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Keep Bombs Off Texas Beaches
Navy Exploits Another Target
Bush Betrays Military, Preserve Vieques Serenity
Keep Bombs Off Texas Beaches
July 5, 2001
Converting a pristine stretch of South Texas coastline into a bombing range for the U.S. Navy is a bad idea no matter which way you turn it. Whatever benefits would accrue from the proposal to establish a live-fire training ground and bombing range on 220,000 acres near Sarita in Kenedy County are swamped by the damage that would occur. The economic boost projected from a Navy and Marine Corps training facility on the coast is vastly outweighed by the destruction from aerial bombardment and shelling and amphibious assaults
The U.S. Navy is looking for new bombing practice sites now that President Bush has set a date to end the controversial bombing runs on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . Pushed by military and economic development interests in and around Corpus Christi, South Texas surfaced as an alternative location to replace Vieques when bombing ends there in 2003.
Navy officials are waiting for a committee studying the proposal to issue a report before deciding whether to go forward. The report is due in October, and Texans should use the interim to inform Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, who represents that district, of the plan's detriments.
Opposition to the bombing range surfaced quickly this week. A coalition of Texas environmental groups wrote Secretary of the Navy Gordon England to express their objections, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association condemned the plan, and the Kenedy County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to oppose the plan in a letter to the Navy.
The area under consideration is bounded by Baffin Bay on the north, Laguna Madre on the south and the Padre Island National Seashore on the east. It is a swatch of Texas with a sensitive ecosystem that is home to numerous endangered species. It's certain that more groups will fight the bombing range as the Navy's deadline for a decision approaches.
In a press release from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Mary Kelly, director of the Texas Center for Policy Studies, said, "The Laguna Madre and the Padre National Seashore are national ecological treasures. We'll oppose this plan at every step of the way."
The thought of the Marines regularly conducting amphibious landings on the shore, coordinated with aerial bombings and shelling from off-shore, upsets more than environmentalists. Local residents, too, are concerned about the effect such exercises would have on wildlife, commercial and sport fishing and tourism.
They should be. It is difficult to imagine more disruptive and destructive activities than live-fire military assaults, ship-to- shore shelling and aerial bombardment.
The military needs bombing ranges and amphibious assault training, but those activities should occur without ravaging a sensitive environment or shattering the lives of the local population. As the uproar over Vieques has shown, a practice range for aerial bombing is not anyone's friendly neighbor.
South Texas is an inappropriate location for a bombing range, and the Navy should drop it from consideration.
Navy Exploits Another Target
July 5, 2001
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The U.S. Navy has bombed the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for nearly 60 years, causing irreparable damage to the island's environment and countless health problems for Vieques ' citizens.
The Navy's presence on the island is overwhelming, and with only a small space for civilians, the Navy's -- and its bombs' -- proximity to the Vieques population has literally pushed the island's inhabitants into the middle of the Navy' activities.
Like most U.S. military endeavors, people always come second. Are the people of this small Puerto Rico island chain unimportant? Perhaps the U.S. military thinks so, but we don't.
Is it money? Is it the dislike of Puerto Rico 's government? More than likely, it's none of these. The U.S. military likes to exploit people of nations that are not on American soil, even if on an American territory.
How many bombs do you have to test in order to see what happens? Aren't these the same bombs that put craters in the ground and reduced buildings to rubble?
The military claims that this is the only place that it can conduct these crucial maneuvers. Are you kidding? How many islands are there in the world? Don't answer that, but you can guess the number is huge. Probably so many, in fact, that such things as military maneuvers and bomb testing could be carried out somewhere else -- with no harm to people.
The U.S. military's image is being tarnished -- and it doesn't care. The Navy keeps bombing, and the people of Vieques wake up to the sounds of explosions. Imagine that, waking up to bombs exploding. Last time we checked, that meant war.
The protesters on Vieques have every right to try and end these bombings the U.S. military sees as "necessary." Actually, these people have no choice but to protest.
We as Americans must join the protest and stop the military from this questionable act. Remember Vietnam? If it weren't for protesting, thousands more probably would have died.
Vieques isn't the same caliber, but the military has gone too far in their endeavors, exploiting innocent people and the land they reside on.
Will the bombing of this small island end? It's up to the people of Vieques and the concerned citizens of America to put an end to this action. As more Americans and public figures unite, 60 years of bombing could come to an end. Until then, keep protesting.
Defense: Setting A Course
July 8, 2001
One of the things that will help define the Bush II presidency is how he handles the issue of national defense and his decisive action on the question of Vieques is a good indicator.
Facing a potential disaster left by his predecessor, Bush decided to cut his losses and end the Navy's use of Vieques as a training facility.
That has substantial downside. The Navy has looked everywhere for a site that has the unique advantages of Vieques , which the Navy has used for 60 years. No luck, so far.
In order to conduct coordinated live-fire exercises, there must be deep water for the carriers and other ships to use, beaches for Marines to make amphibious landings on and a range for aircraft to making bombing and strafing runs. Each of these can be done at other locations, but finding one that will have everything will be difficult.
The Navy even has gone so far as to explore the idea of making an island. But to create one, say, in the shallow Gulf of Mexico might cost a couple of billion dollars and it still would be unsatisfactory.
Bush had to act. The previous president had made a critical error by allowing a referendum to take place on Vieques , where 9,300 people live. Never before in history has the nation allowed national defense policy to be shaped by a local referendum.
Also, the previous policy would have cost the nation $90 million. Part of the money already is spent and, with luck, the course correction will save the remainder.
It will be needed. If the move requires additional land and infrastructure, it will be expensive. The move itself will be costly. Also, the cleanup costs on the east side of the island will be huge.
But, without Vieques , the rationale for Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station will be lessened. The Navy should give serious consideration to moving its assets elsewhere, since it obviously is no longer welcome in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico .
Jacksonville is a likely site for such activity.
The government made a major mistake in closing Cecil Field and it is too late to rectify that, but Jacksonville is a city with six decades of Navy history and probably would welcome more involvement with the sea service. It has Mayport Naval Station, a deep water carrier port, and Jacksonville Naval Air Station, with its fine airfield and repair depot, to offer.
Bush seems intent upon rebuilding the nation's military strength. He should look to Jacksonville in that effort.
July 9, 2001
PRESIDENT BUSH announced that he would end military exercises and aerial bombing runs on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by 2003. For the people of Vieques the decision is not very consequential--the Navy's bombs have been falling nine miles from the nearest habitation. It says a lot, though, about President Bush and about Puerto Rico , none of it good.
The demonstrators against the naval exercises are a rag-tag of Castroites and their mainland cheerleaders. The Rev. Al Sharpton went down for a celebrity protest and handcuffing. To his surprise, he was thrown in the stammer for 90 days, which has done him good--he went on a hunger strike, thereby losing 21 pounds.
The Bush administration has now decided that the Navy can do the exercises elsewhere, and by other means, and has announced that the training on Vieques will stop in two years. When the decision was attacked--Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) sent out an angry open letter to the "men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces"; Trent Lott and John McCain were also critical--the administration argued that it had been boxed in by the Clinton administration, and past Republican Congresses, which had agreed to hold a local referendum on Vieques . Leaving a decision of military import to the whim of a few thousand voters, the White House explained, was unacceptable; better to retreat than fight, and very likely, lose.
Perhaps alternatives to training on Vieques could be found--although the Navy had previously insisted that none would be as good, the protestors' success there would encourage left-wing activists at any such place, and Navy secretary Gordon England seems to place too much faith in computer simulations (there is no substitute for the real thing, as gunners in the Royal Navy who shout "Bang!" instead of firing live ammunition attest). But the Vieques decision is not about military efficiency, or political prudence.
Candidate George W. Bush boxed in Republican congressmen when he announced in February 2000 that he would let the Navy leave Vieques if local voters wanted it ("The desires of Puerto Rico are very important to us," Bush said on the campaign trail). This was Mr. Compassionate Conservative, trolling for the Hispanic vote. What the black vote became for Jack Kemp, the Hispanic vote is for Bush--the Great Whale of Color, surging just beyond the grasp of the GOP There is a legitimate insight in the wishes of both men: Republicans can never improve their showing among minorities if they don't make their case to them; it is a civic duty to treat voters equally. With both men, however, the insight was swiftly corrupted by the desire for quick results. Maybe the breakthrough will be this bit of symbolism-or that concession--or this sell-out. Not surprisingly, Bush has gotten nothing for his pains: Activists denounce the 2003 pull-out as too late, and abler stateside panderers, such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. George Pataki, echo their dismay.
The political news from Puerto Rico is, if possible, worse. There are Puerto Ricans who believe the Navy should be supported (many Puerto Ricans are veterans, after all). They have no organized political expression, however, because the two dominant local parties have used Vieques as a football. The pro-statehood party cites it as an instance of what goes wrong because of Puerto Rico 's commonwealth status, while the pro-commonwealth party accuses the statehood forces of not protesting the bombing vigorously enough.
Puerto Rico is an anomaly in American political terms--a distinct but dependent nation, enjoying a variety of rights and privileges. Empires ruled by monarchs manage these situations rather well--one thinks of the native states of India, with their own coins, stamps, and maharajahs, all under the sway of the King-Emperor. Democratic republics have a harder time of it, though Puerto Rico has accepted its status for over a century. If the Puerto Rican political classes cannot say that they accept their island's special status, and that they will not let millions of contented Puerto Ricans be bullied by a handful of radicals, then we should prepare for the day when we will let them deal with Vieques , and all other problems, on their own.
Bush betrays military
July 4, 2001
President Bush's declaration that the Navy-Marine Corps training facility on Vieques is to be closed by May 2003 is alarmingly irresponsible. Bush's move, apparently a foolish attempt to attract a certain bloc of voters, will cost the lives of service members that would have been preserved with continued training on Vieques .
Bush recklessly attempts to usurp congressional authority and invalidate the laudable effort by pro- defense members of Congress to negotiate a referendum on the issue to be decided by Vieques inhabitants later this year.
To sanction the closing of a training site with no plan to replace it is egregious mismanagement and indulgence of special-interest protests founded on junk science and irrationality. It is unconscionable for the commander in chief to attempt to evict those expected to wage a successful military campaign from the only proving grounds available.
This cave-in to special interests, supposedly a good-neighbor policy designed by the Navy, is a sophomoric move of Clintonian proportions. It is insulting to Americans who support the military. More is expected from a self-avowed principled conservative.
- Gerald N. McCutcheon Jr., Annandale Politics trumps defense Watching the Puerto Rico Day parade, I saw New York Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer among the throng of politicians protesting Navy bombing and gunnery training exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . Concerned celebrities also included Al Sharpton, Mario Cuomo, environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Bronx Democratic Party Chairman Roberto Ramirez, state Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Rep. Jose Serrano. Conspicuously absent was "Hanoi Jane" Fonda, presumably too distraught to participate after the premature death of mass murderer Timothy McVeigh.
For a while, it appeared as though the cruel Pentagon would survive this onslaught, but White House political strategists determined that 1) this was an opportunity to gain badly needed Hispanic votes and 2) help New York Republican Gov. George Pataki, who is involved in a tight re-election battle, get Latino votes. Consequently, whatever lessons we learned regarding national security and defense at Pearl Harbor have taken a back seat to the unconscionable pursuit of votes. My heart goes out to Navy Secretary Gordon England and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who must be suffering horrific nightmares.
- Maurice Fenichel, Fanwood Go it alone? Having read Paul Mulshine's June 24 piece on Vieques , I can only say that if he wants to run for president, I'll be with him all the way. He is on target in that this should be a nonissue, given the benefits to Puerto Rico of affiliation with the United States.
The analogy with the Dominican Republic's woes may stretch the point, but I cannot fathom the mindset of those who would lose much more than they could gain from independence. With all the support we send Puerto Rico 's way (no federal income tax!), it might be wise to grant independence if anti-U.S. sentiment is so rampant. Let's give the island's citizens a chance to go it alone and check back in a decade or so to see how the local economy is doing without Uncle Sam's handouts. On the positive side, it was nice knowing that Al Sharpton, the most self-centered activist of all time, was basking in San Juan's warm breezes and giving the metro area a break.
- Bob Dutson, Summit Vital training When I was a Marine, I twice trained on Vieques . I was in C Company, 8th Combat Engineers. When the exercises were completed, the engineers would stay on the island and repair any damage caused there. When I arrived back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., we received word that our sergeant and good friend, Brian Jones of Gidion, Mo., was accidentally killed while making repairs on the island. He left behind a beautiful wife and a young son, Brian Jr.
The reason we train under combat conditions is to prepare to fight and win if we must go to war. If we lose the war, we lose our freedom of speech, of assembly, of religion and of the press. We have trained in Vieques for 60 years, and now with elections not far off, we see all the candidates using Hispanics for political gain and no other reason. How many of these politicians are veterans?
Preserve Vieques serenity
July 3, 2001
My heartfelt thanks to President Bush for stopping the bombing of the lovely island of Vieques.
Decades ago, my family and I lived for 10 years in Puerto Rico. One of my favorite memories is of a school picnic on Vieques.
After a rough crossing that day on the open ferry, the Isabelle Segundo, we were refreshed to find serenity on this pristine island, untouched by outside distortions. It was another world.
How we enjoyed the peace, the beauty of the beaches, the wildlife and the stillness.
That is the way it should remain for parents and children for generations to come.
Margaret Chapman, Anna Maria
Vieques Is Vital To U.S. Naval Training
July 5, 2001
As a young Marine officer, I participated in Vieques training during three different naval deployments to the Caribbean basin area between 1977 and 1981.
And so have thousands of other Marines and sailors, before and since.
President Bush's recent decision to end the military training at Vieques within two years appears to be nothing more than political kowtowing to the loudest group.
Vieques is as important today to our country's defense as it has ever been. The naval surface and undersea training, including live-fire training, is critical to preparing our troops for combat.
No place in this hemisphere that's under U.S. government control today has the opportunity for coordinated sea-air-land combat training as has Vieques . We lose Vieques training and we could lose more Americans the next time they go into a hostile environment.
The Clinton administration punted on the issue of continued training on Vieques .
What is worse, the Bush administration politically blinked in the face of a lot of loudmouths, many masquerading as Vieques citizens. Shame on both presidents for not having the courage to take a stand and insist that our nation's sons and daughters were more precious than a small piece of desolate and rocky ground located on the far tip of an island.
The protesters? As has been the case for the past 25 years, a disproportionate number are from other islands, including Puerto Rican mainland nationalists, mischief-makers on Fidel Castro's payroll and American liberal egos looking for a cause - any cause - to sponsor.
Despite what the news media say, for more than 60 years the majority of the people who live on Vieques has been accepting of U.S. military exercises there. Our military presence, U.S. taxpayer-subsidized social services and U.S.-based business and tourism investments have ensured freedom and stability for much of that part of the Caribbean basin.
It is naive to think that this is a situation in which someone else will now take a turn for his or her land to be used for Vieques -type training. Even if such a place could be found and an offer made, the far-left environmentalists would find some reason for blocking the training.
I have seen urgent military training canceled at a cost of millions of U.S. tax dollars because some endangered bird or turtle unexpectedly showed up in the trees or on the beach. I love the animals, too, but I place the safety and training of people our country could send into combat as the common-sense priority.
Frankly, I doubt whether two years will be enough time to find a suitable replacement for Vieques . When that "replacement" is named, it probably will be nothing more than PR smoke and mirrors from a Department of Defense making the best of a bad situation.
It is hoped that President Bush will revisit his decision.
Barry N. Moore
Editor's note: The writer is a national director of the Navy League of the United States.
Let the Public Speak
July 6, 2001
EDITOR: Dear Congressman James Hansen: As a taxpayer of this nation, and a person of color (not Puerto Rican ), I am appalled at your recent remarks claiming that the people of Puerto Rico have a "sweetheart deal" and are living off welfare from the United States. You were quoted as saying, "They sit down there on welfare and very few of them (are) paying taxes." This is insulting on two levels; first and foremost it smacks of racism. Secondly, since when do people not have the right to protest in this country?
You have done a disservice to the people of Puerto Rico by painting them as lazy welfare bums. Glancing through the Census Bureau's "Consolidated Federal Funds Report," some interesting numbers appear. Your state of Utah has a population of 2.3 million compared to Puerto Rico 's population of 3.8 million. Yet on a per capita basis, the federal government spent an average of $4,016 for every resident of Utah in 1999, compared with $3,416 for every resident of Puerto Rico .
Utah received more than twice as many Medicaid dollars from the federal government: $558 million to $219 million. Why then, do you insist that Puerto Ricans are living off welfare? Using federal subsidies as the criteria for judgment, it looks as if the citizens of Utah could more accurately be described as "sitting down there on welfare."
Also, you were supposedly miffed that the people of Puerto Rico dared to protest the military bombing in Vieques . Were the protestors to give up their right to protest simply because they are Puerto Ricans , poor people, or (supposedly) on welfare?
I certainly hope that you come to the realization that stereotypes are bad for everyone and that rights are not tied to a person's income level or income source.
PUERTO RICO HAS MUCH TO OFFER U.S.
July 7, 2001
These days, when American citizens get up in arms over the building of a new school (or, heaven forbid, a prison) in their communities, it is a surprise to read a Pompano letter writer's rebuke of Puerto Rico for its complaint against live ammunition naval exercises in Vieques ' back yards. He should reread his history -- Puerto Rico offers us plenty!
That is why we took that island first after the war with Spain and why we insisted on citizenship for its inhabitants during the First World War. It was just too strategic a spot to give up.
Puerto Ricans might even be considered more patriotic than our 48 contiguous states: They represent a greater number of military men in every conflict (by state) and serve proudly, even though they do not have the right to vote for their president.
President Bush might have been rethinking some of this history when he chose to negotiate a better deal for the inhabitants of Vieques .