Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Selective respect
for war memorials

Bullet The issue: A report that a World War II memorial was vandalized over the weekend proved to be an unpublicized restoration.

Bullet Our view: Concern and relief expressed by the people of Hawaii about the memorial reveals public contradictions about historic preservation.

WHEN island sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer left her work unfinished at the World War II monument in downtown Honolulu on Saturday, she didn't realize the mini furor that would erupt.

After painting the panels black -- so the recessed lettering on the monument would stand out more dramatically -- a little rain interrupted Sawyer before she could coat the surface with white paint, thereby finishing the job.

After Sawyer left the site, intent on returning the next day, an anonymous caller notified Honolulu police that a vandal had defaced the monument at the corner of King and Punchbowl streets.

Due to a paperwork snafu, state officers at the Protective Services Division weren't aware of the project, so reports of the vandalism made their way to the media.

When she returned to finish on Sunday, Sawyer was interrupted a good 20 times as she continued the job. Passers-by either thanked her profusely for painting over the perceived defacement -- or interrogated her about her intentions. "What are you doing, lady?" some asked with hostility.

While the misunderstanding was quickly cleared up, a good-natured Sawyer said she felt the incident proved that the people of Hawaii deeply care about their wartime memorials.

Many are still upset, and rightfully so, about the April 1997 spray-painting of obscenities and hate messages at seven Oahu cemeteries, including the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. While officials vowed that the culprits would be caught and prosecuted, the case remains unsolved, even after a $35,000 reward pledged by private donors.

Sawyer described the downtown restoration mix-up as a "cute misunderstanding." Perhaps, but it also reveals a baffling contradiction in public sentiments.

While the widespread concern about the defacement, both real and imagined, of sites honoring World War II dead is encouraging, it raises the question of why the restoration of the Natatorium, a crumbling monument honoring those who died in World War I, does not enjoy such overwhelming public support.

Those soldiers are no less worthy of remembering simply because they perished so long ago.

A compromise
for N. Ireland

Bullet The issue: Northern Ireland's major Protestant party has agreed to a compromise on the issue of disarmament so a new cabinet can be formed for self-government.

Bullet Our view: The agreement can evaporate in a matter of months unless a commitment is made by both sides to enforce it.

NORTHERN Ireland took a major step toward lasting peace when the major Protestant party voted to sanction its leaders to enter a new, power-sharing government. However, continued participation is dependent on the destruction of weapons beginning by the end of January, and that is anything but assured.

Approval of the compromise by the Protestants was an important breakthrough. Leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party of moderate Protestants previously had said they would not agree to enter a new government until the Irish Republican Army actually had begun destroying its weapons.

A stalemate had existed since July, when the Ulster Unionists boycotted a meeting of the newly created national assembly for nominations to the executive cabinet.

The Democratic Unionist Party, the hard-line Protestant party of the Rev. Ian Paisley, predictably denounced the new agreement as a betrayal by the Ulster Unionists and tried to block formation of the cabinet. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, elected to the top cabinet post of first minister, promised another vote by his party in February, focusing on the disarmament that is supposed to have begun by then.

That such an agreement, fragile as it is, could have been achieved amid the level of acrimony that has been present can be credited largely to the delicate mediation by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

The South Dakota Democrat, who also mediated the last agreement, is reported to have broken down barriers between the two hard-line factions of Protestants and Catholics by injecting what one participant called his "infectious" serenity.

Mitchell told the warring parties that he had prepared himself for the talks by listening to an opera, knowing the same words that he knew in the opera would be sung again, just as the negotiators were "saying the same thing over and over again every time." His remarks drew laughter from both sides.

At one point, Mitchell commented that the negotiators reminded him of the Woody Allen move, "Zelig," based on the premise that increased familiarity between two people leads to them acting and talking like each other. He then read back to the two bitter enemies the statements that each had made, employing an identical choice of words.

Mitchell's cajoling may have been critical in achieving the compromise allowing for election of a cabinet comprised of moderates and militants from both sides. A peace that lasts more than a few months will require a commitment that hard-liners on either side will find hard to accept.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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