Paul Newman's Lesser-Known Legacy

By Jeffrey Mason 10-02-2008

With the passing of Hollywood legend Paul Newman, there is a significant legacy that many in the mainstream media are unaware of. In addition to Paul Newman's magnificent philanthropic contributions from the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang charity for sick children to his strong support for many other causes, little known is his and his wife's, Joanne Woodward, long association with the nonprofit, nonpartisan military watchdog organization-the Center for Defense Information.

Often mislabeled "left-leaning," the Center for Defense Information was founded in 1972 by retired Rear Admiral Gene R. La Rocque (a World War II veteran) as an organization committed to closely scrutinizing military spending and publicizing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Pentagon, the military branches, and other federal agencies. And Newman and Woodward were there virtually from the beginning.

In the organization's first decade, Ms. Woodward helped organize and moderate a women's conference on preventing nuclear war. One or the other of the pair were regular fixtures at the Center's annual board meetings. Paul and Joanne have worked vigorously over the decades to fulfill the major credo of CDI: " ... that a strong defense entails more than tanks, planes, and well-trained military personnel. The Center for Defense Information believes that strong social, economic, political, and military components and a healthy environment contribute equally to the nation's security. CDI opposes excessive expenditures for weapons and policies that increase the danger of war."

Staffed by a distinguished group of retired U.S. military officers (many served at the highest levels of the Pentagon) and civilian analysts (like David Johnson, author of the influential web-based "Russia List"), the Center's distinguished alumni include Admiral La Rocque, the late Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Jr., as well as Marine Colonel James A. Donovan (former publisher of The Journal of the Armed Forces). Current contributors include a plethora of senior advisers and military fellows like Marine Generals Anthony Zinni and Charles Wilhelm, Dr. Philip Coyle III (former Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation, who has lobbied hard against the Bush Administration's unreasonable push to deploy untested, unproven, and overly expensive missile defense systems), and military expert Lawrence Korb. CDI is now directed by nuclear weapons expert Dr. Bruce Blair, formerly of the Brookings Institution and before that a U.S. Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer.

Paul Newman led a busy life, but he reserved quite a bit of his valuable time to work and promote an everyman's perspective on defending our nation. This perspective opposed the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race (ratcheted up by both Brezhnev and Reagan) both during the Cold War and today (when America and Russia still possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons-locked into a dangerous destabilizing hair-trigger alert status almost 20 years after the ending of the Cold War in 1991). Newman and millions of average Americans also said "no" to the unnecessary and unwise utilization of U.S. military force in Panama (1989), Somalia (1993-94), Iraq, and Iran (as press and pundits ironically debate whether we can "save the world" from Iranian irrationality by nuking that nation). Paul opposed NATO expansion, supported past and current efforts to clean up the huge toxic legacy (including chemical and nuclear wastes sometimes boxed in cardboard and dumped into local landfills) at thousands of military and Department of Energy sites located throughout our nation, and argued for many other checks on the damaging Bush Administration's neo-conservative perspective that has today made America a feared and somewhat isolated player on the world stage.

Paul Newman did not use CDI as a soapbox to publicly shout his views on reasonable defense. Instead he worked behind the scenes to promote peace, prosperity, and the judicious and rare use of American military force.

So enjoy your Newman's Own popcorn while you watch Butch Cassidy or Cool Hand Luke tonight in honor of the blue-eyed kid from Cleveland, but also remember that perhaps America is just a bit safer and secure thanks to this particular legacy of Mister Paul Newman.

Jeffrey W. Mason worked for the Center for Defense Information from 1992 to 2003.

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