Line. The French Chiefs of Staff told the French people that their tax dollars had purchased "impregnability." The French people thought they were secure with their highly sophisticated weapons and defense. But the German army outflanked the "impregnable" Maginot Line and Paris fell less than two weeks after the Germans entered France.

Great military expenditures do not make a nation strong. Sophisticated technology does not make a nation impregnable. A weighty and deceptive military bureaucracy does not make a nation secure. These did not make France secure -- they do not make America secure now.

Two great perils now threaten to kill our military tradition. One is Vietnam. The other is the growth of fat, waste and bureaucracy in our Defense Establishment since 1965.

These perils, these diseases, can destroy us from within. Both must be overcome.

George McGovern and I are pledged to resist and conquer these growths. We will restore the military tradition of Francis Marion, Wade Hampton, Robert E. Lee and George Marshall. But to do so, we must root out the causes of the decay.

One of the first causes contributing to the present plight of the military has been the failure of our civilian leadership.

We the people, through our leaders, told men to go to Vietnam and help stave off a communist invasion in a nation vital to the security of the United States.

Instead, our men found themselves in the midst of a civil war, the outcome of which they could postpone but not control, and fighting for a government whose security bears practically no relation to our national security.

We the people, through our leaders, told our men that they were fighting to defend democratic liberties. Our men found a dictatorial and corrupt regime, indifferent to the sufferings of its own women and children, maintained in office by foreign intervention.

We the people, through our leaders, told our men to engage in "counter-insurgency," "pacification," and "search and destroy."

Our men found themselves in a dirty war, against an enemy almost impossible to find, supporting a regime which brutalized, punished and harassed its own people, uprooted its people and destroyed their crops, conducting a war the impact of which was felt mostly by helpless civilian populations, shelled and heinously treated by all sides.

Before the war, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and others advised our civilian leaders not to become bogged down in a ground war in Asia. General Ridgeway gave the same advice.

And what were the costs of Vietnam to the military tradition?

The costs to the concept of duty were immense. There was disobedience of orders, as when General Lavelle ordered 28 unauthorized bombing missions, and his Chief of Staff refused to accept responsibility for these unconscionable actions of his subordinate; and young men, with their lives before them, set down in an uncertain, hostile environment, who sometimes violated the rules of war.

The costs of honor were immense: falsified "body counts"; false battlefield reports; false recommendations for medals -- so in one year 50 of the 57 Generals serving in Vietnam received Distinguished Service Medals, most without ever facing combat.

The costs to country were also immense. The military tradition of the United States was linked to a corrupt dictator named Thieu; our national leaders told less than the truth to our people; and in world opinion, the United States military tradition has suffered an unprecedented loss of respect.

George McGovern and I will end this war in Vietnam and the damage it has done to the military. We will end the American involvement in Vietnam, as decisively as the French ended their involvement in Vietnam in 1954. We could have ended our involvement long ago, had it not been for General Thieu.

Then we will turn our attention to the long-term perils to the military tradition. Consider these serious symptoms of disease in our fighting forces:

  • In 1968, the desertion rate was 15 in every 1000 men. In 1971, the desertion rate was 74 in every 1000 men. A five-fold increase in desertion.
  • In 1967, the AWOL rate was 57 in every 1000. In 1971, the AWOL rate was 177 in every 1000. A three-fold increase in AWOL.
  • In 1969, 12,000 official incidents of drug use were recorded. In 1971, the official number had risen to 20,000. Senator Cranston has testified that the number of drug users in the Army ranges from 50,000 to 400,000. At least a two or three-fold increase in drugs.
  • Court martial convictions for insubordination and mutiny have gone up every year and have almost doubled since 1968 -- from 230 to over 450 in 1971.
  • Fragging incidents have multiplied from 126 in 1969 to 425 in 1971, a three-fold increase. 78 combat leaders have been killed and over 600 wounded.
  • In 1961, 33% of ROTC officers remained in the service; in 1971, only 20% remained. Almost a 30% drop.
  • In 1966, 50% of personnel remained in the Army; in 1969, the number had fallen to 30%. Almost a 50% drop.
  • According to a study at West Point, 45% of the class of '71 plan to resign from the Army before 20 years, and even worse, 40% would not enter West Point again.

This low morale in the military is a disaster for the military. Even more, it is a disaster for the nation. Our armed forces are weaker in spirit than at any time in thirty years. But the long-range problem for our military is not only morale, it is also bureaucracy.

Consider these facts:

  • We now have some two million men under arms, but we pay salaries to more Generals, Colonels, Admirals, Captains and Commanders than we did in 1945 when we had twelve million men under arms. That's not acceptable; it's waste.
  • Nixon has created an Army with one commissioned or non-commissioned officer for every enlisted person, that is, one supervisor for every worker! That's not acceptable; that's waste.
  • Nixon has allowed the ratio of Admirals and Generals to enlisted men to increase from 1 to 2900 in 1969 to 1 to 1800 now.
  • There are too many separate headquarters operations with layer on layer of command personnel. We pay $3.8 billion a year to support headquarters at corps levels and above.
  • Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque (retired) reports: "We have now assigned to top level headquarters enough (support) manpower to man nine additional Army divisions." That's not acceptable. That's waste.
  • According to General James Gavin, fighting efficiency has sunk to abysmally low levels: Since 1964, Army manpower per division is up 19% per division, and Navy manpower per ship is up 28% -- with no increase at all in the ratio of combat to support personnel. That's not acceptable. That's waste and fat and bureaucracy.
  • Only 11 men in 100 in the Navy now have "combat skills." That's not acceptable.
  • Only 5 men in 100 in the Air Force now have "combat skills." That's not acceptable.

In Vietnam, only 15% of our men were combat troops -- the other 85% were support troops. The huge general headquarters near Saigon, complete with golf course, is one of the largest buildings in all of Vietnam. In France, General Matthew Ridgeway set up headquarters in a tent.

At the end of World War II, there were five lobbyists from the Pentagon propagandizing Congress. Is it necessary now for the Pentagon to have 300 lobbyists selling the Pentagon?

The largest private lobbyist of 1967 spent $277 thousand on Capitol Hill. That year, the Pentagon spent $4 million to sell its point of view. Fifteen times as much as any private group. What do we have in the Pentagon now? Generals -- or budgeteers?

Today, no one doubts the technical proficiency or the fiscal and productive capacity of the United States. What many seasoned officers show most concern about is the spirit of our people and our men.

Last year, I visited David Ben Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel. He told me about the military advice he received in 1948 from the U.S. Chiefs of Staff and the British High Command. Each set of expert military planners brought in maps, charts and lengthy analyses of the Israeli and Arab military capabilities.

Both sets of planners told him the Arabs had overwhelming military superiority. Both advised him not to declare for independence. They predicted the infant State of Israel would be overwhelmed by superior manpower and munitions.

Immediately, however, after Ben Gurion returned home, he declared Israel's independence and was triumphant. I asked him what decided him to act.

His eyes flashed. "We knew one thing the generals didn't know;" he said, "we counted on the Israeli spirit."

"Spirit" -- far more than gadgets or weaponry -- distinguishes nation from nation, army from army, group from group.

The responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief, as President, is to inspire his people -- to lead them in so just a cause that they will gladly spend their energies; if necessary, give their lives.

No such vision flows today from the White House. George McGovern and I do not indict primarily the military for the loss of morale and the bureaucracy in which it is entrapped. We indict Richard Nixon. Yet, he is not the only one to blame. Barbara Tuchman has recently pointed out that in the military tradition of the United States, every citizen is responsible for our military actions.

Our soldiers cannot be made the scapegoats of political policies that do not work. Each of us is responsible.

For without us, there is no military. Our armed forces are an extension of ourselves. The glory, or the shame, rest on all of us.

We are responsible -- because each family in the United States, on the average, pays $1,200 every year into our military establishment.

Of our 435 Congressional districts, 363 have military installations or defense industrial establishments within them.

The armed forces, then, are not separate from ourselves. We look at them -- "and they are us."

In 1777, Benjamin Franklin wrote: "The cause of America is the cause of all mankind."

Americans must see that cause reflected in the character and performance of their Commander-in-Chief. For if in him we do not see, as in a mirror, the best that we can be, we are likely to do the least that we can get away with.

If we fail to see in him the ideals of this nation -- if instead, we see evasiveness; secretiveness; lack of candor; the signs of spreading corruption; and cronyism -- then we see, in dismay, only what is inferior in America, not what is best.

If integrity does not prevail in the offices of the Commander-in-Chief, it cannot long survive in the junior grades. If originality and insight are crushed in the highest ranks, they cannot long endure in the lowest. These good qualities have not yet died. It was an enlisted man who reported the truth about My Lai. It was an airman who reported the truth about falsified bombing reports.

  1. In this spirit, George McGovern and I will secure the rights of every man and woman in the Army. We will revise the system of military justice. An American Army must be the Army of the free, as well as the Army of the brave.
  2. The American people deserve to know the truth.
    --We will release the Peers report on war crimes and the Fitzhugh report of 1970 on the professionalism of the military.
  3. We will widen the military's traditional search for persons of talent and merit from every ethnic group and every race, to serve at every level of the officer corps.
  4. We will revise the bureaucratic practices that favor lobbyists and empire-builders who squabble over dollars; we will favor men of combat skills and professional military knowledge.
  5. We will dismantle the elaborate, byzantine portion of the senior staff, whose major purpose is the development of political support for big budgets.
  6. We will insist on discipline and justice:
    --The respect of men for their officers, and of officers for their men;
    --The fair treatment of prisoners;
    --Professional coolness in moments of highest stress. We need these ancient disciplines -- ever old and ever new -- in the Army and throughout our nation's life.
  7. We will halt wasteful inter-service rivalry and reward objective professional judgment.
  8. We will build a military staff and volunteer soldiery accustomed to frugal management: lean, qualified, tough and spirited.

Here in South Carolina, I emphasize one other aspect of our overall approach to the military: We pledge no loss of jobs. We pledge the full assistance of the federal government in bringing in new industries. We pledge fully designed and fully funded programs of conversion. Under our budget, every man and woman in the United States who wants to work will work. Jobs will be the first priority of our Administration.

The reforms George McGovern and I propose have been invited and proposed by many in our military service. They are eager for these reforms to be begun.

They know that what we propose will restore our military tradition and make our military forces the most spirited in the world.

With them, we believe that a restored military tradition will once again nourish leaders admired by our whole society.

We believe that a restored military tradition will be a model of openness, sacrifice and honor to nourish the ideals of our nation.

We believe that a restored military tradition will inspire armed forces in which our military men and women -- and their children -- will be proud to serve.

We believe that a restored military tradition will provide for us our surest way, in an uncertain world, to heed the cry of saintly men: "No more war. War, never again."