There was a full moon, of course. There is something gross, on the surface, in David Stockman's comment that "institutional forces in the military are more concerned about protecting their retirement benefits than they are about protecting the security of the American people."
The institutional forces -- and like all half-baked bureaucrats Stockman deliberately obscures what he means -- could be anything from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Mothers Committee for the Fort Ord Canteen. But to be fair, he did not denigrate the value of good soldiers, just those "institutional forces," so it is wrong to pretend he slurred grunts.
On the other hand it is asinine for Stockman to pretend that resistance to retirement benefit cuts is the same as indifference to "the security of the American people."
The sound, steady American knows perfectly well that security does not lie in the umpty-billion-dollar accumulation of bombs. The trouble is not going to be with Russia directly but with some outbreak in the middle of nowhere that the average guy never heard of, and that war will not commence with atomic bombs but with foot soldiers and airmen and the rest. So let us hear no more babble about the security of the American people when all it means is the Pentagon tail swinging the American dog.
In no time -- the moon still full -- the Veterans of Foreign Wars suggested the exit of David Stockman from the president's ear, calling him a 4-F draft dodger. (Meaning Stockman. The president served like all of us to the best of his ability. Lately it has struck me he may have been the star of those training films about health that we so enjoyed and profited from.)
Now Stockman was not a draft dodger. Neither was he 4-F. He was 4-D, attending divinity school at Harvard, 1968-70. The veterans outfit should have said he was "a 4-D person," and there is no need to sound off about seminarians, either. It's a dirty job and somebody has to do it.
The question is whether retired soldiers can trust the government to keep its promises. Their retirement pay has been fixed by law. If a man enlists in 1941 he has the right to count on such retirement pay as the law prescribes. He should hope he does not run into interference, but there is always the chance he may get his head blown off.
If the law is too generous to soldiers, the law should be changed, but anybody who joined the military should be able to count on getting what he was promised by the government during his career. Surely this is clear even to a government of Armageddon fanciers and divinity dropouts.
And now I should like to correct an error or two of my own.
In an interview with Dr. Bernard T. Feld, the noted particle physics man at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a conspicuous opponent of nuclear folly, he said he would prefer to see $6,000 toilet seat covers in urban renewal housing than $6,000 seat fixtures in military planes. In this conversation I supplied the figure of $6,000 and he simply used it. The military beauties in fact cost only $604. We have saved more than $5,000 and I regret this error.
Also, it was Edward II who was murdered at Berkeley Castle, not Richard II, who was of course murdered elsewhere at a completely different time. It is not uncommon to confuse the two kings, but deplorable, and I can only hope future historians will not rely totally on this column to establish the English royal dynasties. Virtually every reader already knows it was Edward at Berkeley, I see, but I am sorry for this error, too. The number of divorced people in Washington is greater than I knew. A recent reference to "some nitwit divorcing another" neither stated nor implied that all divorced people are nitwits. Besides, there is nothing wrong with being a nitwit, as you would think they would know. The word derives from foreigners who, not knowing the language, could only say "I don't know" in their own language. Niet wiet. They were always saying they didn't know, they didn't understand, just as half the people in America look at you today, not having the foggiest idea what is being said in plain English. There is nothing wrong in this kind of ignorance. We do not all speak foreign languages, and ours to them was (and is) foreign. I have forgot what language niet wiet is. French, Flemish, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Californian. Whatever.
Brief note: I have never mentioned this, but occasional readers are kind enough to write. Most should be taken out and shot. There are some, though, who say beautiful things. I don't mean compliments -- no writer who understands the trade puts any stock in compliments or is dumb enough to think he deserves any, merely for giving sound views. It's the least one can do. But what I mean are letters that sort of lay a heart out. No current writer deserves such letters. They are put quietly in a drawer and after a time thrown out with some reverence. It would be impertinent to answer them. They are not good for a writer to receive, however, giving him the dangerous rush (for several seconds) that he is worthy of them.