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Pentagon best kept secret of U.S. waste, inefficiency.

The press, for some reason, goes easy on the military. A pity, because the Pentagon is one of the great stories of economic waste and social decay in our time.

Why do we need to spend in 1994 only 4 percent less than before the Cold War ended? Could it be that a permanent military establishment was created during the East-West struggle and now it will not fade away?

The power of the Pentagon is awesome and frightening. The Defense Department issues a regular pay-check to more than 9 million people in the defense contracting industry. The Pentagon owns 561 bases worldwide, a grocery-store chain of 375 commissaries doing $38 million in monthly sales. These, among other things that have nothing to do with national defense, sell liquor and cigarettes free of taxes to millions of people.

The Pentagon runs 149 hospitals that in 1992 had 703,318 admissions. It merchandises its programs with a massive advertising budget. At least 20 political action committees related to the defense industry contribute more than $5 million to its friends in Congress every election cycle.

Pentagon waste and inefficiency received light treatment from Vice President Al Gore's program to reinvent government. It is not too late for him to think again.

This military subculture will not be tamed without continuous protest. Unfortunately, the peace movement, which was so effective during the Vietnam War, has become mute on this question, transferring its considerable energies to the problems related to economic conversion.

The anger peace activists had about Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Kuwait is needed again. The public needs to be asked whether the nation needs the 148 B-25 bombers or the 96 B-1b bombers, and the B-2 bomber now under construction each at a cost of $2 billion.

Or, more broadly, how does the Pentagon plan to spend $275 billion in 1993-94?

Why, furthermore, does the CIA need the estimated (but secret) sum of $30 billion after the "Evil Empire" has disappeared? Why the massive secrecy - a condition which prevents the discovery of substantial funds misspent by the CIA?

Even a superficial audit reveals indefensible waste. The Pentagon spends up to $150 million a year in helping ROTC units in high schools.

More problematic than waste is the impossibility of turning military dominance into political influence. America's experience in Somalia demonstrates this. During the Cold War, the world's population doubled from 2.5 billion to 5.2 billion and by 2025 may reach 7.5 billion. Military power is useless to cope with this frightening prospect. Indeed, financing the Pentagon impedes America's competitiveness and ability to cope.

Let's bear taps for all that's anachronistic and un-American at the Pentagon.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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