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Military establishment threatens U.S. democracy.

As President Eisenhower left the White house in 1961, he had deep misgivings about what World War II and the Cold War of the 1950s had done to the image Americans had of their nation. Eisenhower warned that "this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience."

Those words keep returning to me as I see the United States groping for a foreign policy in the wake of the Cold War. The dilemmas of the U.S. military in Somalia and in Haiti dramatize the situation.

Negative feelings about the continued need and usefulness of a vast military establishment are not widespread in America. Indeed, a January 1993 Harris poll of American adults found public confidence in the military at a 27-year high.

However, history reveals the wellfounded fears Americans have always had about tbe military. The Continental Congress in 1784 stated that "standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government, dangerous to the liberties of free peoples and are generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism."

We learned in grade school the words of the Declaration of Independence, that the king of "Great Britain ... has kept among us, in time of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislature" and that the king had "affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power."

The classic expression of fear of the military comes from George Washington, who in 1796 said that "overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty ... are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."

Those sentiments were largely forgotten during World War II and the 45 years of the Cold War. During those 50 years, the military became a powerful and seemingly permanent feature of American life. In several ways Americans do not even realize, the military establishment in the last five decades changed the manner in which America formulates its view of itself and of its role in the world.

Patriotism, for example, has taken on a military connotation. The military approach, furthermore, has suggested that the nation can wage a war on poverty and drugs - and win. The Defense Department, with a budget of $291 billion, spends almost $1 bilhon each working day. In 1997, there will still be 1.4 million Americans in active duty, down from 1.8 million in 1993.

The mere presence of a massive military establishment in the United States assumes and suggests to political leaders and citizens alike that there are many problems that can be solved only by guns and tanks. But there are few if any such problems.

The inappropriateness and indeed futility of a military armada has been demonstrated in the Middle East, in Kuwait and in Somalia. The very existence of an extravagant military establishment blurs and even negates the fact that the problems of national insurgencies, international terrorism and the disasters of famine can be resolved only by diplomacy, the easing of tensions and peaceful compromises to persistent and intractable problems.

Indeed, a superpowerful military with a hideous level of lethal power can only frighten and alienate the revolutionaries and freedom fighters of the world. They know the United States will not likely ever employ such massive weapons. But the generals will offer and perhaps urge their services. If a president is pressured by national and international opinion to "do something," he will be tempted against his better judgment to pick the military option.

Catholic teaching always has downplayed military solutions, echoing modern popes who have proclaimed a war on war.

Opposing the military mentality is clearly countercultural. But it is one of the most serious demands on the Catholic community at this awesome moment of profound transition in American history.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
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Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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