Part 1: Pose
At that moment I was thinking how I would like to be a fly buzzing around in the command tent, eyeballing the maps, checking the intelligence, finding out what the hell was going on in this weird war. Suddenly my daydreaming was interrupted by the tall, rugged-looking paratrooper standing guard over me.
"Hey, Mr. Reporter," he said, "How come I know your face?"
I was writing notes when he started up. I told him I had written a book about my military experience, that maybe he had seen me on TV.
"Goddamn," he said. "You're Colonel Hackworth. You're the hot shit dude who tells it like it is?"
--From Hazardous Duty, by Col. David Hackworth
On a recent episode of Seinfeld, Elaine hires an aging Army veteran to write for her clothing catalog. The vet wears combat fatigues, black boots, and a thousand-yard stare. He recites his copy in a cigarette rasp: "It's a hot night. The mind races. You think about your knife. The only friend who hasn't betrayed you. The only friend who won't be dead by sunup. Sleep tight, mates, in your Chambray Quilted Nightshirts."
It is a part--the self-regarding, self-parodying military macho man--that might have been modeled on former Col. David Hackworth, not unlike the part he's written for himself as America's ballsiest war reporter, "the hot shit dude who tells it like it is." Hackworth is the type known as a legend in his own mind. The colonel's own press materials assert that he is the "reputed model" for Col. Kurtz, the Marlon Brando character in the movie Apocalypse Now. (In fact, the model for Col. Kurtz is Mr. Kurtz--the character in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, on which the movie is explicitly based.)
Since 1990, Hackworth has been swaggering his way around the world as a military correspondent for Newsweek. He's ubiquitous. Hackworth covered the Gulf War, the Somalia mission, the invasion of Haiti, and the Bosnia deployment. He played a crucial role in the affair of Adm. Jeremy Michael Boorda's suicide. Hackworth writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column, "Defending America." He regularly takes his stone jaw and ramrod back on television shows like Today and Larry King Live. And he just published his fourth book, Hazardous Duty, an account of his six years as a journalist: war stories about war stories. Thanks to six years of globe-trotting and vigorous self-promotion, Hackworth is probably America's most prominent military reporter. He is undoubtedly its most ridiculous. He is an embarrassment to Newsweek, and to American journalism.
Let there be no doubt: David Hackworth is a war hero. In 1944, when he was a 14-year-old orphan, Hackworth faked his way into the U.S. Merchant Marine. At 16, he was a U.S. Army private, fighting Yugoslav partisans on the Italian border. At 20, he won a battlefield commission in Korea, then commanded a savage and brilliant Army Raiders unit that wreaked havoc on the North Koreans and Chinese. When he left the Army in 1971, he was the youngest full colonel in Vietnam, winner of eight Purple Hearts, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation Medals, four Legions of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a chestful of other medals. Today Hackworth calls himself--often--"America's most decorated living soldier." (The Army challenges Hackworth's right to claim this title. For that part of the story,
Parker didn't need to ask twice. Soon, Hackworth was roaring through the Saudi Arabian desert in a four-wheel drive, dolled up in Army camouflage and Kevlar helmet, carrying fake papers and bluffing his way through checkpoints. The 60-year-old expatriate peace activist had been reborn. He was Col. David Hackworth again--a k a "Hack"--part Audie Murphy, part Ernest Hemingway, all man. He had become, he writes without irony, a "truth-teller," and he was armed with "the ultimate bayonet": his pen. When the Gulf War ended, Hackworth kept writing. For the last six years, he has been stabbing the ultimate bayonet into battlefields around the world, inflicting a variety of ugly wounds, most of them on the English language and Newsweek subscribers.
If history's first pass gave Hackworth the tragedies of Korea and Vietnam, of Purple Hearts and dead comrades, the second round has been farce. Hackworth's oeuvre can be roughly divided into two categories: war stories and populist rants. In his telling, he is always the hero of both. Hazardous Duty, which Hackworth co-wrote with Tom Mathews, offers many priceless examples. It is a measure of Hackworth's journalistic talents that he requires a collaborator to write an autobiographical book. It is a measure of Hackworth's jaw-dropping arrogance that he would subtitle the book "America's Most Decorated Living Soldier Reports from the Front and Tells It the Way It Is."