DENVER — Denver. Like most Americans, black and white, I overflowed with pride at the way our soldiers brought Desert Storm to a successful conclusion.
But my moment of pride was spoiled when I remembered the self-indulgent and often hostile voice of ghetto dissent during the war. Today some of those Afro-American leaders would like us to forget how they argued that no black would benefit by serving America in this war. Contemptibly, they quarreled that because blacks were over-represented in the military, we stood to lose the most by suffering the greater quota of casualties in combat.
It bothered me because I believe they were trying to cheat black Americans out of their rightful patriotism.
Frankly, I think these black spokesmen sought to use the crisis in Kuwait to further their political goals and personal whims about race and bigotry in America.
I wonder where those people are now that the war is over. For now they seem to be in retreat, just like those who wanted to capitulate to Baghdad by clinging to ineffective sanctions and blockades.
It is true that blacks represent 20.8 percent of the military compared, to less than 13 percent of the general population. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., thinks he knows the reason why.
He says, ''It is highly illustrative of the lack of opportunities for blacks in our society . . . which unfortunately leaves many black youths no meaningful employment choice but the military. What we really have is economic conscription.''
Perhaps if the congressmen had been more effective in Washington for so many years, black children forced to choose the military over the treacherous streets of Detroit might have had other choices.
But Mr. Conyers is delivering no less than his black colleagues. bTC From Harlem to Watts, black politicians have done little to improve the caliber of existence of their ghetto constituents.
Now that the troops are coming home, those black politicians have another chance to reduce the allure to ghetto blacks of the military as their only job option. They can reduce it by delivering the leadership needed to get the next generation of ghetto blacks off dead-end streets.
Black veterans returning from Arabia mustn't be shy about demanding substance in place of political grandstanding from their delegates of color. Contrary to myth, it's no crime to fire a black politician when he or she doesn't deliver the bacon.
Ken Hamblin is a Denver columnist and talk-show personality.