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What if America were not military machine?

I sometimes with I could be a pacifist. I would like to be able to adhere to that centuries-old Catholic doctrine that a Christian cannot subscribe to armed violence to resolve any conflict.

I longed to be a pacifist when I viewed the recent massive violence by U.S. troops under U.N. direction in Somalia. Being a pacifist when the United States invaded Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Kuwait would have resolved many complicated dilemmas.

It is unlikely that pacifism would get much support in the American Catholic community -- even though the end of the Cold War has eliminated most of America's ideological enemies. But a searching reexamination of what, if any, usefulness modern war has for the United States is urgently needed.

It is startling that the United States, after 40 years of preparing for a global war against communism, is now trying to retain a vast military, even though there are no foreseeable enemies to warrant it.

That realization was deepened when I read about the plan presented by senior Pentagon officials to trim the military only at the margin; the Army from 12 divisions to 10, the Navy from 12 aircraft carriers to 10, and the Air Force from 26 fighter wings to 20.

The strategy is far less specific. There is a shift from planning to fight two large wars simultaneously to a vague plan to fight one war while placing a second conflict on hold.

Who are the potential enemies? The clearest clue is the recommendation that the Marines grow from 159,000 to 174,000. This hints at a need for more rapid-response troops like those in the Persian Gulf and Somalia.

But the Pentagon offers no real justification for the continued development of the F-22 fighter jet. A compromise is struck -- cut the number on order from 648 to a number ranging from 362 to 442.

The Russians are presumably deactivating their submarines that carry nuclear weapons. But the Defense Department still insists that it needs at least 55 of the 88 Navy attack submarines now in operation.

The Pentagon does suggest more emphasis be placed on identifying and deterring future conflicts. It also approves reductions in uniformed forces from 1.6 to 1.4 million.

Unfortunately, there is little bold or brave reassessment by the Congress, the Pentagon or the White House. The vast expenditure of $280 billion goes on -- without any clear assumptions or long-range strategy. The military still remains a dominant force in American life. It has power to intimidate the president and the Congress.

Americans assert proudly that the military is under civilian control. We look with horror at the frightening control the military has over life in El Salvador, Guatemala and other nations. We seem assured that such a condition would never arise in the United States. But look again!

During the Cold War, the public tolerated the excesses of the Pentagon because the country was threatened (at least in theory) by a powerful enemy. But today the United States does not have such enemies. One of America's glories has been that the country had no standing army and no military draft in peacetime. Has peacetime returned?

Pentagon planners want us to assume we are permanently challenged by groups and nations described as extremists or terrorists. There is no proof.

The June New Yorker criticized Ross Perot for his comment that President Clinton is not "reaching out to the military in the way he ought to." The editorial praised America's traditional subordination of the military to civilian rule and proclaimed with unusual vehemence its belief that in America the "military are a completely depoliticized and obedient instrument of the will of an elected civilian power."

The same editorial went on: "Americans feel overtaxed because they see less of their tax money than taxpayers elsewhere do because so much of that money has been 'poured' into planes and tanks and missiles that nobody but a tiny professional class ever sees or has anything to do with."

The time has come to insist that the generals who each year spend $280 billion of our money be required to justify why that huge sum is necessary in a world that as never before is crying out for the resolution of economic and political disputes by means other than war.
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Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 2, 1993
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