Chiding critics of his military buildup and renewing his pledge to have a 600-ship Navy by the end of the decade, President Reagan told U.S. Naval Academy graduates Wednesday that “it is too costly for America not to be prepared” for hostilities and that “the way to prevent war is to be prepared for it.”
“It is about time,” Reagan said, “that those who place their faith in wishful thinking and good intentions get the word.”
The President spoke at commencement exercises in which 1,032 midshipmen received their degrees before being sworn in as Navy ensigns and second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. And he told the graduates that the Navy is in much better condition now than it was during the 1970s.
“I know you are ready for the Navy,” he said, “and I can tell you the Navy is much more ready for you.”
Debate in Congress
Reagan made his remarks as the House began debating a congressional budget resolution that would slow the momentum in defense spending for the first time since he took office and started across-the-board modernization of the military establishment.
The Senate already has voted to allow defense spending to increase at the rate of inflation--well below the 6% rise over inflation originally requested by Reagan for fiscal 1986--while the House seems likely to freeze defense spending in a vote scheduled for today.
In his remarks to the academy graduates, the President did not dwell on his efforts to reduce the federal deficit without cutting his defense program. But he said the Navy has undergone a dramatic turnaround in the last four years.
“During the last decade,” he said, “perhaps as a result of confusion stemming from the Vietnam War, America again permitted its military strength to decline. For the Navy, this meant going from almost 1,000 ships in the late 1960s to fewer than 500 by 1980. In real terms, our overall military spending dropped by 20% in the 1970s.”
532 in Commission
Reagan said that, with 532 vessels now in commission and 102 under construction or conversion, the Navy will reach a goal of 600 ships, including 15 aircraft carriers, by the end of the decade.
The President made only passing mention of the procurement problems that have accompanied the massive defense buildup, telling the graduates that good news can be found even in the disclosure of huge overcharges by contractors for military hardware.
“We’ve moved forward to ferret out waste and inefficiency,” he said, adding: “That’s why you hear stories about outrageously expensive hammers or bolts. We’re finding the waste and cutting it out.”
Reagan presented diplomas to the 105 graduates who completed their studies with distinction, then stood for 1 1/2 hours to shake the hands of all of the other graduates as their names were called.
Most of the exuberant midshipmen let out whoops of joy and ran off the stage, holding their diplomas high. One of them, Dominic V. Cuyno of Oceanside, Calif., smacked the President’s palm with the “high five” greeting that athletes use to congratulate teammates after home runs and touchdowns.