Defense investment sustains national will

Defense investment sustains national will by Richard J. Santos American Legion Evil is attacked at its vines, but defeated only at its roots. If there is a similarity to the months following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, it is the extent that investment in defense sustains the national will to strike at the root of evil.

The horrific loss of 4,572 lives at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania shocked this nation into a state of awareness. Just as our parents and grandparents knew 60 years ago, when 2,403 lay dead after a 110-minute attack, we know today that America is destined for a prolonged conflict.

Our brave men and women in uniform will rise to the challenge; they always have. They will say goodbye to their families and stand proudly in the vanguard of freedom. Unified as one, our nation must rise to a challenge. We must sustain our national will to dismantle terrorist networks. To meet the challenge, we must take stock, and re-stock, our national defense in a number of ways:

Spend 3 to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product on defense � period.

Boost troop strength. We have 10,000 troops in the Balkans. The peacekeeping load is so manpower-heavy that the Guard and Reserves are activated to help carry the load. Perhaps on more than one front, America's military must be prepared to fight a conventional war. And, in the wake of the brutal attacks on our own soil, they must be prepared for the defense of our homeland.

Our national defense needs a boost to protect potential domestic terrorist targets, such as water sources and energy plants. More than 33,000 Reservists and National Guard have been mobilized for the homeland-defense mission and the war on terrorism. Plans to cut active-duty troop strength to pay for modernization should have been scuttled in Congress long ago. But today, such ideas are not even worthy of a moment's consideration. We simply need more troops.

Strong leadership in this area entails a careful examination of the defense industry. The active-duty force of 1.35 million is a roughly a third leaner than it was prior to the razing of the Berlin Wall. Cuts in troop strength were accompanied by severe cuts in warfare capability, as any military mechanic who cannibalizes one aircraft to repair another will attest. America's defense industry must be prepared to rapidly produce small arms, tanks and aircraft as well as bombs and missiles.

Navy and Marine Corps troops must be allowed to train on Vieques. Since the savage attacks on America, Vieques protesters decided not to interfere with training for units that were being sent to the Middle East. Indeed, training on Vieques should continue uninterrupted to ensure a high level of battle readiness.

There were 423 international terrorist attacks in 2000. Those attacks claimed the lives of 405 people, including 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole while the ship was refueling in Yemen. The casualty figures are dwarfed by the recent attacks, including those from Pearl Harbor as well. Although the roots of terrorism appear to run deep, the national will to dismantle terrorism runs deeper. Investments in defense will sustain the will to thwart evil today, just as it did 60 years ago.

Santos is national commander of the 2.8 million-member American Legion, the nations' largest veterans organization.

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