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Issue Date:  March 31, 2006

Modest cut in arms spending could help solve real problems


Returning home in 1945 after taking part in the grisly business of bombing cities, I was amused to find civilians stalwartly digging victory gardens while holding up bravely “for the Duration” under the burden of sugar and gasoline rationing. You had to love them.

In Europe, at least 50 percent of those killed were civilians (80 percent in wars since then), while back home “A” stickers on car windows were emblematic of the American’s worst ordeal -- during the Duration.

The Duration -- shorthand for “until the war is over” -- was the buzzword, and civilians made adjustments to compensate for the shortage of such resources as chocolate, cigarettes, rubber and steel, which were funneled into the vast war machine.

Sixty years later, military spending is firmly embedded in our culture. For at least four decades, the United States has spent $1 billion a day -- excluding the costs of the Iraq war -- on armaments. That’s $30 million every hour.

Things change, sometimes swinging 180 degrees. The country’s “duration” now should refer to other struggles that, taken in the aggregate, could exceed the challenges of the so-called good war. There are single hurricanes affecting the entire country and other manifestations of global warming, devastating earthquakes and an approaching flu pandemic that could take millions of lives. Until these and other problems related to environmental collapse are reduced to manageable size and the future of homo sapiens is more secure, our talent and money should match the challenge -- for the duration. The entrenched military regularly manufactures war with small nations. We can do without this blatant grab for resources, at least until more critical problems are addressed.

How many $1 billion bombers do we need for destroying donkey barns in places like Afghanistan? How many more nuclear devices should we add to the thousands in our storage sheds? How many more nuclear subs? Carriers? How many of our 725 bases worldwide are really needed?

I might have touched a nerve, but I have hardly touched the surface in military waste.

If the redundant military services cannot do without a third of their generous budget to help solve problems of higher priority, then the managers of the 125 accounting systems at the Pentagon should get together at a working lunch and see what they can come up with. Commander-in-chief, where are you?

A military veteran and former newspaper reporter, Tom Brubeck is retired from information work with the federal government.

National Catholic Reporter, March 31, 2006

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