Which war is the right war? Which war is the wrong war? Should we have fought for independence? What about the War of 1812? Should we just have allowed the British to take our ships – or given up after they torched Washington? What about the war to preserve the Union? World War I? World War II? Let the Axis powers rule the world and kill millions of innocent people?

Certainly, this list of conflicts that the United States has engaged in are less controversial than others I could mention. Why must we visit these critical times in our nation’s past? Because without these, we would not have our nation’s present, nor our nation’s future.

Last week, numerous students protested the participation of certain companies and organizations affiliated with the defense industry and the Pentagon.

This is in addition to many posters that were put up around campus, as well as past protests and posters. The problem with these activities is that the views behind them are narrow, short-sided and irresponsible.

War is indeed terrible. Only those who have experienced it firsthand can truly comprehend the hideousness of it all. At our present position in human history, there are still, unfortunately, differences that cannot be worked out through diplomacy alone.

Peace between nations is in fact a relatively new occurrence. It is very difficult to pick out a time from the fall of the Roman Empire – or even before it – until World War I in which there was peace on the European continent for any extended length of time. Perhaps in our lifetimes we will live to see peace toward all men on earth. That would be glorious. However, that day is not today.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea are just some areas of continuing or potential violent threats to the people on Earth.

As a major superpower in an ever more integrated international community, the United States has a responsibility to arm itself sufficiently and to combat those forces who would do harm to United States citizens or citizens of the world.

Defense contractors, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and other sections of the government, must work to meet this responsibility. The list of areas I mentioned above is not exhaustive, nor can it predict conflicts that may arise in the next 50, 100 or more years.

That is the problem with the future – it can never be accurately predicted. There are those who are opposed to the Iraq war – myself included.

However, this does not exclude the possibility that the next military engagement put before the United States should not be pursued.

In the defense industry, you are never building for the current war – always the next one. Some major platforms can take decades to develop and test before they become operational, way outside the timeframe of any single conflict.

Others have effective civilian applications. Radar, nylon and synthetic rubber were all born out of World War II. An engineer at Raytheon who noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted when he was experimenting with high frequency radio waves invented the microwave.

Computers owe their existence to defense sponsored programs and, more famously, to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – ARPA – now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA – which started the development of the Internet. Cell phones can trace their lineage back to the Walkie-talkie, first used by GIs in World War II.

Significant military research and development are currently directed toward “smart” munitions, which are able to precisely hit their targets with the goal of minimizing collateral damage.

In contrast, World War II strategic bombing campaigns required hundreds of bombers and thousands of tons of bombs to destroy a single target-factory, warehouse, railhead-and usually resulted in the destruction of the town the target was in as well. Picatinny Arsenal, which attended the career fair, is currently developing the Excalibur, the first guided artillery round.

Defense contractors in some respects must follow similar guidelines to the troops they support, namely, to follow orders. Without them, our troops are not armed, protected, transported, sheltered or even fed. Indeed, tax dollars are wasted on certain defense programs, just as much as they are wasted on programs throughout all of the government.

However, it is imperative that those in the defense industry and those outside of it look to defend this country from both foreign and domestic enemies. As General Robert E. Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible – lest we grow too fond of it.”

Klein can be reached atjklein@campustimes.org.

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