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Speakers discuss internal security threats in wake of Cold War
STANFORD -- How ordinary citizens can seize their country back from aloof, professional politicians emerged as an overarching theme of afternoon sessions of a day-long conference on "Redefining National Security" at Stanford University on Feb. 1.
When the Russians threw off the yoke of communism in Moscow, they may have freed their former superpower adversaries to throw off the yoke of conventional political thinking in Washington, various speakers suggested in conference sessions that gave tips to individuals on how to start building a new national security policy at the grassroots, hometown level.
With the Cold War over, there is money available to spend in a different manner, and everyone is free to convince other Americans to join in the forming of a new consensus, they said.
Dr. Herbert Abrams, for instance, told how one of the groups he helped found, Physicians for Social Responsibility, is laboring now to broaden its mission of nuclear war prevention. The group is looking to Webster's dictionary for a new definition of national security.
"Security is freedom from danger, from fear, anxiety, from deprivation - a far cry from the purely military definition," the former Stanford radiology professor said. And, in a literal sense, there seems little danger we're going to be under military attack.
"By contrast, there are very many unresolved threats to the individual security of each one of us and that makes up national security.".
Security risks Abrams named included malnutrition, under- education, joblessness and environmental hazards.
Political leaders in Washington who talk about small peace dividends have forgotten, he said, that the military budget dropped to 3 percent of its wartime size within three years of World War II, and that the United States launched the highly successful Marshall Plan in its wake.
At the end of a 50-year Cold War, Abrams said, the military budget "could modestly be cut in half."
Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, now a Hoover Institution fellow, accused politicians of lying about the current "war on drugs" - which he said is ineffective - because they think the war is popular with voters.
"We can't get at the problems of drug use because of the rhetoric of the war. I'm going to try to do my part to make the politicians speak the truth," McNamara said.
The truth, he said, is that "the war on drugs never should have been declared. It made a lot of dope dealers wealthy and has come close to destroying our judicial and police systems. The police are becoming more and more military because of what we are demanding they try to do."
McNamara advocated a "declaration of a public health campaign on drugs" similar to the campaign against smoking tobacco.
Hoover Fellow Milton Friedman, he said, has done an analysis that shows the rise of violence and homicide rates during the current drug war "parallels what happened during Prohibition."
Speaking of the 24,000 U.S. murder victims last year, McNamara said: "What difference does it make that they weren't killed by the KGB? They're just as dead."
Claudia Horwitz, co-founder of an advocacy group for the homeless known as Empty the Shelters, agreed that "people won't say no to drugs unless they have something positive to say yes to." She urged others to create those positive alternatives by joining grassroots efforts to create housing for the homeless. The 3 million homeless Americans, she said, serve as "a symbol of the failure of all our government systems." Student and low-income community volunteers have been successful in building more affordable housing, she said.
Asked if they thought they could be more influential lobbying "the ambitious and powerful in Washington" or the general public, Abrams, Horwitz and McNamara emphatically chose the public. Building a new national security policy must start with individuals educating more people to the issues with which they are most familiar, they said.
Physicians for Social Responsibility played a role in convincing President Reagan that a nuclear weapons treaty was important to his place in history, Abrams said, but the group began as "one individual becoming five, becoming 30, becoming 30,000 doctors in four years."
That sort of hometown start is needed everywhere, said James Hightower, the populist from Texas who chairs the Financial Democracy Campaign, an alliance of consumer, church, labor and farmer groups that has opposed the savings and loan and banking industry bail-outs.
"We need town meetings - not a town meeting like Ted Koppel has that the town isn't in - but town meetings all across the country," he said.
Hightower received a standing ovation in his closing address to the conference, which emphasized that the presidential election of 1992 is less important than meeting together locally to start "putting something together for the long haul."
"We are looking to '96, 2000 or 2004 before we are going to elect a president who wants to cut the military budget down, not by $150 billion but way down, and maybe create a world in which we don't need military budgets," Hightower said. "We need to challenge the assumptions that say there couldn't be such a world."
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