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Hornberger v. The Brass


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Reader Responses |  Jacob Hornberger vs. the Brass |  Jacob Hornberger’s VMI Valedictory Addresss [1972]

From Colonel #1 (Pentagon) to Hornberger:

Sorry, but I don’t find your Part 2 article or your note below convincing or acceptable.

You didn’t limit your comments to the treatment of POW’s, you stated:

“In the four years I spent at Virginia Military Institute and the eight years I spent in the Army Reserves as an infantry officer, I couldn’t help but notice the marked difference between West Point officers and VMI officers. At the risk of being somewhat judgmental, the West Pointers were, by and large, a lower-caliber type of officer than the VMI men. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed this: At infantry school at Ft. Benning, more than one NCO commented to me that he’d much rather serve under a VMI officer than a West Point officer.”

Take my word for it, West Pointers are taught from Day 1 that they are duty bound to disobey illegal or immoral orders.

Furthermore, you chose to discuss sexual harassment, which I don’t find to be relevant, and ignores the less than stellar record of VMI in the integration of women, several years after the public academies.

I am immensely proud of being a West Point graduate, but I have never worn my class ring since graduation, because I don’t judge officers based on their commissioning source. And I think the response from my friend USMA Cadet Jacob Hina accurately represents the sentiments of those now wearing Cadet Gray in preparation for service to their country. Perhaps you would like to explain your position to my classmate BG Vince Brooks, who you can see daily on TV as the CENTCOM spokesman. Or my classmate COL Ben Hodges, commander 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Or my classmate COL Frank Hudson, a Special Forces officer whose location and activities cannot be divulged. Suggest that you wait to contact these “lower-caliber type” officers after the war.

Your timing is particularly poor given that alumni of our two institutions are currently putting their lives on the line side by side in Iraq. Perhaps you should take a lesson from Stonewall Jackson, who understood the shared values of both institutions. What would be appropriate at this point is not qualification or explanation, but an unqualified apology from you in a public forum.

USMA 1980
Lt. Colonel, Retired
The Pentagon


From Hornberger to Colonel #1:

With all due respect, the issue of treatment of POWs and disobeying immoral and illegal orders is never more timely than during war. And this includes both the situation at Guantanamo, where the Pentagon is now threatening to send Iraqi POWs, and the two homicides of Afghan POWs in Afghanistan.

The only way that wrongdoing of this nature is going to stop is when one officer says “No,” followed by a second, and a third…. One way is make it stop from the top, such as at the Pentagon, and another way is to make it stop from the bottom up.

I didn’t discuss sexual harassment in my article. I discussed rape. There’s a difference.

One of the things that was inculcated into me at VMI was never apologize for standing up for your convictions and beliefs. You should feel free, however, to convey any of my sentiments in these matters to any or all of your associates in the Pentagon. You might also mention my fervent opposition to our soldiers once again being sent to fight and die in a worthless and ignoble cause–and this time, an illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional war of aggression. A horrible use of American troops but reflective of how little value our much-vaunted political rulers place on the lives of our military personnel.

We can argue all day long about the relative merits of VMI and the military academies, but isn’t that a relatively unimportant side issue, especially compared to the central, important issue: the U.S. government’s current policy of torturing and mistreating prisoners of war and criminal suspects, as detailed in the linked articles in Part 2 of my article? If you don’t mind my asking, what are your perspective and analysis of that matter?


From Colonel #1 to Hornberger:

Since you have not substantively responded to my objections to your original article and your slander of West Point, I am not inclined to stray into other topics at your request. If the subject of your first article is a “relatively unimportant side issue,” why did you write about it?

In my own small way, I am supporting our soldiers, and I find that more deserving of my time.

USMA 1980
Lt. Colonel,Retired
The Pentagon
From Colonel #2 to Hornberger:

You should be ashamed of your despicable comments. I have served shoulder to shoulder with officers from USMA, VMI, Citadel, Norwich, Texas A&M, and numerous ROTC programs, as well as OCS. Integrity is inculcated in all. I was appalled by your unqualified, ignorant comments.

A “worthless and ignoble cause?” I’d be interested, and perhaps amused by your definition of a worthwhile and noble cause. If the current effort to rid a despot of weapons of mass destruction who has promoted rape, torture and immeasurable suffering as a means to subjugate an entire nation is not worthwhile or noble, what is? Your understanding of the Constitution is suspect. Illegal, immoral? Political rulers? What planet are you on?

My only regret is that ignorance is not a painful malady.

Lt. Colonel–Infantry


From Hornberger to Colonel #2

With all due respect, I heard that nonsense 30 years ago when your heroes Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon sent 58,000 men of my generation to their deaths for another worthless and ignoble cause–along with the lies that helped to justify that war, excuse me, sorry, “police action.” If it hadn’t been for some courageous souls who saw through the lies and forced our rulers to pull our troops out, you people with the worthy and noble causes would still be sacrificing hundreds of thousands more of our men and women for your “worthwhile and noble cause” of preventing the communist dominoes from falling in Southeast Asia, after our forces were attacked at the Gulf of Tonkin, of course.

Surely, you would support another attack on N. Vietnam after the president finishes in Iraq, wouldn’t you? After all, what more worthy and noble cause than to return and free those poor South Vietnamese people from communism! Maybe we ought to begin with bombing Hanoi and mining Haiphong Harbor. What do you think?

Or maybe communism isn’t so bad any more, given that our rulers are forcibly repatriating Cuban refugees into communist tyranny, in the same manner that your hero FDR refused to permit the immigration of German Jews from Nazi tyranny.

Or maybe forcible repatriation is just another one of those worthwhile and noble causes to which you refer, which is maybe why your heroes FDR and Truman repatriated a million anti-communist Russians to Stalin so he could kill them or send them to the Gulag.

Or maybe we can talk about that worthwhile and noble cause of feeding starving people in Somalia for which our rulers sacrificed American GIs. Boy, was their death meaningful.

Or maybe the worthwhile and noble cause of finally ending the scourge of drug supply and drug addiction, once and for all, by invading Panama and capturing Noriega. Now, that was a winner of a worthy and noble cause. And think what a great success it was.

Heck, let’s just go back to World War I, where we can reflect on the sacrifice of tens of thousands of American men to make the world safe for democracy, once and for all, or actually, excuse me, to end all wars forever into the future. Now, there were some meaningful deaths. What more noble and worthwhile cause than that? So what if the war gave rise to the Russian Revolution and the rise of Adolf Hitler–at least it gave us more worthy and noble causes to send our young men to fight and die for –first a hot war against Hitler and then a Cold War against Hitler’s enemy that provided ever-growing budgets for the military-industrial complex. What more worthy and noble cause than that?

Or maybe we can talk about how we sacrificed American men in World War II so that your hero Franklin Roosevelt’s friend and buddy, Joseph Stalin, could end up controlling Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and the rest of Eastern Europe. Now, that’s got to be one of your favorite worthy and noble causes–the Soviet liberation of Eastern Europe, right?

What’s interesting is that I don’t know of one American, including yourself, that for the past 20 years–or however long Saddam has been in power since the CIA helped to put him there–has traveled to Iraq to join the resistance movement to oust him, such as Americans did during the Spanish Civil War. In fact, all I’ve seen is the standard double-crosses that the feds are notorious for, which is one reason that the Iraqis are not greeting our troops with all those rose petals and rice, as our rulers assured our troops would happen. But all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, the cause of “freeing” the Iraqi people becomes of utmost importance in one’s life. Actually though, the true title of the operation should be entitled “Operation Iraqi Welfare,” because, Colonel, that is exactly what it is, not freedom–at least not freedom as the Founders of our nation understood the term. See: https://www.fff.org/comment/com0303w.asp, especially the part about living “the life of the lie.”

The Constitution? Show me, Colonel, where in the Constitution the president is authorized to wage a war without a congressional declaration of war. Or where he has the power to send U.S. troops to their death in an attempt to “free” people in foreign lands. Or to jail people in military brigs or concentration camps for the rest of their lives and prohibit them from communicating with friends, families, and attorney. Or to deliver to weapons of mass destruction to foreign rulers such as Saddam Hussein (yes, I know, just another worthy and noble cause). Or to order the assasination of American citizens traveling abroad on the mere suspicion that they are a “terrorist.”

Thus, spare me, Colonel, the nonsense of how we need to sacrifice our young men and women for these so-called worthwhile and noble causes of yours and, for that matter, sending our young people into situations of “kill or be killed” in an unprovoked war of aggression, inflicting death that will remain embedded in their memory banks until the day they die. It almost reminds me of Operation Showtime in which the feds gassed their own people at Waco and then used incendiary devices and then lied about it, and all in the attempt to save the Branch Davidian children from sex abuse, even though the children were killed in the operation and no one in the federal govt gave a hoot. Yes, I know, don’t tell me–the Waco massacre was just another worthy and noble cause.

Whoever pointed out how the road to hell is paved sure got it right.

Sincerely, Jacob G. Hornberger
The Future of Freedom Foundation


From Colonel #2 to Hornberger:

Rather than address all of your scar tissue, I’ll be succinct. War is never good, or defined purely in terms of right and wrong. However, there are sometimes worse alternatives to war. I happen to think the cause in Iraq is just. History will bear this out.

We clearly are not the World’s police force and there are moral dilemmas around the Globe – Africa, for example. That is why we have a Constitution, and an elected Congress and Commander-in-Chief, to make these difficult decisions on our behalf. Congress in this case gave the President authority to wage war against Iraq. Recall the vote last Fall. The UN also spoke clearly when it approved UN Res 1441. A pivotal moment was 9/11, in terms of redefining the threats we face, and the global reach of terrorism and barbaric despots. You continually refer to our elected officials as “rulers.” Perhaps you missed the High School Civics lessons on the Constitution, the most revered document on the planet, next to the Bible, the Old Testament and the Koran.

Your attempts to define my views are not a very eloquent debate technique. However, I’ll play your silly game and respond in kind. Would you like to defend Kim Jung Il’s repressive regime in nKorea? (He’s the beloved dictator presiding over a country that has gone from a meager industrial society to an agrarian society that cannot feed its own people). How about Pol Pot? Accepting that your premise is correct, and WWI gave rise to Adolph Hitler, was WWII ignoble? I don’t recall defending forced repatriation. You cite the US refusal to accept large numbers of Jews, and yet oppose unilateralism today in Iraq. What about the rest of the world who did nothing to save the Jews? And, shouldn’t we address the root cause rather than the symptoms – totalitarianism, repression and dictatorship? Wouldn’t it be better to destroy the evil regimes so that the conditions for repatriation would not result in the mistakes of the past? Communism is a bankrupt political ideology, so I won’t debate that with you. However, anyone who thinks people would prefer it to representative democracy should have their head examined – you cite Vietnam. Panama was a worthwhile cause, we just need to follow through and replant the seeds of democracy and eradicate drug consumption in our own country.

The war in Iraq is “unprovoked?” Do you really believe that? That’s laughable. And, I do believe the people of Iraq will one day thank us for their liberation, much as oppressed people of other nations have. Here is one reason why we could not idly sit by why a deranged Saddam Hussein or his evil Pig Latin offspring (Uday and Qusay) developed the ability to wreak massive devastation on our society. It’s called Halabja, and it is a gruesome reflection of what Saddam Hussein does to his enemies:

I visited the Kurds in 1996, and I can tell you they would give us the shirts off their backs. As would the majority of the people of Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and for that matter South Korea.

I strongly support your misguided and distorted freedom of expression/speach, however paradoxical your arguments.

Gotta run – duty calls.

Lt. Colonel–Infantry


From Hornberger to Colonel #2

We’re not just talking about the horrors of war. We’re talking about a war of aggression, Colonel. Our nation is waging a war of aggression. Now, you may think that there are all types of good intentions that have motivated the waging of this war, but what you can’t deny is that Iraq never attacked the United States or declared war on the United States. I repeat: a war of aggression.

At the risk of repeating my question, please show me where in the Constitution the federal government is permitted to wage a war of aggression, even in the purported attempt to “liberate” people?

We’re dealing with two separate constitutional issues: One, does the Constitution require a congressional declaration of war before the president can wage war and, two, is the federal government empowered by the Constitution to wage a war of aggression, even one termed “liberation?” even with a congressional declaration of war?

The answer is: The Constitution does require a congressional declaration of war. That’s in fact why Wilson and Roosevelt were required to secure such a declaration before they could wage war. Not that it really matters anyway, given that Bush claims the power to declare and wage war with or without a congresssional resolution or declaration.

And two, the Constitution does not empower the federal government to wage a war of aggression even with a congressional declaration of war.

Your suggestion that the congressional resolution last fall was, in effect, a declaration of war is erroneous. It was instead a (cowardly) delegation of power to the president enabling him to declare war. One big problem, Colonel: Under our system of government, one branch cannot delegate its powers to another branch. For example, as they taught us in those high school civics classes to which you referred, the Congress cannot delegate its law-making powers to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court cannot delegate its judicial powers to the Congress.

The simple fact remains–there is no congressional declaration of war. We weren’t attacked by Iraq. It’s a war of aggression,Colonel, plain and simple.

And please spare me all the bromides about how our rulers are just trying to “liberate” the Iraqi people. For one thing, that bromide didn’t appear until just recently. Don’t forget: the previous bromide of the day was: “We need to disarm Saddam.” The feds couldn’t give a hoot for the well-being of the Iraqi people. After all, don’t forget the cruel and brutal sanctions that have contributed to the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children. Don’t forget Madeleine Albright’s famous statement–that it’s been worth it. Don’t forget the illegal no fly zones in which more Iraqis have been killed, including that teenage boy who had his head chopped off by a missile.

Heck, Colonel, the sad truth is that if you go back all the way to 1991, the feds have killed many more Iraqi people than Saddam has. And the numbers are just piling on now, including the deaths of ordinary Iraqi soldiers.

And please, spare me the bromides of how the U.S. government is devoted to liberating people from tyranny. Don’t you know that the U.S. government loved Saddam–helped put him into power–and gave him weapons of mass destruction so that he could use them against the Iranian people? Why do you think that Bush is so certain that Saddam has chemical weapons? He hasn’t returned everything the feds gave him! Moreover, don’t forget the feds’ support of Osama bin Laden. Or Pervez Masharrif or the other brutal, non-democratically elected rulers, such as the ones in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. And don’t forget the Shah of Iran! The list of cruel and brutal dictators that the feds have embraced is endless, including those in Latin America.

And please spare me the bromides of “supporting the troops” by sending them into to wage a war of aggression supposedly designed to liberate people our government has been killing for more than a decade. As the commanding officer of those young marines or other soldiers that have been killed in Iraq, imagine the following conversation with their parents:

CO: Hello, I’m here to inform you that your son has been killed in the president’s war on Iraq.

Parents: Oh my gosh. He was our only son. Why has the president done this?

CO: He believed it was important to liberate the Iraqi people.

Parents: You mean to say he placed a higher value on the “freedom” of the Iraqi people than on the life of our son?

CO: I wouldn’t exactly put it that way but, yeah, that’s the long and short of it.

And what about those dead Iraqis who have been liberated to Heaven, Colonel? We’re not talking about Global Cop, we’re talking about a Liberator-Destroyer who has sent multitudes of Iraqi people to their deaths in the purported attempt to liberate them. Where is the morality in that? Those people aren’t going to be around to celebrate “victory”? Who is the president to say that their deaths have been worth it for those who have survived? Why do you think the Pope told the president that he would ultimately have to answer to God for the deaths of those people?

And don’t think that the feds hold you soldiers in Korea in any higher esteem. Do you know what they call you all back here in the States? A “tripwire.” That’s right–in a n. Korea attack, we’d be expected to “support the tripwire.” What that means is that all of you serve the purpose of becoming dead sacrificial lambs in order to ensure that the U.S. is once again involved in another land war in Asia to “fight communism.” How’s that for your self-esteem, Colonel–being thought of as a “tripwire”? Rest assured that we libertarians are working hard to withdraw you and the other 37,000 GIs from Korea before that happens.

With respect to those high-school civics classes you referred to–when they talked about a ruler that has the unrestricted power to send an entire nation to war on his own initiative; about the power to round up unlimited numbers of citizens and place them in miltary brigs or concentration camps on a certification of being a “terrorist”; about the power to kill citizens traveling abroad on the mere certification that they are a “terrorist”–well, Colonel, I hate to burst your bubble but that high school civics textbook was describing communist dictators during the Cold War. It’s not supposed to be what America is all about.

It’s always disappointing to find another America who still supports the immoral, destructive, and racist war on drugs. You do realise that that one has been waged for at least 30 years–yes, I know, another worthy and noble cause initiated by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Did you happen to read about that Texas judge who threw out those drug war convictions in Tulia, Texas, a couple of days ago in part because they were racially motivated. Fortunately, there’s still a few judges who aren’t scared to stand up to the president and his worthless and ignoble war on drugs.

Finally, I can’t help but mention how intriguing it is for me whenever interventionists talk about the need to sacrifice American troops in wars against foreign tyranny, they never bring up Joseph Stalin. In fact, have you ever noticed how our rulers always refer to the new enemy of the day as another Adolf Hilter (like they did against Koresch before they liberated the Iraqi, I mean, the Waco children) but never another “Joseph Stalin”? The feds should never have sold out the East Germans and Eastern Europeans to the Soviet Union as part of the Yalta Agreement, and their refusal to negotiate a surrender with Germany that could have saved hundreds of thousands of Jews and all of Germany and Eastern Europe from communist tyranny simply because they thought it important to appease Stalin was disgraceful. But let me just say this: Despite the fact that those people had to suffer under communism for 50 years as a result of their “liberation” from Hitler, I’m happy that U.S. interventionists never bombed them and destroyed them in the attempt to “liberate” them.

Best regards and thanks again for taking the time to share your perspectives with me.

Jacob G. Hornberger
The Future of Freedom Foundation

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Reader Responses |  Jacob Hornberger vs. the Brass |  Jacob Hornberger’s VMI Valedictory Addresss [1972]

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.