The "Yankee go home" way of thinking about American military presence has been around since there was an American military. There may have been times and places when the locals had a legitimate objection. But Puerto Rico and Okinawa do not fall within that category. And while no one may want a bombing range or an air base in their backyards, the people there should shut up about it.
Both places have been bought and paid for, one with money and the other with blood.
Vieques, a dinky island off Puerto Rico is home to about 10,000 people, about two-thirds the number of folks who attend a UConn game at the Civic Center. The U.S. Navy uses part of Vieques as a bombing range to train pilots.
The United States forks over about $6 billion a year in welfare-type payments to Puerto Rico, or about $600,000 per year for every inconvenienced man, woman and child on Vieques. Just under half the people on mainland Puerto Rico receive federal food stamps.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson recently got involved in the Vieques issue, saying the military use of the island is "un-American."
If the use of Vieques for practice saves the life of just one Navy pilot, then the Reverend Jackson needs a lesson in civics. The American citizenship which has been bestowed on Puerto Ricans is not about living at the receiving end of Benefit Street; there are obligations that go along with it. To be sure, many Puerto Ricans have served with distinction in the American armed forces, but in recent years the territory’s best-known exports to the mainland are gang violence and drug-running. A lot more good could be done by paying attention to those problems.
The governor of Puerto Rico has claimed his people suffer a second-class citizenship, since they have no vote in Presidential and Congressional elections. But they don’t pay federal income tax either. Just offer that trade-off in the fifty states and see how many folks sign up. If Puerto Ricans really want equality, they should do it the old-fashioned way –– by earning it. Vieques is a small sacrifice in the right direction.
Meanwhile, on another island on the other side of the world, the people of Okinawa are staging demonstrations demanding the closing of the American military bases there. If Puerto Rico needs a lesson about civics, these folks could brush up on their history, starting with the meaning of "unconditional surrender."
Then they should write a thousand times on the blackboard: Pearl Harbor. Bataan. Midway. Iwo Jima. Guadalcanal. There are a dozen American military bases on Okinawa. More than 12,000 Americans were killed by the Japanese in World War II for each one.
Okinawa had to be taken by invasion in World War II. 16,000 Americans perished in the 82 days of the Okinawa campaign. On two aircraft carriers alone, over 800 men were killed by kamikaze pilots. The American objective included the tiny island Ie Shinia, where war correspondent Ernie Pyle, a national treasure, was killed by machine gun fire.
It is only because Americans are Americans that Japan is what it is today and not some two-bit third-world country. After the war, the United States stayed in Japan, clothed and fed its populace and set them up with a constitution and a democratic government. It is for that reason and that reason alone that the Japanese thrive by selling us televisions and Toyotas. No one should think for a moment that they would have done the same for us.
And when Chinese communism came of age, it was only the American military presence that saved Japan from Chinese retribution for the atrocities committed against them when the Japanese had occupied China.
A few noisy jets seems a very small payback.
The United States can’t expect all the world’s hearts to beat true for the red, white and blue, but we should not cave in to the demands of people who fail to display any sense of fairness and their own history.
November 30, 1999