- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2000

Vieques part of Puerto Rico's investment in America

Luis A. Ferre, former governor of Puerto Rico, is just plain wrong in his assertion that "the most fundamental rights of equality and dignity … have been denied to Puerto Rico for more than 100 years" and that "recent developments in Vieques are but a symptom of Puerto Rico's political status problem" ("Vieques and beyond," Commentary, May 17).

We are not occupying Vieques against the will of the Puerto Rican people, and Puerto Rico is not a colony of the United States. The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens who have expressed their will by repeatedly rejecting independence in referendum after referendum, most recently in December 1998, and voting to remain in commonwealth status with the United States. Vieques is the price of that democracy.

Every six months, America sends a carrier battle group and a Marine amphibious group from the East Coast to protect its interests and meet its security commitments in Europe and the Persian Gulf. Our forces must be ready for battle at all times. Exercises at Vieques get them ready.

In December 1998, the USS Carl Vinson battle group was in combat within eight hours of arriving on station in the Persian Gulf, firing cruise missiles against Iraq. The last seven carrier battle groups deployed have seen combat in such places as Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Vieques prepared them.

Vieques has a 10-mile buffer zone between its range and any civilians. The Navy lists six other bases that have civilians living within 9.7 miles of impact areas, including Fallon, Nev., just five miles from a naval air station where 2,000-pound bombs are dropped routinely. There are more than 50 such ranges in the continental United States. Live ordinance is used in 33 major range complexes in 14 states, two territories and six foreign countries. So it is not a unique burden imposed on Puerto Rico.

The peace and freedom we enjoy was obtained and maintained through a military deterrent that remains credible because of continuous practice and training. Yes, training accidents can occur. But American and Puerto Rican lives will be saved one day because the combat situations in which military forces may find themselves will look just like Vieques.

DANIEL JOHN SOBIESKI

Chicago

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Luis A. Ferre argues for a vote in Congress to move forward a discussion about the future relationship of Puerto Rico and the United States. I believe it to be true that for most Americans, the special relationship Puerto Ricans have enjoyed with the United States is not a fair one. It is not fair for Puerto Ricans, and it is not fair for Americans. In that, I agree with Mr. Ferre.

However, Mr. Ferre indicates that American states enjoy a political power to create ground rules for the operation of military facilities near homes in those states. This is nonsense. Ask any American who runs a ranch in Nevada over which the military sends low-flying training missions about the fiction of such ground rules.

In the American states, when it comes to military facilities, the federal government takes what it wants when it wants it.

If Mr. Ferre wants Puerto Rico to become a bona fide American state, let him push that with both eyes wide open. The tolerance displayed by the U.S. military during the protests at Vieques is an example of the special treatment Puerto Ricans get from America.

Indeed, Puerto Ricans need to decide once and for all whether they want to be Puerto Ricans or Americans, and should they decide to be Americans, to be willing to pay the entry price, to wit accepting English as the first language of Puerto Rico. Otherwise, independence should be the swift and only other resort.

CHUCK HERRICK

Austin, Texas

History suggests China could be successful with military offensive.

It seems the pro-Beijing crowd will stop at nothing to minimize China's threat to Taiwan ("Analysts downplay threat Beijing poses to Taiwan," May 15). Two left-wing think tanks the Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Defense Information would have us believe the People's Liberation Army would be too badly outnumbered to successfully invade Taiwan. History suggests otherwise.

On April 9, 1940, Nazi forces launched Operation Weserubung, the invasion of Norway. On paper, the plan looked ludicrous: German naval forces were to steam up the Norwegian coast and land troops right under the nose of the British Royal Navy and Air Force. Despite the odds, the daring, well-executed combined arms assault worked. German paratroopers secured key airfields while Wehrmacht assault troops went ashore at key ports. British intervention failed. Nazi troops still controlled Norway when Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Forty years after Weserubung, Argentine forces launched a successful air and naval assault on the Falkland Islands. It took the Royal Navy nearly three months to recapture the cold, wind-swept rocks in the South Atlantic; four Royal Navy destroyers were sunk in the process.

History teaches us that a numerically inferior force can successfully land troops in the face of hostile fire if the plan is bold and well-executed. Underestimating the descendants of Sun Tzu invites calamity in the Taiwan Straits.

PATRICK G. EDDINGTON

Alexandria

Patrick Eddington is a former CIA military analyst.

Columnist's critique of 'Millennium Hangover' misses mark

For his May 6 column, "Thinking about drinking" (Commentary), Jacob Sullum completely misread the intentions of Drug Strategies' report "Millennium Hangover," which has been widely praised by policy-makers, parents and journalists alike.

Several of his points plainly are off track. We call for a comprehensive approach to curbing underage drinking that includes better education for parents and teens about the dangers of alcohol, better enforcement of laws against alcohol sales to minors and the raising of excise taxes. Mr. Sullum is out of step with the public when he suggests that adults would not support raising excise taxes. According to a 1998 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey, eight in 10 Americans support a tax increase on alcohol to fund youth prevention programs. This policy works. Price increases have been shown to reduce rates of underage drinking and cirrhosis of the liver, both of which benefit society.

Mr. Sullum finds fault with our concern about a survey that shows teens' acceptance of "responsible" drinking. But he fails to cite facts in the same study that show that teens do not have a real sense of what "responsible" drinking is: Youths who reported drinking were more likely than abstinent youths to report drinking and driving, and riding in a car where the driver has been drinking; nearly one-third of teens surveyed mistakenly believed that a 12-ounce can of beer contains less alcohol than a standard shot of distilled spirits. Alcohol can impair adolescents' judgment about sex and contraception, placing them at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and unplanned pregnancy. Underage drinking also is linked with teen suicide, violence and accidents.

Mr. Sullum also derides the fact that we are concerned that three-fourths of parents would let their children attend a party where alcohol is served. The reality is that parents vastly underestimate how much their children are drinking. Though one-third of high school students say they have binged on alcohol in the past month, a Peter Hart poll commissioned for the report found that just 3 percent of high school students' parents thought their teen had done so. This awareness gap has serious consequences for today's youth, especially because parental disapproval is one of the most effective prevention tools for underage drinking.

Finally, Mr. Sullum takes issue with the report's recommendation that health care providers must reinforce the message of abstinence during pregnancy. What he fails to acknowledge is that fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is not the only known consequence of in-utero exposure to alcohol fetal alcohol effects, a less severe cluster of abnormalities, are expected to occur three times more often than FAS. It is unclear whether there is a minimum amount of alcohol that must be consumed before damage to the fetus occurs. Therefore, it would be irresponsible for health care providers not to encourage abstinence during pregnancy.

MATHEA FALCO

President

Drug Strategies

Washington

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