FOR ALL OF MY working life, I've been spending money on bigger and better ways to kill Soviets.
It was nothing personal. In fact, it was quite impersonal. The government took a piece of every paycheck and used it to develop and build super bombs, missiles, airplanes and other efficient killing devices. And to pay the many people who would do the actual killing.
I'm not sure exactly how much I spent over all those years. If I had it all in five-year CDs, I'd probably be sipping a cool one on a cruise ship instead of pecking at a keyboard.
But it's gone, my contribution and the billions and trillions that the rest of you tossed in since the arms race began almost half a century ago.
Actually, it isn't all gone. Some of it is probably in the bank accounts of shrewdies who had the foresight to invest in defense industries. Or it's in the stock options and bonuses of the tycoons who ran these industries.
The money may have been well spent, since we were told that the Soviets were plotting to blow us up. And they very well may have been plotting to blow us up, since they believed that we were plotting to blow them up. In any case, both sides believed that a few megatons of prevention was worth the price. And since we didn't blow each other up, maybe it was.
Of course, by spending so many of their rubles on killing machines, the Soviets made a total mess of their economy and those of their flunky nations. And by spending so many of our dollars on killing machines, we let Japan and Germany pre-empt us as Shopping Mall to the World.
But now we have a chance to invest our money in a way that could provide more of a return than you get from 10,000 missiles with nobody to drop them on.
Which is why I was a bit rude to the young man who called today and whined: "I don't know why we're talking about spending money on Russia when we got so many hungry people in this country."
I want him to know that it is not the policy of my newspaper for its employees to interrupt a caller and shout: "You (obscenity deleted) idiot, what were you doing during the Cuban missile crisis?"
He said he was too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis and didn't even know what it was.
So I want him to know that it is not the policy of my paper for employees to shout: "You (deleted) moron, the Cuban missile crisis was when we all thought the end was at hand, so read a history book or two." Or to slam the phone down on a caller.
However, my nerve endings start buzzing when I hear people say: "Why should we spend money helping the Russians when we have blah, blah, blah . . ."
Why should we spend it? Because after spending countless billions on 45 years of Cold War, it would be smart to invest only a fraction of those billions in what might be Warm Friendship.
Several generations have lived with the fear that we could all disintegrate in the night.
In the late '50s, people spent weekends digging fallout shelters under their homes. When a Chicago fire chief turned on the air raid sirens to celebrate a White Sox pennant, thousands of terrified people rushed outside and looked to the night sky for the big mushroom.
In 1962, when Khrushchev and Kennedy played a game of chicken over the Cuban missile sites, families packed their cars and drove toward Canada.
It's been year after year, decade after decade, of pouring money into weapons systems to guarantee that if they kill all of us we'll have the satisfaction of taking all of them with us.
Do we really want our grandchildren to twitch when a siren blows for the volunteer firemen?
I know. A staunch right-winger will say: "Let the Commies go hungry; let them freeze. It's their problem."
No, it is also our problem because they still have their thousands of missiles. And besides being unkind, it is not good strategy to let someone with a nuclear arsenal become hopelessly miserable.
This is our chance as well as theirs. If we can help them become producers of something besides vodka, they'll have merchandise to sell to the rest of the world. If they have something to sell, they'll have money with which to buy. Then we can sell to them. I don't know about you, but I don't want my grandchildren ever thinking about digging fallout shelters. No, I have a dream that someday my grandson will shake the hand of a Russian and say: "Boris, it'll give you 45 miles to the gallon and I'll throw in the air bags free. Deal?"