- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Lost in translation

In regard to the article “Military cut corners to hire Arab speakers” (Page 1, Monday) and the scarcity of Arabic speakers: With 16 million students attending our colleges, we ought to have plenty of experts in the subjects that they study — including Arabic.

In fact, language courses on American campuses generally are dumbed down and under- enrolled. There has been a blip in Arabic in recent years. Yet much of the growth came at the junior-college level, not in advanced courses conferring genuine expertise. Even after the growth spurt, according to the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, in the fall of 1998 there were just 445 students studying Arabic at a graduate level in the entire nation.

Who is the culprit? Starting in 1963, the National Council of Teachers of English has opposed emphasizing grammatical concepts, such as the parts of speech, in grade school. A report it published that year asserted that doing so had a “harmful effect.” While other “progressive” ideas, such as eliminating phonics, have been blocked by alarmed parents, the eradication of grammatical understanding among American students is virtually complete.

Not surprisingly, American youngsters generally find it impossible to master foreign languages; they don’t really understand their own. Before the NCTE’s campaign, 16.5 percent of college credits were earned in old-fashioned, rigorousforeign-language courses. Since then, the figure has dropped below 8 percent, as the courses have gotten less challenging.

A correspondent who teaches English in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, writes me that his pupils are easy to teach because they have a firm grasp of basic grammatical concepts by the third grade. Here is one area in which the United States lags far behind the Islamic world. Parents should tell school boards that they want their children — and their children’s teachers — to understand grammar. Period. The reform may be too late to help straighten out the mess at Guantanamo, but the underlying weakness in our educational system will continue to cause problems until it is eliminated.

DAVID MULROY

Milwaukee, Wis)

A difficult homecoming for our troops

I agree wholeheartedly with Ralph Masi’s caution regarding the size of the military in the future (“How much is enough?” Op-Ed, Tuesday). There is one consideration, equally important as the others, that he failed to take into account.

Our reliance on the National Guard and Reserves in Iraq may very well have effects on those forces that we will not see until they are returned to civilian life. These troops have been away from homes and jobs much longer than in the early 1990s. How many will still have their jobs and the ability to care for their families when the smoke clears?

Plans already are afoot to close 25 percent of the marginal number of military bases still existing. How will we increase the armed forces on fewer bases?

We may well see that many of the reservists now in Iraq will return to the frustration of having been passed over on the job or, worse, having been replaced. Does anyone really expect that that will have no effect on the number of reservists available in time of need?

MASTER SGT. JAMES A. COLE

U.S. Air Force (retired)

Lorraine, N.Y.

The link between poverty and terrorism

In Arnaud de Borchgrave’s Page One article yesterday, “Arroyo to warn Bush of poverty-terror link,” it is clear that although President Bush is correct in asserting that certain terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, come from wealthy backgrounds, the foot soldiers of these movements — including the 11,000 members of the New People’s Army — are not wealthy.

The argument set forth by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo acknowledges that the U.S. role in the war on terror far exceeds the use of military and political strength. It is critical that the United States realize that part of this process involves a concerted effort to improve the quality of life for ordinary Filipinos.

Organizations such as the New People’s Army provide socioeconomic stability in regions where there is none, enabling them to gain political legitimacy as well as recruit new members. The leaders are looked upon as champions of the people, providing goods and services that otherwise would be unavailable. The fact that these organizations carry out daily attacks on innocent people around the world is of little or no import to those lacking the bare necessities of life.

By working to improve the living standards of poor Filipinos, the United States would impede future enlistment in terrorist organizations, therefore preventing future terrorist attacks.

ELIZABETH M. STAFFORD

Research assistant

National Defense Council Foundation

Alexandria

Lula’s leftism

On Tuesday, The Washington Times published two articles on the situation in Brazil (“Lula reaches out” and “Workers Party chafes at policies,” World) that require a response.

Although President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to Washington and in a friendly gesture promised to sign the Free Trade of the Americas pact, for months his diplomacy has systematically sabotaged negotiations for it. Mr. Lula da Silva’s leftist ideological position is the driving force to make the negotiations fail.

On the other hand, he tries to assume the role of leader of the so-called “poor countries,” using the tired Third World rhetoric of the anti-American left that always characterized his Workers Party. In the meeting at Cancun, Brazil showed no interest in negotiating commercial deals, but sought to politicize the position of the G-21 by deliberately obstructing negotiations. Mr. Lula da Silva’s recent visit with Fidel Castro in Cuba was one of the most glaring examples of his alliance with the communist left. While there, he refused to condemn the island prison’s repression of those opposing the government, and he celebrated important economic accords to help prop up the Havana regime.

Oswaldo Paya, the well-known opponent of Mr. Castro, accused Mr. Lula da Silva of having visited the Castro regime and not Cuba. In response to criticism of Mr. Lula da Silva’s visit, the special assistant to the president, the Dominican friar Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo, the political and spiritual mentor of Mr. Lula da Silva and one of the main organizers of the president’s trip to Cuba, wrote op-ed columns in which he showered praise on the communist revolution of Mr. Castro and affirmed that Che Guevara is the true inspirer of the Latin-American left, including that in Brazil today.

While Mr. Lula da Silva refuses to speak out against Mr. Castro’s tyranny, he and his diplomacy, in confused political maneuvers of an interventionist sort, try to impose on the Colombiangovernment “peace” negotiations with the Marxist guerrillas of the FARC. All this takes place in overt opposition to the support given by the Bush administration to the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez of Colombia in its combat against terrorism and narco-trafficking.

Mike Williams affirms in his article that Mr. Lula da Silva has mixed leftist rhetoric with centrist policies. In truth, observing the current Brazilian reality, we can affirm that Mr. Lula da Silva actually has mixed clever centrist rhetoric with preponderantly leftist policies, in spite of the insistent and superficial affirmations to the contrary. In fact, the gradual unmasking of Mr. Lula da Silva has provoked a split inside his government.

C. PRESTON NOELL

McLean

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