CBS and the defense debate

Last week's five-part television documentary on defense deserves lasting public appreciation to match the critic's immediate praise. It was a prime instance of commercial TV using its great resources of talent and technology to illuminate a subject beyond the minutes or seconds in the usual newscast. By drawing together official and unofficial views on controversial questions. CBS News brought the network audience into the debate that is thriving in smaller forums -- and that must be thorough in view of the massive decisions facing the nation.

How much cause for concern is there about American military prowess in relation to the Soviet Union? How much is reasonable for the US to spend on the military in times of economic stress and governmental cutbacks? How can the spending be used to solve military needs rather than just throw money at them? What is the proper proportion of high technology and simpler weaponry? Should tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons become equal options with conventional weapons on the "integrated" battlefield in Europe? What are the arguments for a multiservice rapid deployment force as opposed to America's traditional mobile outfit, the Marine Corps? What would ensure the effectiveness of volunteer manpower or justify a return to conscription? What effect should understanding the Soviet point of view have on American decisions?

In providing food for thought on such questions, CBS offered tempering as well as chilling information. It showed areas of ineptitude in the planning of both American and Soviet military tacticians. It indicated that the soviet soldier -- far from being nine feet tall -- has often been ill-prepared for even ordinary warfare.

Where CBS left no doubt about its own position was in the valuable warning that "you can't buy peace simply by spending more and more an arms." And it made particular use of its medium in portraying the consequences of failing to preserve peace: not only for Americans, as in the harrowing simulated nuclear bombing of Omaha; but for Europeans, as in the touching sunny scenes of everyday life in a village whose potential destruction was being coolly discussed by military voices on the sound track.

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