I had a dream last night, perhaps brought on by a dinner of warmed over Spaghetti-O's, or maybe by my daughter's enthusiasm over the day's word and letter play on "Sesame Street." In my dream, that same mighty power that had ordained the distinction between Regan and Reagan decreed that, in the next fiscal year, as of Oct. 1, 1981, the Defense Department would have to do without the letter X. The reason for this ordinance never came quite clear in the dream. Perhaps the letter X, in some new beginning, was to be reserved for the sacred and the profane -- to symbolize the crossroads of destiny, possibly, or merely to remark vulgar entertainments.
Whatever its rationale, the ordinance had wondrous effects. At a stroke, knotty problems of politics and defense were unloosed. Without X's mystic aura to cloak it, the Air Force's new missile, the "M," stood revealed as an unimpressive and deeply flawed idea. The Army's XMI tank, shorn of the X mystique, became indistinguishable from a gas-operated, semi-auitomatic shoulder weapon formerly carried by infantrymen. De-Xed, the plan to upgrade Taiwan's air forces with the FX advanced fighter so obviously contravened America's foreign policy and national interests that it could no longer fly.
In this overturning of decades of military tradition, plans for new weapons were forced to stand -- or fall -- on their merits. But, accustomed to the proclamations of mere politicians, who with their proclivities come and go, the military's bureaucrats adopted a strategy of evasion before this mysterious power and its awful decree. After all, what's in a name, or a letter? If a rose is a rose, and smells as sweet, why not call a bomb a bomb?
To their dismay, however, military leaders discovered that they had grown reliant on the letter X. Without X, the much-vaunted CX program to develop a new military airlift vehicle became just another cargo plane incapable of carrying more than one heavy tank at a time. X-less, the XX program for new amphibious shipping simply disappeared into limbo, where it joined the uneasy company of other amphibious warfare concepts seemingly inappropriate to the contemporary political-military setting. Absent X, the Navy's FFX and DDGX programs merely confirmed the dominance of traditional force concepts, the durable preference for continuation rather than innovation in naval force development.
I awoke before discovering whether, in time, the military would have found some new symbol or device with X's power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. But I arose convinced that, without the power of X to mystify and sanctify, the military's rhetorical and other excesses would less have threatened the public good and that the virtue of extremism in matters military would soon have reverted to vice, as all immoderation finally must.