RICHMOND

As a former private in the United States Army, I think I have the credentials to comment on the current controversy about cutting funds for the military services. First of all, however, we have to deal with the gun thing.

When the Second Amendment to the Constitution was drawn up, our professional army and navy, despite having waged a successful war against Great Britain, were rather primitive organizations. Farmers in those days, especially when they had bumper crops, usually turned their leftover corn and grain into whiskey. During George Washington's first term, his secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, decided to tax the whiskey to gain needed funds. The farmers, many of whom had fought in the Revolution, said they had already battled against unjust taxation and were ready to do it again. The Washington administration said the taxation powers of Congress were legal.

The main problem was with Pennsylvania farmers, so Washington called on governors of other states to send militias and 13,000 men responded from four states. Washington himself rode at the head of this force, but by the time they got there, the farmers had dispersed and the "Whiskey Rebellion" was over. This is simplified history but it covers the ground.

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From this small force, the present conglomeration of services has evolved, and we now are able to tell everybody that we are the toughest kids on the block and nobody better fool with us. By the end of World War II, that's exactly what we were. Nowadays, not so much. It took us six years before we could pull out of Iraq. And we have been in Afghanistan since 2001 and hopefully, hopefully, we will be out at the end of next year. Right now we are losing more servicemen to suicide than we are to combat, but you never know when a catastrophe is in the offing.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Whose fault is it? The United States is spending way too much on the so-called Defense Department but is finding it necessary to at least hold the line if not increase its funds. A lot of this has to do with the civilian jobs involved, including those within our own bailiwick. Cutting defense also means cutting off our noses.

But there are still plenty of places where the defense budget can be cut without hurting our preparedness or capabilities. And this has to do with the very top of the heap, the generals and admirals of the Army and Navy. We now have just under 1,000 generals and admirals and very few of their responsibilities have to do with combat or planning what happens if Zambia suddenly gives us the finger.

A disproportionate number of our generals have reached four-star status without having shown any aptitude except for minding their p's and q's. But the payoffs are quite luxurious. The top guys have their personal C-40 jets with accompanying cadres of senior and junior aides and chefs and guards and drivers and secretaries and personal attendants. And when they transfer to the ground their motorcades are impressive.

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Some generals take advantage of the situation by overdoing. The biggest one last summer was four-star Gen. William Kip Ward who financed a Bermuda vacation with federal funds. He and his wife also used staff and equipment for shopping and spa vacations. He also picked up the tabs of 13 staff members.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, upon being informed of the malfeasance, took away one of Ward's stars, which made him a lowly three-star general. He also ordered him to reimburse the government by billing him $82,000. The general, while protesting his innocence, took early retirement on his yearly pension of $208,802. He is probably sitting somewhere right now where the sight of the white sand beach is unimpeded.

To put things in proper perspective, it should also be pointed out that the Pentagon runs 234 golf courses throughout the world and has never listed what this is costing the taxpayers. We won't go into marching bands and such-like. I think most of the musicians are in the staff sergeant range.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.