Anyone with military experience can imagine the cynical barracks wit that might greet a headquarters slogan like "It takes guts to say no." But this theme is currently being given a 10-week try in an Indianapolis campaign against drug abuse by young people. And the moral courage, it calls for is the basic antidote to the shocking levels of drug abuse freshly confirmed within the American military.
Even the barracks cynics know that all the battlefield or flight-deck bravery in the world can ben undercut by the failings of moral courage represented in going along with the illicit use of drugs and alcohol. There are not only the physical and psychological effects attributed to the drugs, often used even while on duty; there are also the eroding effects on individual and group intergrity from continually violating regulations and dealing in illegal substances.
As chairman Leo Zeferetti of the House narcotics committee said this week, the current extent of drug abuse in the military cannot be tolerated if the US is to be prepared to meet emergencies at an instant's notice. He was announcing a summertime survey of almost 2,000 servicemen in Europe and on shipboard. The committee is not suggesting it applies to the whole military establishment. But the findings on Navy enlisted personnel, showing a greater proportion of abusers than the other services, are in line with previous information including a study conducted on both coasts of the United States last year.
A quarter of the Navy junior enlisted personnel surveyed said they used marijuana or stronger Mideast hashish daily. Sixty percent of them in the carrier Forrestal were found to use drugs while on duty. Though a bright spot was seen in lowered hard drug use among Army personnel since a survey in 1978, it should be brighter: 4 percent still admit to using heroin monthly or more frequently, and 6 percent cocaine.
The services have drug abuse programs underway. The committee looks for new recommendations to be derived from its hearings yesterday. Strong disciplinary action must be taken to protect US security and personnel from the excesses of those who still do not have the guts to say no. But the call for moral courage ought to go beyond the ranks to a civilian society whose own indulgences have to be reined in if they are not to be reflected in its armed forces. The threat from within is no less dangerous than the threat from without.