By Dan McDonald
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank wants to reduce this country's military spending from $650 billion to $425 billion.
That was the message he brought to the dozens of people who packed the second floor room of the Corson Building on William Street.
Surrounded by graphs and charts that illustrated the country's military spending, Frank told those gathered that the U.S. cannot be the world's policeman and suggested that in certain far-flung locales it made little sense to have a military presence, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism.
"A base in West Germany and Marines in Okinawa won't defeat terrorism," said Frank.
Later, he added, "I wish nuclear submarines could fight terrorism. We'd win. They don't have them. We have lots."
The vast majority of the crowd appeared to be receptive to Frank's idea of reducing the country's military budget.
Frank suggested that other developed powers are relying too heavily on U.S. military presence for their own security concerns.
He joked that the new favorite book in western Europe and Japan must be Tom Sawyer.
"They have figured out how to make us paint their fence," he said.
He added, "When was the last time you came across Belgian troops? It's all a one-way street," he said.
Frank said the military spending should be reduced in order to preserve funding for domestic programs; specifically, he questioned whether South Coast rail would become a reality without cutting military spending or whether the harbor cleanup could be sped up without cuts to such spending.
Frank said he would not be interested in cutting the rate of pay for troops or veterans benefits.
Donald Blake, a 52-year-old city resident and U.S. Navy veteran sounded receptive to reducing the military's budget, but did not want to further deplete benefits and services to troops.
"There are troops coming back from the military who are receiving substandard health care," he said. "And there are military families in substandard housing and living on food stamps."
Philip Lopes, an Air Force veteran and New Bedford resident, also said Frank should "focus on the parts of the budget that are really fat, but please protect our troops."
Local resident Karen Vilandry said "we cannot afford to be big brother to everyone else," before questioning Frank on how much government money benefits illegal immigrants.
Carol Adler, a Mattapoisett resident, wanted assurances that military spending could be reduced without sacrificing safety.
"My fear is that we're not going to be safe," she said.
Maria Fontes, a city resident, wanted to know why the U.S. was "rebuilding other countries when our country is falling apart."
Steven Bonney, a Mattapoisett resident, equated military spending with "throwing money down a rathole."
"You make things that no one uses or you hope no one has to use," he said.