We're going to rebuild Kuwait but not America

March 18, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

COL. DAVID HACKWORTH is probably right about the nation's spinal cord. As he wrote in Newsweek, "Americans are standing tall for the first time in years."

The retired Army officer, one of the most decorated in history, says he has not seen such national pride since World War II ended.

That's what I'm hearing, too. It's pouring out of radio talk shows, newspaper and magazine editorials and from the mouths of politicians everywhere. We've shaken off the doldrums; we're on the move as a great nation again; pride has been restored, and we're Number One.

Those who opposed the war are either slinking in dark corners or bowing their heads and pleading: "Forgive me for having been a wrong-headed weenie."

But I'm afraid that Col. Hackworth has allowed his euphoria to blur his vision. Or maybe it's because since retiring from the Army a couple of decades ago, he's lived in other parts of the world.

Whatever the reason, he goes on to write: "So, let's use our newfound confidence to turn America around. Yes, we need a new world order, but let it begin at home and not just with soaring polls and White House speeches.

". . . The key is to get American priorities right. We need to start with our education system, so our kids can read and write again. We need to take care of the homeless and poor, and attack drugs and crime. We must clean up our environment, rebuild our highways, railroads and merchant fleet. We must revitalize our industries to the point that Made in America will once again stand for quality. . . . Our vital national interests depend on a stable and secure America. Let's roll up our sleeves and make it that way."

Dream on, colonel, dream on.

In two or three years, Kuwait will be close to looking as it did before Iraq looted and plundered it. But I guarantee that the West Side of Chicago, much of the Bronx, and the slums of Newark, New Orleans and other American cities will be the same mess they are now.

That's because Kuwait sits atop an ocean of liquid gold. It can hire the giant Bechtel Corporation and other globe-hopping companies to perform a miraculous rehab job. Unfortunately, nobody is drilling gushers on the West Side of Chicago, in Detroit or the Bronx. And Bechtel doesn't take our IOUs.

It's not a matter of rolling up our sleeves. Dedicated teachers in poverty-plagued neighborhoods have been rolling up their sleeves for years. But baring their arm hair doesn't do much when most of their students come from broken families, with illiterate, jobless relatives. The educators talk a lot but they don't know what to do. The politicians blab even more, and they know less.

But don't worry, colonel. Most American kids can read and write -- those who live in the better suburbs and prosperous smaller cities. And many will go on to college and better jobs.

Then they'll reflect their parents' attitudes -- resentment that they have to pay taxes to support that huge, lazy, welfare-sucking, crime-ridden underclass in the cities.

See, colonel, one of our biggest problems is that Americans don't really like or trust each other that much. They dislike each other for racial, class, regional, economic and political differences. If we like and trust each other, why do we lead the world in lawsuits? And murders? Yes, there's a bit of friction here.

Of course, they're not going to concede that we have these social problems because the majority of more comfortable Americans long ago decided it wasn't their responsibility. And the federal government is better at creating bureaucracies than finding solutions, while politicians do what they can, so long as it doesn't cost them votes.

Does the good colonel really believe that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were concerned about better education? If so, what did they do? Besides dubbing himself the "education president," what has George Bush done?

It's not going to get better, it's going to get worse. I know that because it's worse today than it was 20 years ago and 10 years ago, and there's nothing new in the works.

Take care of the homeless and the poor? (And you might throw in the poverty-level elderly.) Rebuild highways and railroads? Smack down crack, lock up criminals?

That takes manpower, which means money, colonel. If you haven't noticed, we're running up a monster tab just rescuing the S&L industry, with the banks next. The time to have kind thoughts about the homeless, the poor, better schools, health care for the old, crumbling highways and collapsing bridges was before Ronald Reagan's crowd napped their way through the white-collar larceny of the bloated 1980s.

And even before then, when American industry became nearsighted while the Japanese and others developed long-range vision. We can roll up our sleeves, but only to dip into our pockets to see if we can cover the juice to all the countries that now act as our loan sharks.

No, all we've proved is that we can win a war. So maybe we should make that our national product. But at a better price. The Kuwaitis and Saudis, as trembly as they were, would have surely accepted a stiffer bill for our bodyguard and security service.

So the colonel will have to settle for those soaring polls and White House speeches. That's all we'll get.

And in a few years he should compare Kuwait City to Chicago's West Side -- the schools, clinics, housing and job opportunities. To America's sick and elderly. To the wrecks in the VA hospitals.

And see how many yellow ribbons will be displayed for them.

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