will not believe what the United States, via the United States Navy,
is engaged in in Vieques, Puerto Rico! We have been increasing the
death rate, causing cancer, precipitating infant mortality, generating
vibroacoustic disease, inducing alcoholism, stimulating drug abuse,
and multiplying HIV infections.
That's terrible, and to be sure, only after a proper trial
and conviction we should consider a firing squad for the
top admiral in charge, and perhaps for the Secretary of the Navy.
Those who'd call for impeachment proceedings against the president
may be overdoing it, but history will establish that there is no
safe hiding for a chief executive responsible for such wanton damage
to an innocent people.
It is reassuring that at the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City
outrage was uniformly expressed. The top New Yorkers were prominent
at the head of the parade, led by New York's governor George Pataki
and Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. All four Democratic
contenders for mayor marched together, and though there may be policy
differences among them on other matters, on the question of Vieques,
there was none: They wore arm bands which proclaimed an important
goal for the mayor of New York: "Peace for Vieques."
Mrs. Clinton was especially anxious to declare her solidarity with
the Puerto Rican people, not merely those 9,400 who live on the
island of Vieques. She spent the entire parade time clutching two
flags. One was the flag of the United States, the second, the flag
of Vieques. Flag of Vieques? Does Coney Island have its own flag?
Where'd she get it? How come Vieques has a flag? Vieques was settled
in mid- 1843, is the answer to that, and it was called Isabel Segunda,
after the Queen of Spain. Why shouldn't they have their own flag?
Maybe with 9,000 inhabitants the Viequees should have their own
navy? We might then see a David and Goliath showdown, but we'd have
to hope Sen. Clinton and the New York political faculty would give
our side the United States side a hearing of some
kind, before adopting the Vieques flag as their own.
What would an attorney representing the United States say if arraigned
by the human-rights committee of the United Nations?
Well, the gunnery done by the Navy is nine miles from the only population
center of Vieques, and downwind from it, which means that whatever
rises from the gunnery rises out to sea, not upwind to the inhabitants
of Vieques. The Navy's attorney might go on to say that at a distance
of nine miles, you can't really make out the sound of a bomb detonating.
Not unless you really strain to hear it, which would require pretty
The defense attorney would take on the infant-mortality charge,
which originated in February 2000 when the Puerto Rico Physicians
and Surgeons Association charged that in Vieques, infant mortality
was 50 percent higher than in mainland Puerto Rico. These representations
widely reiterated every day, everywhere were weighed
by Puerto Rico Health Secretary Dr. Carmen Feliciano, who observed
that the organization had been "lying to the public." The Association
had simply eliminated birth figures between 1996 and 1998. If they
hadn't done so, the figures would have shown infant mortality in
Vieques lower than in mainland Puerto Rico.
But how would the Navy's defense lawyer handle the problem of cancer
in Vieques? Well, he'd invite a little perspective here. Data show
that the annual cancer rates on Vieques have been alternately both
higher and lower than those of mainland Puerto Rico over the past
several decades. Moreover, he'd show that the volatility of Vieques
cancer statistics rests on so simple a reason as that the population
is so tiny that individual cases of cancer make big statistical
splashes. The anti-Navy people simply picked the year that best
served their prosecutorial cause.
that point the Navy's defense lawyer would introduce a representative
of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health
to examine the charge that naval gunnery causes that "vibroacoustic"
heart malady complained about. The Johns Hopkins people will testify
that "within the constraint of the data available, no inference
can be made as to the role of noise from naval gunfire in producing
Would the Navy then rest its case?
No! The Navy would assert that two important things are being accomplished
by the gunnery practice on Vieques. One of these is the training
of men and women who have in the past exercised, and alas will almost
certainly have to exercise at some point in the future, military
skills designed to save the lives of real people threatened by something
worse than echocardiographic abnormalities; for instance, the Kuwaitis
when they were invaded by Iraq.
And the other accomplishment of the Navy?
The Navy has kept the Reverend Sharpton in the cooler for two and
one-half memorable weeks. He has lost 14 pounds from his practice
of a hunger strike, and there are those who wish he would maintain
that rate of loss on till Isabel Segunda celebrates her 200th