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July 31, 2001
Time to ratchet down the rhetoric and histrionics.
This week's straw ballot by Vieques residents on the Navy's bombing exercises on the island, although symbolic and nonbinding, should mark a turning point. The 2-1 vote against the military drills surprised no one. It was a clear indication of the islanders' desire to get rid of the Navy, and it represents a victory for the growing numbers of anti-Navy protesters.
But the vote didn't change any minds. It didn't dissuade the Bush administration from its planned withdrawal from the island in 2003. And it didn't dampen the ardor of those determined to force the Navy to leave immediately.
If anything, the vote was an emotional watershed. Finally, the band of naysayers who have long resented the Navy's intrusion see their issue drawing a broader consensus. So unpopular are the military's war exercises that the protests have attracted civil-rights luminaries, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jacqueline Jackson, wife of Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But the protests are escalating even as the issue of the Navy's presence is being resolved. A binding referendum, set by Congress, is scheduled on the issue in November. Although the Bush administration would like to see that vote canceled, the president yesterday reiterated his pledge to find a new site for the combined air, sea and land operations.
The Navy has searched for years for a suitable location without success. So the commitment to move represents a significant concession from the federal government and a victory for protesters, including Puerto Rican governor Sila María Calderón, who recently won office on a ``Get out of Vieques'' campaign.
Given that processes now are in place for a binding vote and for the eventual withdrawal of Navy operations, it's time for all involved to ratchet down the rhetoric and histrionics. By her good example, Gov. Calderón can do much to set the stage for a more-civil discourse and negotiations of an end-game strategy. At this point, continued protests are counterproductive and potentially put people in harm's way.
We support the withdrawal plan first negotiated by President Clinton and subsequently agreed to by President Bush. The U.S. military's assessment of the island as a unique resource that is vital to our country's ability to prepare soldiers under live-fire conditions is correct. Moreover, the military will be hard-pressed to find a comparable replacement for Vieques.
But for so vital an operation, the U.S. military has blundered badly through the years in its relations with the islanders and in fulfilling its promises for economic support. Those historical missteps now come home to roost in today's seething outrage. That outrage fueled Sunday's straw ballot and ensures the certainty of change. With victory assured, its now time to chill out, Vieques.
The Vieques Realities
July 31, 2001
President Bush, who is determined to expand the Republican Party's appeal to Hispanics, has a pretty shrewd sense of how to do it: appointing Latinos to high-level jobs, stressing his warm relations with Mexican President Vicente Fox, and raising the possibility of offering legal status to many illegal immigrants.
But no action by his administration has been quite as transparent as his decision to stop the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for military training. As a political tactic, however, this choice may turn out to be a dud. And as a military decision, it's worse.
His move obviously accords with sentiment on Vieques , whose residents voted by more than two-to-one Sunday to demand the Navy's departure--but they want the exercises to end immediately, not in 2003 as Bush has announced. The Navy plans to resume maneuvers this week despite the outcome. Local activists vow to respond with civil disobedience, in which Bush is sure to be portrayed as a villain, not a savior.
More important, though, is the matter of replacing one of the military's most valuable assets. In his rush to do the smart political thing, the president took the sunny view that "the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises." But he doesn't seem to know where that should be.
The Navy has described the facility as "the crown jewel of live- fire, combined arms training." A presidential panel appointed by President Bill Clinton could find no site anywhere with the potential to provide what Vieques has furnished. The Navy has already concluded it can't use 222,000 acres in South Texas as a successor.
But the administration needs to figure out, without delay, where the Navy is going. If there are alternatives, they need to be identified soon, so the infrastructure can be created to accommodate this vital military need. If none can be found, the administration ought to consider staying at Vieques --and buying out those residents who don't want to live near a bombing range, just as it would buy out homeowners in the path of an interstate highway.
That would be more generous than what the military does for many other Americans who live near live-fire facilities. The resistance to the Navy's presence in Puerto Rico may be understandable, but it's not likely to help those who think the island ought to become the 51st state.
A president can't ignore political reality, but neither can he let it override military necessity. Where will the Pentagon go to give its fighting forces the training they need to survive and win in battle? That's a question that should have been answered before the decision was made on Vieques, not after.
PAUL K. HARRAL
July 15, 2001
During the Second World War, the Boot, the newspaper at the Marine Corps recruit training center at Parris Island, S.C., carried a statement on its masthead:
"Let's Be Damned Sure That No Boy's Ghost Will Ever Say, 'If Your Training Program Had Only Done Its Job.'"
If those words sound familiar, it is because actor Jack Webb said something very similar in the 1957 movie about a Marine drill instructor, The D.I.
The point is obvious: When the issue is life or death, the more realistic the training, the better.
My son is presently a long-serving member of the National Guard. My brother served in Vietnam at about the same time my brother-in-law was stationed in Korea. My father was in the Army - although not overseas - in World War I. My father-in-law and many of his close friends served in World War II, some on the line and some in the rear.
I've never been in the military.
But people who have been tell me that nothing really prepares you for combat.
The most surprising thing about combat on the ground, many say, is the noise. The opening scene in Saving Private Ryan is sometimes cited as a pretty good taste of what actual combat is like.
That's probably why many who have been in combat seldom talk about it; it is just horrific.
I have no combat experience but I do have experience with potentially deadly avocations.
Training to do things that can kill you stresses muscle memory - do things over and over until they become automatic - so automatic that your body will do the proper thing before your mind even has the chance to consider the possibilities.
In some situations, hesitation means death and only repeated practice can eliminate hesitation.
These musings are prompted by the decision to abandon the bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques two years from now.
That may be a good decision or a bad decision. I have no real way of knowing.
But what I do know is that the Armed Forces of the United States need places to practice what they do under the most realistic conditions possible short of actual combat.
Training conducted on Vieques included aerial bombing runs and mock amphibious landings. The Navy has been using Vieques for 60 years and has long maintained that the training area cannot be replaced.
Of course it can be replaced.
But there will be a cost, certainly to the taxpayers. And since it has to go somewhere, there is going to be a cost to any people nearby.
Perhaps the Navy can find some site close enough but remote enough that this does not become an issue.
Like any father, I'm proud of my son and his decision to continue his involvement with the nation's military. Like any father, I fear the day that he may be called to active duty and sent God-knows-where in defense of the United States.
But he has made the decision to face that. The least I can do as a taxpayer is give him the necessary equipment and training.
Because he and many thousands of other men and women are willing to put their lives on the line for all of us, let us keep in mind that phrase from the Boot:
"Let's Be Damned Sure That No Boy's Ghost Will Ever Say, 'If Your Training Program Had Only Done Its Job.'"
Give them a place to practice a dangerous trade.
Paul K. Harral is vice president and editorial director for the Star-Telegram.
The Government Should Stop Its Military Bombardment In Vieques
July 20, 2001
False chargesI am a freedom- and democracy-loving American who believes the government should stop its military bombardment in Vieques , Puerto Rico . I strongly disagree with Paul Mulshine's June 24 and July 1 diatribes.
Mulshine falsely presents the Puerto Rican demonstrators as Communists trying to subvert U.S. interests. He places my congressman, Robert Menendez, a freedom- and democracy-loving Cuban-American, on a par with pro-Castro forces by alleging that Puerto Rican independence supporters have conspired with Fidel Castro to promote the protest in Vieques .
I am proud that my congressman has chosen to listen to the people of Puerto Rico and their religious and political leadership,which includes the Catholic leadership, a pro-statehood former Puerto Rican governor and the current pro-commonwealth Puerto Rican governor.
Puerto Ricans have bravely given their lives in defense of the United States since World War I. They believed in the United States and its democratic values, despite having no right to vote for the U.S. president sending them to war. So it's about time the United States supports Puerto Rico and stops its war on Vieques .
Nelson Perez, Newark
July 24, 2001
Paul Mulshine's June 24 column on Vieques misses the point about why people there want the Navy to leave.
The Defense Department is this country's biggest toxic polluter. It admits to 23,236 toxic "hot spots" on 1,767 military bases. More than 260 facilities are on, or were proposed for, the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list of the nation's most hazardous sites.
Mulshine downplays the serious environmental and health problems the Navy has caused on Vieques instead of insisting that the Pentagon be held responsible for contamination at all military installations.
Unlike New Jersey residents, the people of Puerto Rico (also U.S. citizens) have no representatives in Congress. With no other means for their voices to be heard, they respond with nonviolent civil disobedience.
The American Revolution happened when people no longer tolerated British colonial oppression. It was the duty of patriots then to oppose tyranny and injustice. That remains our duty today.
Instead of sarcastically belittling them, we should support and learn from the people of Vieques who show the courage to stand up for their homes, their health and their rights as human beings.
- Madelyn Hoffman, Montclair, and David Cline, Jersey City
Hoffman is director of NJ Peace Action, and Cline is a member of Veterans Support Vieques.
In light of recent events in Vieques , Puerto Rico , particularly the heavy-handed sentences handed down by U.S. District Judge Hector Lafitte to Puerto Rican Sen. Norma Burgos, it is surprising that Americans are not up in arms over this unacceptable exercise of federal power over the local and regional sovereignty of elected officials, many of whom are staunch supporters of the United States. (Burgos is a statehood advocate.)
Thirty-, 40- and 60-day jail sentences? Thousands of dollars in bail bonds and fines? For trespassing? This is ludicrous! Americans reacted vehemently over federal handling of situations in Ruby Ridge, Waco and Miami. The abuse of federal powers in Vieques is much worse. Americans everywhere interested in freedom of speech and assembly and the right to dissent against federal policy should be alarmed by the handling of those protesting abuses by our armed forces performed in the name of "exercises" on our shores.
Our federal courts would do well to re-evaluate how penalties against protesters in Vieques were levied and to replace the judge involved.
- John Stevens Keim, Hoboken
FR: D Nazario
July 25, 2001
This issue with Vieques is going too far
The only reason the Vieques 4 is going out to Puerto Rico is to strengthen their status with the Puertorican vote and the Hispanic community. I am Puertorican and served in the miltary. This sudden movement is just an embarrassment. The island of Vieques to the eyes of everyone in the United States never existed. Now suddenly, a person is accidentally killed and everyone wants to come out and put their two cents in.
It seems that people do not understand that this was an accident. And accidents do happen. Not to sound cruel or unsympathetic but it was. Had the bomb not been dropped in the wrong place or him not being outside while their were dropping the bombs, none of this would have happened. And the people that want the military out are are all nationalist. It seems that the people of Puerto Rican people don't seem to remember that went disaster strikes the island, who is there to help them? The same people that they want out of the island.
I was always taught to never cut the hand that feeds you. And that is exactly what they are doing. Then these politicians that don't even live on the island going out there for what????? Just spending our tax dollars because you can be sure that they will write it off as a tax expense. Then their is Al Sharpton & Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife. No ones civil rights have been violated. As far as I am concerned we should continue to use the area but turn over more of the property back to the people as well as the financial support that the island is getting from the military.