Air superiority

April 25, 1991

Unlike some other cities, Baltimore would have been a winner with either of the two competitors for the Pentagon's mammoth contract for a new Air Force fighter plane. Westinghouse Electronics Systems, based in Linthicum, had been chosen by both groups to build the radar for the new aircraft.

Undoubtedly the new fighter will assure that the United States military can maintain the air superiority so dramatically demonstrated in the Persian Gulf war. But as the losers in this mega-dollar bidding war nurse their wounds, it is worth asking some hard questions about the nation's priorities.

For starters, why is it that the country is willing to pay any cost to maintain military superiority (especially when it isn't quite clear whether unfriendly countries are even capable of challenging that superiority), when far less expensive programs that are essential to maintaining our economic position in the world are deemed too expensive? Good examples would be the Head Start and WIC programs, which have been demonstrated time and again to be effective both in human and economic terms.

Air superiority helped bring a quick military victory in the Persian Gulf. Even so, it looks as if American troops will be staying in the Middle East indefinitely and the region's prospects for peace and democracy are not much brighter than before. The lesson: Military superiority is important, but it cannot solve all problems, or even guarantee America's place in the world. So as the nation prepares to spend billions more on military equipment, it's worth remembering George Orwell's reflections in 1946 on Britain's ability to muster its resources to fight World War II:

"Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day, clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. . . . how easily that minimum could be attained if we chose to set our minds to it for only 20 years! To raise the standard of living of the whole world to that of Britain would not be a greater undertaking than the war we have just fought."

In 1991, imagine what we could do for stability in this country and the world if we chose to devote to human needs a fraction of the amount we're spending to maintain "air superiority."

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