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Life in the Pentagon's shadow.

My first fascination with defense spending and how deeply the military-industrial complex reaches into the U.S. culture began nearly 30 years ago when I decided to investigate how much the Pentagon was spending in just two counties in Pennsylvania.

I can no longer remember the figures, though the sums were enormous for the time and involved everything from supplies for chapels and toilet paper for military bases to exotic research being performed at a local university to the manufacture of rings that were essential to the accurate flight of Cruise missiles.

Having cleared security, I spent several days in a tiny room in the Pentagon copying down columns upon columns of numbers and company names. This was prior to the age of personal computers and the Internet. One had to engage the good nature of a single clerk in that office who seemed to know everything about the elaborate web of contractors and subcontractors. If he liked you, I gathered, he would give you information about subcontractors that was not, at the time, part of the public record.

In the end, it was clear that in two counties in southeastern Pennsylvania with no high-profile defense installations, the dependence on Pentagon money was significant.

Today, the numbers nationally defy imagination, and the process has become more complex and entangled. The United States spends more on military pursuits than the next 192 countries combined. If money provides a clue to our social priorities, one need only realize that this year the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act, the quality of life appropriations for the military, nuclear weapons activities, "other defense related activities," and the two open-ended wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost a total of some $633 billion, more than $1.7 billion a day. We are militarized, albeit mostly unwittingly, to a staggering degree. From our businesses to our universities, the Pentagon's shadow is everywhere. Jeff Severns Guntzel has gone a good distance in explaining the dimensions of the military budget, the forces that shape the budget and some of the political tensions that militate against gaining control of it.

Why bother?

First, I think because so much of our treasury goes to military interests that the budget, by default, defines a large portion of who we are as a people. We may spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince ourselves and others that we are about peace and establishing democracy and bringing liberty and freedom to the rest of the globe. The reality, however, is that the single matter we spend most of our money on is preparing for war and sharpening our capacity to wage war.

So I think it is necessary to have the information. What exactly is being done with our money and in our name? We've all got to know the answer to those basic questions in order to form our own opinions of things.

Second, we have to have the information in order to act. The numbers and the projects can seem so far beyond our ability to influence, that the natural instinct is to turn away and leave all of that to someone else.

The silence around this matter from our religious leaders, of course, is tragic.

The moral dimensions are clear. Even a president schooled in war-making who was the author of the overthrows of governments in Iran and Guatemala understood the point and gave eloquent expression to it more than 50 years ago.

President Dwight Eisenhower, in a 1953 address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed

"The world in arms is not spending money alone.

"It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."

The theft has grown exponentially since Eisenhower's time.

Following are six Web sites that keep track of defense spending and its effects and that offer ways to both stay informed and to engage the public discussion.

* The Center for Defense Information (www.cdi.org): Since 1972, the center's Defense Monitor newsletter has provided valuable and balanced information on developments in the defense arena and has also asked some of the most demanding questions about our spending priorities. Founded by former members of the military, the organization provides a significant answer to the ancient question of "Who will guard the guards."

* The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (www.arm scontrolcenter.org): The center's Military Budget and Oversight Project "seeks to provide more accessible information" on the Pentagon's procurement and acquisition processes. It also provides the rare understandable description of the defense budgets.

* Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (www.sensiblepriorities.org): The group seeks to "Increase funding to meet the needs of our children and children around the world (at no additional taxpayer expense) by reducing money spent on the Pentagon for Cold War weapons systems no longer needed to protect America."

* The War Resisters League Pie Chart (www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm): An annually updated chart illustrating "where you income tax really goes."

* The National Priorities Project (nation alpriorities.org): The project's "Cost of War" ticker is a running total of the cost of the war in Iraq to U.S. taxpayers.

* Pax Christi (www.paxchristiusa.org): By far the best source for Catholics who want to understand the Christian underpinnings of nonviolence and who want information on practical ways to work against preparations for war.
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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S NOTE
Author:Roberts, Thomas W.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 9, 2007
Words:930
Previous Article:Summer listings 1.
Next Article:Feeling like 'we'.
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