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War college overkill

From the office of the secretary of defense in the Pentagon building can be seen a perfect monument to the fact that the people who run the national government take care of themselves, first, last and always. It is called Fort McNair.

Fifty years after Gens. George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to abolish the service war colleges in favor of a single National War College, we now have four such colleges _ one of them, at Fort McNair, grandiosely restyled as a "National Defense University." They are on six separate installations, the principal real estate of which is occupied by 82 holes of golf, including nine at Fort McNair.

Two years ago, people in that same Pentagon building closed Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine, not for military reasons but because they had concluded that we Mainers have an unacceptable "quality of life." The ripple effect of that action is now axiomatic among our local Realtors: "Nothing sells north of the Kennebec."

Yet after successive rounds of base closings, not one major military installation in Washington or its Maryland and Virginia environs has been closed. That contributes enormously to the "quality of life" of those _ including members of Congress _ who use military clubs, tennis courts, swimming pools, bowling alleys and, by no means least, golf courses and medical facilities.

The war-college problem relates directly to the fact that in Washington and throughout the world, the headquarters structure created to run the Cold War has not been reduced commensurate with the drastic reduction of our armed forces overall. Even the U.S. Southern Command, whose raison d'etre will disappear with the final U.S. withdrawal from Panama, will go on and on in Florida, no doubt to have many "official visitors" from Washington _ especially from Dec. 1 to March 1.

The four war colleges are the academic underpinning of that bloated headquarters structure. They produce the "studies" that persuade Congress to keep the Cold War structure intact.

Marshall and Eisenhower got so fed up with the self-serving mind-set produced in the pre-World War II Army and Navy war colleges that they tried to do away with them both in favor of a National War College. They got as far as abolishing the Army War College and turning over its "campus" _ Fort McNair _ to the newly established National War College.

The Navy balked and got away with retaining a Naval War College at Newport, R.I. That led the Army to re-establish its war college after Marshall and Eisenhower moved on to greater things. The Air Force followed suit.

For the moment, at least, the problem was minimized in that all three of the service war colleges were located with the next lower ("Command and General Staff") service schools. Then the Army tried to close Carlisle Barracks, Pa. "No way," said then-Pennsylvania Gov. David L. Lawrence, one of the "kingmakers" of the Democratic Party. Harry Truman listened. The Army War College was split off to provide a tenant for Carlisle Barracks.

Also, an Armed Forces Staff College was created as an adjunct to the National War College, but in far-off Norfolk, Va.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act, which is now on the books, requires what Marshall and Eisenhower had sought by closing the service war colleges. The time has come to face up to what Marshall and Eisenhower were saying half a century ago: There is no such thing as an "Army war," a "Navy war" or an "Air Force war."

What to do about it is plain enough: Close Fort McNair and sell its prime real estate. Abolish the service war colleges. Deflate the "National Defense University" to its intended status, combine it with the Armed Forces Staff College and move the twain to the more modern _ and more economical _ facilities now occupied by the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

That would leave the services with all the means they need to develop ideas about how war should be fought.

And if the Army is made to do with only one major installation in the capital area _ Fort Myer _ maybe someone will begin asking why the Air Force needs both Bolling and Andrews.

And that would send a message to all of us gazing on from afar that Washington has begun to understand the implications for itself of defense "downsizing."

William V. Kennedy, a writer who specializes in military affairs, was a strategic analyst at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute from 1967 to 1984.

Special to the Washington Post

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