Parkas and Snowplows

In the 1960s it was a grand international joke when the Soviet Union, eager to make inroads into Africa, sent the then-left-leaning governmentof subequatorial Guinea a magnificent gift of . . . snowplows ! Now the United States, which prides itself on knowing where in the world the sun shines and where the snow flies, has sent the embattled government of the Philippines emergency medical military aid in the form of . . . parkas ! Filipino soldiers assigned to chase Communist guerrillas in 90-degree heat are not amused.

In fact there’s nothing funny about the aid shipment. Last September President Reagan personally announced that $10 million in medical aid would be quickly sent to the Philippines. Nearly six months later only about one-fourth of the promised help has arrived--some of it mislabeled and some of it, like the parkas, wildly inappropriate to local needs.

The material is all supposed to come from existing U.S. military stocks. That is scary, because it suggests that the military supply system may beso hopelessly bollixed that no one can be sure what’s where. Parkas are bad enough. What’s worse is that the U.S. shipment to the Philippines included boxes labeled tuberculosis capsules that, on being opened, were found to contain only headache remedies. The Pentagon has spent and continues to spend billions of dollars on computerized inventory control. For all that, it apparently still can’t tell a parka from a bedpan, or vital TB medicine from an aspirin.