During World War II, the nation's defense industry was known as the "arsenal of democracy." It built the ships, submarines, tanks, planes, and other ordnance that allowed the Allies to crush the original Axis of Evil. Fifteen years after the war ended, in his farewell address, Ike warned of what he called "the military-industrial complex." The industry has spent the years since defending itself against a smorgasbord of charges, some on target, others reckless.
The industry, warts and all, is of great importance to the nation and portions of it may be in trouble. We decided it was time for a reality check, thus this month a special section we call "Twilight of a Vital Industry?" Leading figures in one major sector-shipbuilding and ship repair-lay out the problems as they see them. Mike Petters, who runs the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard, sets the tone with a crisply written and passionately argued article titled, " American Shipbuilding, An Industry in Crisis ." Michael Toner, of General Dynamics Marine Systems, follows with another hard-hitting piece that echoes Mr. Petters' call for stability in the shipbuilding budget , warning that anything less may mean the crumbling of an industrial base that the nation can ill afford to lose. In a third article, retired Vice Admiral Al Krekich, president of BAE Systems Ship Repair, weighs in on budget matters that he fears could endanger ships at sea.
There is more to the section. Thomas Christie, a long-time Pentagon analyst, untangles the defense acquisition game and suggests ways to bring sanity to the process in "What Has 35 Years of Acquisition Reform Accomplished?" Retired Vice Admiral James H. Doyle and Dr. James Colvard make a case for reuniting the Navy and civilian scientist-engineers, a bond with a long history of success. And finally, Ed Wiser, a salty, no-nonsense yachtsman, says the new generation of littoral combatants should be scrapped in favor of riverine designs that have stood the test of time.
This issue features the winners of the Enlisted Essay Contest , sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, a package of three perceptive essays that deal with intelligence matters, the Defense Language Institute, and a method for gaining an edge on your competition, with last year's Kentucky Derby winner as a model. The top two winners are in the Air Force.
So is First Lieutenant Charity Winters, who is completing a tour in Iraq, but whose earlier duty forms the gloomy backdrop for " Rainy Night in Dover ," a graceful, moving, stream-of-consciousness reminiscence of the Air Force base in Delaware where the nation's war dead return to American soil.
There was a striking scene here in Annapolis a few weeks ago. The late Vice Admiral Bill Lawrence, former Naval Academy superintendent and Vietnam prisoner of war, was memorialized in the Academy chapel. Many POWs were, of course, in attendance. In a eulogy, Senator John McCain described Admiral Lawrence as having special standing within the POW fraternity, calling him "the very best of us." Moments later, the senator invited his fellow POWs, nearly 20 of them, to join him on the altar.
And there they were, older than we remember them, gray, balding, a tableau not for the ages, but for a generation, or a portion of a generation, those who fought the war that "America didn't win," a gentle phrase once employed by Walter Cronkite. Those in the chapel rose and applauded warmly, a display of appreciation for men who had endured greatly and returned with honor.
As I viewed the scene, an uncomfortable thought intruded. This was, I realized, a moment that those who had served in Vietnam could share with one another and with their families, but not with too many others, not anymore. With the inception of the Vietnam-inspired all-volunteer military, the profession of arms has taken on some of the coloration of a closed shop. Service members can talk about their experiences with their comrades, but no longer with the vast majority of their fellow citizens, who have never smelled boot camp, let alone tasted combat. The soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine are in danger of becoming exotics, an anachronistic legion to be celebrated, or scolded, or, all too often these days, mourned.
We have lost something, but I'm more than three decades late in my lamentation. Military service, especially in times of war, was once a shared burden in America. We are well beyond that now.