On the way out of the Pentagon, Caspar Weinberger forgot to answer the main question of his seven years of fervor for military spending: How much is enough?
Vowing to "rearm America" when he was appointed secretary of defense in 1981, Weinberger departs as a rabid but unfulfilled rearmer. He is unhappy that Congress, like a boot-camp grunt saluting the drill instructor in approving more than 95 percent of the Pentagon's money request since 1981, is now demurring. Military spending in the Reagan-Weinberger years reached $2 trillion, a sum off the board with zeroes: $2,000,000,000,000.
The number is beyond meaning. Broken down, Congress approved Pentagon spending of $429 billion on preparation for nuclear war, $743 billion on readiness for conventional war in Europe and $594 billion for war in the Persian Gulf and Asia. The $2 trillion, according to the Center for Defense Information, is a 121 percent increase over the preceding seven years. It amounts to $21,000 from the average American household. Now the numbers have meaning.
Weinberger leaves office mumbling, "More, more." It was disclosed a month ago that he pushed for a Trident II submarine missile that could carry 12 warheads, not the current eight. Each of the latter is 38 times as explosively lethal as the Hiroshima bomb. Each sub can hold 24 missiles, which means 192 warheads on each vessel -- for a total of 7,296 Hiroshimas.
To call this anything less than homicidal and suicidal madness is to let Weinberger leave office unaccountable. In 1981, he told the House budget committee of his chimerical plans for expanding the Pentagon's capability "for deterring or prosecuting a global war with the Soviet Union." Earlier this year, after having spent nearly a half-trillion dollars on nuclear war preparation, prosecutor Weinberger brought forth the virtue-is-on-our-side argument: The capitalist West can survive communism "only if the vast differences between the two systems are fully understood -- and from a moral perspective. Only then can we appreciate the evolving nature of our struggle, and the need for a strong and consistent defense ... We have allowed it to become intellectually unfashionable to discuss our strategic policies in terms that call attention to the moral superiority of our system."
A child in kindergarten could pose the obvious question: If Weinberger's system is so morally superior, why does he need more than 7,000 Hiroshimas to prove it's better? The Rev. Richard McSorley, a Jesuit theologian at Georgetown University who was held a prisoner of war by Japan in World War II, understands as well as anyone in Washington the fakery of officials like Weinberger talking in moral terms: "The taproot of violence in our society today is our intention to use nuclear weapons," he writes in "Kill for Peace." "Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison. Until we squarely face the question of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large-scale improvement of public morality is doomed to failure."
Even before Weinberger poses as a moral man, he is deceitful militarily. Only a minor portion of the $2 trillion in Pentagon spending actually is needed, or in fact used, for a defense of the United States. Geographically a military invasion is unlikely: neighborly nations border the country north and south and wide oceans are on the east and west. Where is a staging area for an enemy's battalions large enough to control the United States once they executed the logistical miracle of getting here?
Because the United States isn't at risk from conventional war, the only genuine worry is a nuclear attack, a war that even Ronald Reagan acknowledges can have no winners. Most of the $2 trillion has been for the kinds of wars the United States has specialized in since 1865: intervention wars, surrogate wars, covert wars. The Center for Defense Information, a Pentagon in exile, says: "The Reagan administration has directed spending toward forces that have little to do with the Soviet-American military confrontation in Europe and much to do with increasing our country's ability to intervene in conflicts in the Third World."
When Weinberger left, parts of the media tapped out drum rolls of praise as if they were leading a farewell parade. The Los Angeles Times, hailing Weinberger for his "dedication to public service," tried to humanize this obsessed man who would blow up the planet. He was "witty and engaging" and could be seen "pushing a shopping cart around the Safeway store in Georgetown." He vacationed in Maine and "once led a petition drive to lower speed limits in the neighborhood there."
Just a neat down-home fella. Much of the nation has become so conditioned to America's war-preparation economy, to speaking of nuclear bombs as if annihilation were a board game and to the squandering of trillions of dollars to produce only national insecurity and near bankruptcy that it sees the policies of a Weinberger as signs of "dedication."
Eugene Ionesco believed that "the supreme trick of mass insanity is that it persuades you that the only abnormal person is the one who refuses to join in the madness of others, the one who tries vainly to resist.