Tuesday, November 2, 1999

Military training needs
must be respected

Bullet The issue: The governor of Puerto Rico is seeking the immediate end of bombing operations on the island of Vieques.

Bullet Our view: A balance must be struck between community opinion and the military's need for training opportunities.

HAWAIIAN nationalists and other residents who campaigned to end the use of Kahoolawe as a bombing range should be interested in the battle going on in Puerto Rico over the use of another island for that purpose.

Military use of Kahoolawe, which is believed to have been a place of refuge in pre-Western contact Hawaii, ended in 1990 after 50 years of bombing and several protest occupations of the island. The island is now in a federally funded program to remove unexploded ordnance and restore native vegetation.

Kahoolawe had no human inhabitants during its years as a target island, but that isn't the case with the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, six miles from the main island, where 9,000 people live. Last April practice bombing on Vieques was halted after a civilian guard was killed. A Marine Corps F/A-18 fighter had dropped two 500-pound bombs on an observation post a mile and a half off target.

As the Star-Bulletin's Gregg Kakesako reported, a small band of protesters has occupied a portion of the Vieques bombing range since the guard's death. The Navy has let the protesters remain. The Navy controls two-thirds of Vieques' 33,000 acres.

A presidential panel has recommended that the Navy resume limited live-fire training, but leave within five years.

The controversy began in the 1970s, when the Navy ceased using the neighboring island of Culebra for weapons training after mortar fire landed on a beach where children were playing. Training exercises were transferred from Culebra to Vieques despite opposition from the governor of Puerto Rico and the island community.

In 1983, the governor and the secretary of the Navy signed an agreement in which the Navy promised to help with economic development, address safety and environmental hazards caused by the shelling, and keep the use of live fire to a minimum.

The presidential panel found that the Navy has not lived up to those commitments. The percentage of live fire used in relation to inert ammunition doubled from the late 1970s to the 1990s. No real effort has been made to deal with noise and health concerns, and relations with the community have deteriorated.

The Navy says that Vieques is important to national security because there is no adequate alternative site for such training. The presidential panel agreed.

For this reason, it seems inadvisable to terminate training operations immediately, as the governor of Puerto Rico proposes. However, there is evidently a need for stricter safety measures and more attention to community complaints.

The end of bombing operations on Kahoolawe in response to Hawaiian protests reduced the value of Hawaii bases to the military, although a substantial military presence remains in the islands.

Pressure is continuing to end the Army's use of Makua Valley on Oahu as a firing range. This issue also bears on the importance of training opportunities in decisions regarding where military units should be stationed.

Decisions on military training operations must take community opinion into consideration. But the importance of training opportunities cannot be discounted. A balance must be struck -- in Hawaii as in Puerto Rico.

Ugly art ethics

Bullet The issue: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attempt to freeze funding to the Brooklyn Museum because of offensive exhibits has been rejected by a federal judge on grounds of free speech.

Bullet Our view: The museum's ethical conduct in financing the exhibit is more offensive than the works on display.

A federal judge has ordered New York City to restore millions of dollars in funding for the Brooklyn Museum in a dispute over a controversial exhibit, but the museum has little cause to celebrate. While winning the First Amendment issue of whether it could show offensive exhibits, the museum was exposed as having violated its public trust to exhibit art based on merit instead of commercial benefits.

District Judge Nina Gershon essentially ruled that the city had the right to show paintings, including a portrait of the Virgin Mary spattered with elephant dung, as distasteful as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and others might have regarded them. The question of whether the exhibits had been selected because of their artistic quality or financial considerations remains.

Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman and other museum officials solicited $10,000 or more from dealers who represented many of the artists included in the "Sensation" exhibit, according to court documents and interviews conducted by the New York Times. Christie's auction house, which donated $50,000 to sponsor the show, was offered special access to entertain clients. British collector Charles Saatchi, owner of the "Sensation" collection, pledged $160,000 -- financial support that museum officials tried to hide from the public.

Rock musician David Bowie's involvement in the exhibition was unsolicited but welcomed. The museum allowed Bowie to post "Sensation" on his web site -- at his cost of $70,000 in technical work -- and Bowie agreed to do the voice-over for the exhibition's audio tour. Bowie is a friend of Saatchi and other artists in the exhibition, and he owns some of their art.

As a matter of ethics, museums generally refuse to accept money from private collectors, auctioneers or gallery owners to help mount exhibitions. That rule is needed to assure that the display of art is not linked with the financial interests of an exhibition's major underwriters. The Brooklyn Museum's conscious flouting of that standard of conduct shows "Sensation" to be sleazier than it seemed at first sight.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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