Reserving a larger defense role

The current guidance from the Defense Department is that the United States will no longer conduct long-term stability operations, despite 50 years of doing so in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Vietnam, and Korea. Presently, we are said to be "pivoting" to the Pacific Rim, needing to maintain a large military presence to defend that area. Given our precarious economy and exploding debt, the nation must find a way to provide an adequate land force at a sustainable cost.

U.S. Army commanders recommend the Army stabilize at 1,045,000 soldiers, with slightly more than half reservists. Naysayers want further reductions, in some cases, by almost 200,000 troops. But why settle for a smaller total Army when the way to save a significant amount of money would be to drop the full-time ranks by 100,000, while boosting the reserves that amount? Annual savings of $15.7 billion would be significant.

The skilled and courageous troops of the nation's Army Reserves have demonstrated their competence and effectiveness over the last 11 years of war. A larger Army National Guard will give our governors greater domestic emergency-response capabilities, while a larger Army Reserve will bolster the full-time force.

Maj. Gen. Wesley E. Craig, adjutant general, Pennsylvania National Guard, Fort Indiantown Gap

Phila. blacks' Gettysburg fears

As a Civil War historian, I am thrilled that The Inquirer reminded readers that the history of those three days is everywhere around us in the city ("Philadelphia 'a living monument' to the Civil War," May 12). But I hope for a greater focus on the experiences of Philadelphians of color, for whom those days in late June and July 1863 were terrifying on another scale.

Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia kidnapped hundreds of free blacks, brought them south, and sold them into slavery. Indeed, the diary entries written by Emilie Davis, a free black woman living in Philadelphia during the war, portray a different picture of those days. Davis' father lived in Harrisburg, where she rightly feared for his safety. And Davis' late-June description of refugees on Philadelphia's streets - available at davisdiaries.villanova.edu - also makes for fascinating and compelling reading.

Judith Giesberg, associate professor, department of history, Villanova University

Gun-sentence law just one tool

Writing in opposition to our proposal of a two-year prison sentence for anyone illegally carrying a firearm in Philadelphia, commentators Julie Stewart and Pat Nolan miss the point about how public safety can be improved in the city ("Gun-sentence law not the answer," May 13).

Law enforcement officials in New York say their 31/2-year mandatory sentence for gun possession was a "game changer." Like New York's, Philadelphia's strategy against gun violence is also multifaceted. For instance, local law enforcement officials already are pursuing similar hot-spot policing. And city prosecutors are asking for high bail in gun cases as an additional deterrent.

So, the mandatory minimum we have proposed would, much like New York's, be but one important part of an overall strategy. It will take criminals off our streets and return a sense of safety to our neighborhoods.

State Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.)

State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.)

Take two pills and call your bank

Our country is collapsing under the weight of health costs, but hospitals and doctors issue hilariously inflated charges that almost no one actually pays ("What hospitals bill, what Medicare pays," May 9). They will rake some poor, uninsured people over the coals and threaten to foreclose on their homes anyway. Charges are legally required to be reasonable. Hospitals and other providers fail this test constantly. The courts and legislatures need to step up and step in - because, clearly, the hospitals, left to their own devices, will keep doing things like charging $1.29 per Tylenol tablet.

Mark Squires, Philadelphia

City push against front garages

Front-garage row homes are prohibited by the new city code in densely developed neighborhoods. So it has long been planning policy to recommend against them to encourage pedestrian-friendly, walkable streets, and to preserve public, on-street parking spaces. Under Lynette Brown-Sow's leadership, the city Zoning Board of Adjustment has been an active partner in code reform. Requiring developers to conform to the code will assure better overall development in the future.

Gary J. Jastrzab, executive director, City Planning Commission, Philadelphia, gary.jastrzab@phila.gov