Since the birth of big government, officials have been tempted to look on tax revenues as their money. But few cases have been more blatant and reprehensible than recent efforts by some Pentagon civilians to use the power of the purse to silence dissent within the defense community.
Times Washington correspondent James Gerstenzang reported several incidents on Sunday in which defense officials sought to silence criticism with implied threats to cut off defense contracts.
Lawrence J. Korb, a vice president of Raytheon Co., lost his job after Navy officials complained to Raytheon about his public suggestion that substantial defense budget cuts were inevitable and not necessarily harmful.
Edward Luttwak, a defense expert, was cut from the list of Pentagon consultants after he wrote a book criticizing Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's stewardship of the Defense Department. Luttwak says that Navy officials also tried to get Northrop Corp. to drop him as a consultant.
Donald A. Hicks, Pentagon research and engineering chief, suggested that professors who publicly oppose President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative should be barred from participation in defense research. Pentagon spokesmen said that Hicks was expressing a personal view, but academic critics of "Star Wars" got the message.
When the Pentagon uses its control of defense funds to silence critics within the defense community, the effect obviously is to reward orthodoxy and to exclude knowledgeable dissenters from debates over defense policies. But the really galling thing is the bland assertion by defense officials that they are not out to "get" people like Korb and Luttwak--just exercising a right to complain to contractors about company officials who make waves for the Defense Department.
One assistant Navy secretary wrote to Raytheon that the Navy objects when contractor personnel "whose salaries are paid in part by the Defense Department, speaking as company officers, attack President Reagan's defense programs." Another official, speaking in private, said, "We were paying the checks. All the Navy is saying is that 'we are not going to deal with this person because he is offensive to us because of his views.' "
Money paid to defense contractors really belongs to U.S. taxpayers of diverse viewpoints. Those taxpayers are rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, Hawk and Dove. To suggest that their tax money can properly be used to reward those who support current Pentagon plans and policies and to punish those who dissent is not only obnoxious but also destructive of efforts to build the strongest possible defense force.