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San Francisco Chronicle
What's the Problem? They're Just Bombs
by JON CARROLL
August 9, 2000
THE PROTESTS AGAINST the bombing runs on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques continue daily. They started in 1999, when a marine jet made a wee mistake and dropped two bombs in the wrong place, killing a civilian security guard. That sort of made people touchy, even though apologies were issued all around.
``Hey, mistakes happen,'' does not really provide solace in that sort of situation.
The protesters say that the bombing runs damage the environment and stunt economic development on the island, perhaps because potential tourists fret about bombs dropping on their heads.
The military denies the problem. The Navy called the demonstrations ``part of a multimillion-dollar smear campaign'' directed by groups who want independence for Puerto Rico. ``Most of these people have a political affiliation and their cause has nothing to do with Vieques,'' said spokesman Jeff Gordon.
Well, no. If you are dropping great big bombs on a small island despite the residents of said island asking you to stop, you are pretty much smearing yourself. You are trashing an island because you can, because you are strong and they are weak, because you have decided unilaterally that your need to bomb is greater than their need to live in peace.
I guess that would be ``auto-smearing.'' A large government agency spends many millions of dollars to smear itself. Then people with a ``political affiliation'' (I guess the Navy thinks that's a bad thing) do not have to do any work at all. ``We asked them to stop bombing us and they refused'' is pretty good right there; no need for fiery speeches.
WE HAVE GONE through all this before; I even covered the story. The island in this case was Kahoolawe, off the coast of Maui. The time was the mid-'70s. It seems inconceivable now that the Navy would use an entire Hawaiian island as a private bombing range, particularly a place visible on a clear day from Lahaina.
But it happened. Native Hawaiians always had been unhappy about it, but they had little clout. When a bunch of those darned activists with political affiliations got interested, the story made the newspapers. And that made tourists nervous, and making tourists nervous is definitely not part of the Maui game plan.
Still, there were demonstrations, arrests, bitter statements from the Navy about outside agitators, solemn lectures about how important it was to our national security to bomb the hell out of Kahoolawe.
And then those statements became inoperative, and the bombing stopped. No one has blamed any subsequent failure of our armed forces on the Kahoolawe controversy.
But Hawaii is a state and Puerto Rico is not. Many powerful people are interested in preserving the image of Hawaii, a peaceful pocket paradise where the natives wiggle their hips and surf the day away. No politics here, boss! Here I am, your special island! Have a rum drink!
If Jack Lord had moved to San Juan, maybe things would be different.
THE COLONIAL DREAM dies hard. We stole this country fair and square, and our national mythology has turned that theft into a virtue. We trash the places where the people are powerless -- the citizens of rural Nevada and Micronesia have the same story to tell.
You'd turn into a stone libertarian too if your own Navy were bombing your island. You might even develop a political affiliation if your grandchildren were deformed from radiation poisoning.
The military is trained not to give back territory. That's the whole darn point of warfare. But we are, for better or worse, policing the world now. The enemies our size have disappeared. The citizens of Vieques are not enemies; adopting bellicose rhetoric is just dopey.
Stop the bombing, bring the troops home. Is there an echo in here?