DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
November 1, 1994

WARRIORS VERSUS PORK

A few years ago, I was talking to Congressman Ike Skelton. I said, "Ike, our rifleman aren't shooting enough. Leaders tell me they're short M-16 ammo and this is hurting readiness."

Ike slammed his desk and said, "I'll look into this right away."

I was so stunned by his enthusiasm that I said, "Damn, you're sure passionate about training."

Smiling, he replied, "M-16 ammo is made in my district."

Just before our session broke up, I groused about wasting defense dollars on unneeded cold war relics like the $2 billion-a-pop B-2 Bomber. He exploded. "Hold on there, fella. Not so fast. The B-2 is also made in my district"

As the troops used to say in Vietnam, "That says it all!" Pork is king on the hill. It wags the American defense dog.

I reminded Ike the B-2 was made in almost every state -- a ploy of the defense contractor giants to make sure their big ticket items get congressional approval. Big weapons systems provide jobs in congressional districts, while heavy-duty pork dollars in the form of Political Action Group (PAC) contributions flow into the reelection war chests of cooperative members of congress.

To lawmakers on the take, PACs are a slot machine to be milked. For example, between 1991 and 1993, Ike collected $81,568 from defense contractors' PACs in this sweet pay back scheme.

During the same period, 70 members of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense scooped up almost $3.5 million from PACs. The two biggest PAC porkers are John Murtha, who gobbled up $331,200, and Charles Wilson, who cashed in second with $285,150. Both are cheerleaders for the V-22, half airplane/half helicopter which does two things well: costs big bucks and crashes. It's no coincidence that it's built in their districts. Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney did everything except publicly douse himself with gasoline and set himself on fire to have this lemon squashed.

Pork is good for politicians. It increases their chances for another term so they can build an even bigger trough in which to wallow.

Pork is bad for America because it takes critical tax dollars away from other programs we so desperately need to get the nation off the sick list. For warriors -- the kids we send into the trenches to do the dirty work -- pork is terminal because they're flung onto the killing field without either the right stuff or the sharp edge needed to stay alive and win.

Last month the General Accounting Office reported that the Pentagon will find itself $150 billion in the hole over the next five years. The money must be made up from either the hide of the warriors by chopping training and operations funds or by cutting the gold-plated weapons programs that the PAC-addicted politicians love so dearly.

The USA has the most powerful military in the world. We should. We spend almost $300 billion a year on military toys and boys -- roughly what the rest of the world spends combined. A quarter from every tax dollar goes to the Pentagon, and about a dime of that is spent on wonder weapons that could go on hold.

If the Pentagon didn't buy another major system -- ship, tank or fighter/bomber aircraft -- until 2005, we'd still have the most powerful military in the world. Yet, the PAC and pork crew have a lot of exotic new stuff at the ready. There are 444 F-22 fighters that will cost about $162 million apiece or over $70 billion total, planned to replace the best fighter in the world, the F-15. There are also fleets of helicopters, exotic missiles and artillery systems, new ships and submarines and, of course, Murtha and Wilson's pet PAC pal, the V-22 tilt-rotor wondercraft.

The Pentagon and congress must understand that people win wars, not pork, and that warriors should get the priority over all the costly new wonder weapons that congress and their pork-promoting defense contractors are hustling. Also, we the people must cause election finance reform to kill the cozy arrangement between defense contractors and congress before it kills more young Americans.

If we don't, no one else will.