The Defense Confidence Game

Report of the Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, to the Congress on the FY 1975 Defense Budget and FY 1975-1979 Defense Program

US Government Printing Office, $2.60

Although it would be frivolous to devote extensive space to the purely stylistic aspects of James Schlesinger’s 1975 defense budget we should note at the outset that his prose is that of a man visibly animated by strong and eccentric emotions. One would not expect someone who spends his hours of relaxation listening to tape recordings of bird song, and his hours of worship at the Lutheran church making careful notes on the sermon, to produce merely humdrum requests for money.

On the very first page of the budget he is quoting the psalmist to the effect that “where there is no vision the people perish,” and after sixteen pages he has taken wings: “Eli Whitney belongs to us, not to our competitors. He rather than the medieval craftsmen of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres—however magnificent and unique their art—must once again become our model.” The startling invocation of Eli Whitney follows immediately after sentiments less exalted, but more to the point: “We can and must become increasingly competitive with potential adversaries in a more fundamental sense. We must not be forced out of the market—on land, at sea or in the air.”

This is by way of introduction to Schlesinger’s main theme: “This is our first peacetime defense budget in a decade. It is therefore an appropriate time to consider best how to settle down for the long haul.” In a reflex action, familiar to those who have immersed themselves in Pentagonese, this becomes “a long haul posture.” But Schlesinger is not a stupid man and his budget is adroitly presented. It demands the closest scrutiny, for his vision of “the long haul posture” raises profound and gloomy questions about the nature of the arms race in the Seventies; about the real intentions of this peacetime budget and what it portends.

The most conspicuous feature of the FY (fiscal year) 1975 defense budget is its colossal size. “A policy,” Schlesinger remarks, “requiring us to maintain our military strength and alliances while we are actively pursuing détente with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China may appear to some as incongruous.” The incongruity, expressed in round figures, amounts to this: the DOD has requested budgetary authority to spend $99.1 billion (the largest ever, with the exception of 1942 when the figure was $99.5 billion) and the DOD’s estimated outlay is $85.8 billion, the largest sum ever to be spent by the Defense Department. This, despite DOD claims to the contrary, represents an 8 percent real increase on the outlays for FY 1974.

To adjust ourselves to the atmospheric conditions required to maintain life and sanity on the DOD’s budgetary planet we should begin by slowly breathing in the strange terminology of defense jargon. Unfamiliar flora and fauna abound: Worst Case Analysis (consideration of the worst things that could possibly happen, and consequent response to them as though they were true) and adjacent to this concept its half …

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Letters

Defense June 27, 1974