TROOPS TO BOSNIA?
OCTOBER 31, 1995
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: San Diego is the largest military complex in the world. Veterans make up almost 20 percent of the county's population. I'll be talking with some of those veterans and the daughter of a veteran about U.S. involvement in Bosnia, but first a report from Tom Bearden about the role the military has played in San Diego's past.
TOM BEARDEN: On the surface, San Diego looks like a picture perfect vacation spot--sunny beaches and surfing, a beautiful harbor filled with cruise ships, Shamu the Killer whale at Sea World, Balboa Park and the famous San Diego Zoo. But below the surface, it's a city in the midst of a wrenching transformation. Aircraft plants are closing, while high-tech firms flourish. The racial composition of the population is changing, and so are its politics. The city is closely tied to the U.S. Navy and the defense industry. The defense connection began shortly after the turn of the century when San Diego's city fathers decided, as California State Librarian Kevin Starr puts it, to join the Navy.
KEVIN STARR, California State Librarian: San Diego wanted an industrial base, but it didn't want to sacrifice the aspects you have--had of a privileged resort enclave. And so by joining the Navy, you had an industrial base, but there wouldn't be messy strikes, there wouldn't be an unmanageable work force. It was a solution to keeping San Diego at once pastoral and industrial.
TOM BEARDEN: Starr says the city pursued that course because most San Diegans at the time were rather conservative.
KEVIN STARR: It's a Navy town but it's also a very refined town. I attribute that to the kind of middle, upper middle class Midwesterners who came here to settle San Diego and, and who brought their values of order and, and Mid American point of view to this city.
ANNOUNCER: (San Diego Historical Society Footage) San Diego, California, with its ideal year-round flying weather, land-locked harbor, and municipally-owned flying field.
TOM BEARDEN: The Naval bases and San Diego's mild climate also attracted the aircraft industry. Both grew explosively during World War II. The war brought thousands of people from all over the United States. The biggest aircraft manufacturer was Consolidated, which built the famous PBY flying boats and enormous factory right next to the city's airport. The Navy stayed on after the war, and so did tens of thousands of military veterans and aircraft workers. They made an indelible mark on the city's politics.
KEVIN STARR: The commanding rear admiral of the 11th Naval District was--was sort of like the doge of the city. You can't have this much authority, this much structure, this much federal spending in such a heavy organized way as the United States Navy without having that exercise, oh, a sort of sea anchor, if you will, to San Diego politics.
TOM BEARDEN: Is that still true?
KEVIN STARR: I think so, yes. I think San Diego is still--its elected officials are very sensitive to the military, and the military here is very sensitive to the elected official.
TOM BEARDEN: During the war, Consolidated, later renamed Conveyer, employed one out of every five workers in San Diego. That dominance continued post war. Until the 1980's, the biggest problem at the plant was finding a parking spot. Not so today. The parking lot is being torn up. Where the cavernous buildings once bustled with thousands of workers, the machinery they used to produce all those airplanes is lined up ready for auction. Today, the products of San Diego's military aircraft factories can be found only in museums. Cutbacks in defense spending have virtually eliminated aircraft production here and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs have simply disappeared. Only a skeleton crew remains. Evelyn Williams is winding down a 40 plus year career here, tidying up the stock room files and waiting for the bulldozers.
EVELYN WILLIAMS: They're going to tear these buildings down, I understand, and the Port District will be taking it back.
TOM BEARDEN: What's it going to be like to walk out that door for the last time?
EVELYN WILLIAMS: I'll probably cry. I'll probably cry. Because you stop and you think, this has been our home more our real home with our family and our loved ones, you know. We spend more time here than we do at home.
TOM BEARDEN: But just down the freeway a whole new industry is in the mist of explosive growth. The Qualcomm Company is setting up a production line to build a new generation of digital cellular telephones. It's one of a number of high-tech companies expected to take up the slack left by the declining aviation industry. In fact, electronics recently supplanted aerospace as San Diego's No. 1 manufacturing activity. The new companies probably wouldn't be here if the University of California's San Diego campus hadn't opened in the mid 60's. Irwin Jacobs is CEO and founder of Qualcomm. He originally came to San Diego to join the UCSD faculty.
IRWIN JACOBS, CEO, Qualcomm: It's important to have a major research university in the area to both set the kind of intellectual climate to help you attract people, and, of course, to train students to help staff new companies.
TOM BEARDEN: Observers say the academics, who migrated mainly from the Northeast, also made San Diego's political scene somewhat less conservative. The majority still votes overwhelmingly Republican but tends to be liberal on cultural issues. The biggest challenge now facing San Diego is working out the evolving relationship with Tijuana, the rapidly-growing megalopolis just across the Mexican border, a few miles to the South. San Diegans once studiously ignored Mexico and are now finding it difficult to adjust to the city's growing Latin population. Kevin Starr goes further. He says this once insular city's economic future lies in looking not just to the South but in all directions.
KEVIN STARR: This location is the destiny of the city. This is exquisitely beautiful but also an enormously serviceable port. The strategic location on the Asia Pacific Basin, fronting Latin America and fronting the American Sunbelt. That's the destiny of San Diego, and in a way, it was predicted by the Spanish founders here in 1769.
TOM BEARDEN: There is no doubt that San Diego's destiny also still includes the U.S. Navy. The Naval training center where hundreds of thousands of young sailors receive their basic training will be closed. New ships and new activities will more than replace that loss. Two weeks ago, the Navy commissioned the USS Steed'em in Los Angeles. The brand new destroyer promptly sailed off to San Diego en route to her new home port. It's part of the government's plan to make the city the Navy's West Coast super port. San Diego will ultimately experience a net gain of 5,000 military personnel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, we get six views on the sending of U.S. troops to Bosnia. With me today are Helen Brooks, who was a nurse in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; Ronald Morton, a veteran of the Vietnam War. With him is his daughter, Heather, who is working towards a degree in physical therapy at a local junior college. Chet Swisher served in World War II and is a survivor of Pearl Harbor. John Smith is a veteran of Vietnam. And Serene Nalu served in the Gulf War. Thank you all for being with us. Each of you has served in a war, or in your case, Heather, had a relative, your father, who served in a war. We're looking now at the possibility of American troops going to Bosnia to enforce a peace. Is this a place that American troops should go, Ms. Brooks?
HELEN BROOKS: I definitely think that they should. We have to stand by our word, and our word was given to NATO. And I think that we have to be sure that we keep our treaty safe. Not only that, we've had problems with ethnic and religious persecution, and our opinions have not always been what we would like them to be. These people are fighting in the same way. It's not going to be war, really, we're going to try to keep the peace. And I think we should participate in it to the fullest extent.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, Mr. Swisher?
CHET SWISHER: No. I do not believe one red-blooded American should ever be sent to a foreign soil and sacrifice their blood, their lives. That is not an American war. That is a European concern. Leave them fight their own battles. There's not one foreign piece of land worth one drop of American blood. That is a religious war over there that's been going on for over 800 years. How are we going to go over there? And don't think that we go over there we're not going to be firing bullets at each other, and we're going to be bringing 'em back in body bags. I'm against it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, you said there's not one piece of land worth shedding American blood for. You mean in Bosnia, or in the former Yugoslavia?
CHET SWISHER: Any foreign country. That's their war.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although in World War II, of course, that was worth shedding American blood for, right?
CHET SWISHER: That was a different story there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why?
CHET SWISHER: Why? Because you had a man trying to conquer the world, and it ended up you had two people trying to conquer it. And if you'll notice, when the United States went to war, their recruiting offices were overloaded with people. And it would be the same way today if we were attacked. And to think that we have a President sitting in the White House today that would not even wear the American uniform and yet will turn around and send these sons and daughters over there to sacrifice their life when he did not even have the courage to put the uniform on, I'm against it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, Mr. Smith?
JOHN SMITH: I think that we should support the peace effort. I'm looking forward to the meeting in Dayton tomorrow. I am praying for success there. But I think America has to be aware that the true cost of military involvement is the impact, the human impact, the impact that it has on the veterans, the sailors, soldiers, marines, and army personnel that actually do carry out the orders. And I think without America being willing to accept their responsibility in, in welcoming home those people that are actually doing the job, it would be very difficult to support the effort. In San Diego, Vietnam veterans of San Diego operate the largest rehabilitation center in the country for veterans. In our center, we have residents from every major battle since Vietnam--Haiti, Grenada, Persian Gulf, Somalia, and there is a cost to pay for military involvement. And I think the American people should be aware of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Ms. Nalu, if this were--you went to the Gulf War--if you were on active duty right now, would you gladly, willingly go to Bosnia?
SERENE NALU: I would go, because that's part of the duty, but I do agree with John here in that I think that it is a humanitarian effort, and I think that us as a nation would like to see something done, however, because it is religiously-based, I do agree with you, and I don't think that we should invade territory as we do. I think that it needs to be sought out and planned out. I don't think that a drop of the hat is a release or a reason to initiate troops.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, we're not actually talking about invading territory, just guarding--
SERENE NALU: But the fact that we're there, the fact that we're there, it puts us in danger under situations that we don't, you know, really know or recognize.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're worried we don't understand enough about the area--
SERENE NALU: We definitely don't understand.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So would you--would you have second thoughts about it in ways that you didn't with the Gulf War? Would you be worried about it?
SERENE NALU: No, because I stand for the American people. I stand for the nation, and that's why I'm a part of the military. So I would gladly take on that responsibility, however, I wouldn't necessarily agree with it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Morton, what do you think about this? Do you--if it were--if your son were called up, how would you feel about it now?
RON MORTON: I don't want--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your son or your daughter.
RON MORTON: I don't want my son or my daughter to go to any war. I have a wife who's a lieutenant commander in the reserves, in a shore and underwater warfare unit. I don't want her to go to war either. I don't want anyone to go to war. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't support my wife in doing so. I know that she feels a sense of duty, and Navy is tradition in our family. I would support her if she went. But, you know, I've dealt with the wounds of, of Vietnam, not so my myself but in my veteran brothers, out of tremendous respect for everyone here too, I might add. We need leadership, and we need our President to tell us what this is about. And we need confirmation from the Congress and from the Senate. And if there are real cogent issues, real reasons for us being here, I don't want my son to go or my wife to go and put their lives in jeopardy for political reasons. If we're going to save innocent women and children and elders, you know, I'm reluctant because I fear the danger, but we've always done that as a people. I'm native American. My people have always served, and they've always served knowing that they serve for their families. They serve for their people. But the tremendous amount of sadness that comes with war and with meaningless death is not something I'm willing to endure again. I'm not willing to endure it. I'm not willing to endure the fracturing of this society. We all paid too tremendous a price for that. We have to look to our government, and we have to look to a government that's going to deal with us honestly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're not willing to endure that pain and that fracturing, and yet, you would support anybody in your family that was going. I mean, it's something you think should be done as a matter of honor.
RON MORTON: It's a matter of honor, certainly. It's a word that's very important in my family and my community. We honor those ideals, those values that we believe are important, and our lives and our family and our country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Bosnia would be that important, you think?
RON MORTON: It would be important if the issue revolves around actually saving lives. If we're--if we're there for political reasons, I'm not in favor of that. No, I'm not. If we're there for geographic reasons, because we need, we need the place strategically, no, I'm not interested in that. If we're going there to help save lives, then, okay, you know, I, I would not encourage my son to go, I would not encourage my wife to go, but I would give them all the support that they needed if it was necessary.
CHET SWISHER: I disagree with John on this fact of--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just one second.
CHET SWISHER: I know. I disagree with John on this. Let the European countries take the leadership in this. Let's not be the leadership in all of this. All they're really after is our money. I would lay down my life for my country today, but not one dime for those foreign countries. Let them take the leadership. Let them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Brooks, how do you respond to that?
HELEN BROOKS: Well, I see it very much in the opposite direction from that. This is not going to war. We're not trying to make our way first. We're trying to protect peace. This is the first time this has ever happened before, and I think we need that experience. I don't mean that we want people to be shot at to gain experience, but we need this experience in interaction with peoples and in trying to keep a peace to me it's a very altruistic motive for going to war. No one abhors the destruction and casualties of war as much as I do, but we have it right here in our own streets. We have it on our highways. We have it among our gangs. Somewhere we're going to have to learn to live together, and this may be one of the ways that we can do it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Morton, I asked about your brother. I asked your father about whether your brother should go, because I know you've had knee problems so you would be--you wouldn't be able to go anyway. But let's say that you could. What do you think about Bosnia? Would it be worth your going to Bosnia for?
HEATHER MORTON: It would be worth me going just because I would, like they say, be honoring my country, but I wouldn't want to go for the reasons why we are going over there. I personally have not heard really what is going on over there. I do watch the news frequently, but this is really the first time I've really even heard about the NATO, about the Dayton, Ohio, incident. I think I need to know a lot more about it before I can even make a decision like that regarding me, my brother, my boyfriend, anybody who I care about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do others of you feel that way? Does the President need to make a stronger case?
JOHN SMITH: Well, I think that all of us here--and I have tremendous respect for everyone here--but I think all of us here are apprehensive about committing military troops to a foreign soil. I think that we have to have some understanding and be convinced by the President. And I understand he's made some attempts today to persuade the American people that there is a compelling interest for him and the United States to be involved. I believe, though, that there must be a peace to be enforced. My sense of the situation is currently, is that there is no peace to be enforced, and our involvement at this stage would be a role of peace imposers. And as a person who grew up in Brooklyn, I can tell you if you try to break up a fight between some people who are still attempting to get some things cleared up, what you do is expose yourself to being hit from both sides. And I think that this is a concern that most veterans in this community--I speak to a number of veterans as chairman of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego--I speak to a number of active duty veterans, and all of them have concerns about being placed into a situation where the people and the factions involved don't seem to be ready to, to speak of peace. And, again, being placed into a situation like this is volatile on all sides, and I think Chet is right in that the potential for POW's, body bags, casualties are tremendous unless there is a peace. So, again, I want to emphasize that I hopefully with godspeed there will be some productive resolution of peace tomorrow in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, because--and with Sec. Holbrooke, I understand, has said emphatically yesterday in a news conference I saw on your program as a matter of fact, but that there would be no imposition of American troops without the understanding that there would be some peace to be achieved.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In general, though, this is breaking down along these lines. Mr. Swisher feels that unless we're attacked, unless our, our--
CHET SWISHER: We're threatened.
JOHN SMITH: --we're threatened, it's not worth the spilling of U.S. blood.
CHET SWISHER: That is correct. I agree.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But in this post Cold War World, there may be more of these places like Bosnia where it's kind of difficult to make that argument, and yet, some U.S. interests may be at stake. The argument, of course, is that Europe's stability is at stake and that that does involve U.S. vital interests. What about that? I mean, have things changed so much in the Cold War period that we have to re-think it, or do the same arguments as--during the Cold War apply here?
RON MORTON: I think there's kind of a sad overtone, so I think all the statements that are being made here, I think that there's a belief that it's probably born of--decisions have been made in the past that we may not be able to trust our leadership, the decisions that they're making about this.
CHET SWISHER: That's exactly--I agree with that.
RON MORTON: I think that during the Vietnam War I know that our military leaders lied to us. I found that out when I came back, and so I guess that I too don't really feel that I can really trust the decisions that are being made by now. I don't feel that--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me interrupt you one second.
RON MORTON: Sure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'll come back to you. Is that true of everybody here? This is interesting.
CHET SWISHER: No, I do not feel--I feel our military leaders are great, but I feel it's the politicians in Washington that was directing the Vietnam. These Vietnam veterans are the best in the world if the politicians in Washington had a kept their nose out and let 'em do their job, and that's what's going to happen in Bosnia. They are going to take--get 'em over there, and then the politicians are going to be wanting to get their name in the paper and they're going to have these young Americans fighting with one hand behind their back, the same as they did in Vietnam.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you feel that the political leadership is, is likely to lie about what's happening? Are you as skeptical?
HELEN BROOKS: I don't know whether they would lie, but one thing I would like to see them do is prepare our troops better. I know both--I don't ever remember having been sort of prepared and the purpose of our war, our reason for going to war, clearly spelled out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In any one of three wars you were involved in.
HELEN BROOKS: Any one of the three wars. No one really did--the troops were not prepared--at least some of them may have been but I certainly wasn't--that we were not given--I think we need to know something of the history, something of the geography, and something of our aims, and the psychology of trying to change people. I think a lot of that needs to be stressed, and is it possible to do that before our troops are going in now?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, thank you all very much for being with us.