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Steel My Soldiers Hearts

This paper is a review of the book Steel My Soldiers' Hearts written byDavid H. Hackworth in 2002 and issued by Touchstone Publishing. The book is written in genre of military history. Using the interviews with fighters from Hardcore Battalion, Hackworth takes the booklovers along on their secret missions, helicopter strikes, and inside dilemma of command politics. With his book, Hackworth puts the fellowship of the 4/39th into pantheon of the country’s most heroic combatants.


Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts consists of 441 pages and includes 25 chapters. It is concluded by the epilogue in which Hack discusses the parallels of the kind of fighting required in Vietnam and the fighting the USA has to prepare for the current military challenges that range from the Black Hawk Down tragedy in Somalia to 9/11 and its aftermath in Afghanistan. He declares that his approaches and principles still apply nowadays in a period where the foes of this nation refuse to face the USA in a traditional war with obviously defined battle lines. The book also embraces glossary and an acknowledgment to all contributors, who helped Hack and also his wife and co-contributor Eilhys England in collecting numerous interviews and eyewitness reports to make this thorough and breathtaking account possible.   

Steel My Soldiers Hearts is the fascinating account of what it is like to command the battalion in Vietnam. The initial part of the book is a turnaround management book as it concentrates mainly on Hackworth’s attempts to transform one of the weakest battalions into one of the army’s most effectual. Basically, Colonel Hackworth was ordered to lead an extremely weak battalion in January, 1969. By March of the same year, the battalion evolved in a strong, powerful, combating machine. They recognized themselves as the Hardcore. Colonel trained his people to struggle like the enemy, with the help of guerilla tactics (Hackworth, 2002). He earned the respect of his soldiers by leading them by own example. As Hackworth explains: “From Leonidas to Alexander the Great, the essence of leadership has at all times been to set the example…. The finest way to get the message across is by living as the soldiers do, and always, always setting an example” (Hackworth, 2002).

The interesting thing was that Hackworth’s approaches are smart and sensible rather than revolutionary. He starts off with re-branding battalion to give people an image of themselves to be proud of. More significantly, he never stops at the re-branding. He weeds out bad officers; sets up on the job education to evolve good officers; does not hesitate to be in the thick of the action with his men when required; outlines manageable and clear objectives; and does everything possible to make sure his soldiers have the resources they need. He does all the things most workers expect from a good manager but do not often get, and he does all that his men do in the middle of a warzone.

The following part of the book discusses the operations as the soldiers try to use guerilla approach and abandon old WWII tactics, which did not apply to the guerilla war they were faced with (Hackworth, 2002). Hackworth depicts really awful things that occurred during the wartime. He also touches on why he thinks the USA lost the Vietnam War even though the US had better firepower, such as bad leadership and the fact that American soldiers did not have the same compelling reasons to continue this war.

Hackworth also pays attention to the significance of putting the requirements of his fighters first. He asserts that the command organization during Vietnam was flawed and backward. The ones making decisions were the people furthest from the battles. Thus, Hackworth made many decisions to refuse or change his orders to defend and preserve his battalion. Definitely, this caused him trouble with the superiors, but Hackworth would at all times protect himself by insisting on protecting the lives of people under his command. Ultimately, Hackworth triumphed as he advocated the ideas he believed in, and opposed to back down from doing what was correct. This in turn raised confidence and also morale of the Hardcore.

One more significant theme addressed in the book is the dissimilarity between servant leadership and leadership that wishes to exalt itself. Hackworth was continually in conflict with the superior officers who were more interested in enlarging the victims’ count of enemy and becoming popular in the US Press than preserving the troops alive. In some cases, generals would even take over the battle in the effort to claim credit for the victory, just to create disorder that frequently resulted in pointless loss of lives. Then, the generals would lie to conceal own mistakes, and in some cases even correct the figures of a battle to make themselves looks like heroes (Hackworth, 2002). This upset the soldiers, and naturally angered Hackworth and other commanders.

In his approach to telling the account the author does not use the most polite words. He offers the genuine estimations of lacking discipline, weaknesses, and incompetent subordinates, officers, and leaders. At the same time, he is generous in the praise of people demonstrating exhibiting leadership and tactical savvy and care for the troops. The story is told from Hack’s perspective, but filled with anecdotes and quotes from people, who formed his battalion.

However, Hack never relies completely on his capability to copy others’ words alone; the book is packed with plenty of first-hand chances Hack undertook to lead from the front. Time and time again, he reveals himself to hostile fire and hazardous conditions, to remain consistent to his internal character and to win the morale, support, and respect of his fighters. And the obvious outcomes are bitter-sweet, as is so much of his military experience: it pays him great dividends with his men, but eventually his brass disapproves to rotate him away from his battalion, and away from the familiarity of front-line combat.


The author describes how he turned absolutely unready soldiers into successful force mostly through the power of his tough character. "My idea was not to spoon-feed these people," Hackworth asserts, "but to make soldiers as hard as steel, deadly in the kill-or-be-killed trade" (Hackworth, 2002). And he is not shy about mentioning names: he praises the officers who assisted him and also names craven superiors who stood in his way. The outcome is a readable, courageous tale, filled with clever concise prose and overflowing with the reconstructed dialogues.

This work, at its heart, is a concise retelling of a transformation of demoralized and hopeless fighters, thrust into the circumstances they cannot control yet have to master if they wish to survive. Along the way, one genius leader enters their lives and together they are overcoming all awful situations. In the process, they fight to make their daily sacrifices significant; even if it is only appreciated and remembered by the soldiers with whom they serve and fight to live another day and to avoid becoming Vietnam War statistic. 

The loss of lives on both sides is really catastrophic. After reading this book it is easy to understand how much stress and responsibility are thrust in the hands of young fighters in the hostile territory. The USA asked and continues asking so much of young men hardly out of their teens. There are actually many lessons to be obtained from Hackworth’s story.

Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts is, in fact, so compelling as its narrative is far more interesting than any fictional war movie; the action inside more than 400 pages is a genuine story, which never tries to gloss over the inner intangibilityof armed conflict. Rather, it investigates the conditions and lives caught up therein. It retells, frequently with the heartbreaking clarity, the dramas encountered; yet, the book also celebrates many victories and successes, even the small and apparently insignificant to the rest of the globe at that period of time. Steel My Soldiers Hearts reminds the booklover that so many people died to further the country’s agenda in a time where it was neither socially nor politically correct. Nevertheless, the book does not linger on these facts; it simply asks the readers to remember and to honor the nation’s warriors and to look at this account as something, which transcends national interests and political agendas.

First impression of the book is really complex. The author does not use the most polite words, which is especially unexpected to read in era of overreaching political correctness. However, the story itself makes the readers to become the fans of author’s work. This is the new perspective on the living of Colonel Hackworth; it describes an amazing soldier and splendid, effectual military leader.

In spite of numerous dramas and tragedies depicted in the book, Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts is an easy read; the pages almost turn themselves and the book is irresistible to put down. Indisputably, this work makes a breathtaking addition to any military enthusiast’s library; however, it is also a must-read for any person, who wishes to better acknowledge how combat influences usual soldier-citizens and how even the hopeless fighters, given appropriate leadership, belief in their abilities, and self-confidence, may rise to overcome the apparently insuperable.

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