In the recent opinion-page article, ``Politics, Morals, and `Opting Out' of War,'' June 14, the author argues that President Bill Clinton's avoidance of military service in the Vietnam War flouted the law of the land, and, although not stated directly, was an act of cowardice. Mr. Clinton, as well as many other young men at that time, found themselves in a no-win situation. Their choice: Either be drafted and serve or evade the draft and protest. Neither course was viewed as particularly righteous, at that time or since.
What must be accepted, particularly in view of recent world developments, is that the Vietnam War was avoidable and unnecessary. Former President Eisenhower cautioned against a land war in Asia, and his advice should have been heeded.
Speaking as one who was drafted and served in Vietnam, I have no problem with Clinton's position, or anyone else's who truly followed his conscience. If we are to go forward as a nation, we must cease to defend what was a mistaken enterprise, regardless of the sacrifices of so many brave and dedicated young men and their families.
Vietnam and World War II were not fought in a vacuum. And we cannot make moral assessments in a vacuum. The two wars were not the same. Michael Shannon, London
In Favor of Opting Out of War
The author asks, ``... should individual Americans be able to choose what wars they want to fight?'' The question is oversimplified and naive. There is a matter of conscience at stake. Germans opposing Hitler ended up in concentration camps; Americans opposing Vietnam fled overseas. Both are consequences of acting on conscience.
I'm a veteran demonstrator and protester of the Vietnam War. What we denounced then - that it was unjust, costly, and extremely destructive - is generally accepted by most historians now.
The end of that cruel and misguided war was brought about at a faster pace because of the protests and demonstrations against it around the world. No one against the war then should apologize for it now. Jacquelyn Reid, Lakeview Terrace, Calif.
A man-made natural disaster
I strongly support the article, ``Famine Threat Revisits East Africa,'' June 17, that stresses the early response of food aid from the international community.
East African countries have common features of underdevelopment, civil conflicts, and drought, but each country has its own particular problems. In the case of Ethiopia, the failure to advance and prevent the cycle of famine is a cumulative result of political, economic, and social crises. The famines of 1973, 1984, and 1994 are not the result of drought alone, but also man-made causes such as mismanagement and the poor allocation of limited resources.
The present famine is feared to be as bad as the one in 1984. Hopefully, history will not repeat itself in this unfortunate country. Putting the plight of the Ethiopian people first, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and opposition forces should cooperate to save the lives of the 7 million people threatened by famine. The TGE should invite opposition forces such as the Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy to participate in mobilizing the needed 20 percent relief from local forces as well as to distribute the 80 percent international pledged assistance.
The TGE should focus on the urgency of famine crisis rather than head to a constitutional assembly election and its ratification, drafted by a non-independent commission and boycotted by opposition forces and the people at large. This irresponsible action would lead to the dictatorship of a one-party system that glorifies the policy of ethnic federation and ethnic politics.
In the near future, there will be neither food security to prevent the cycle of famine nor meaningful economic development without the notion that democracy and politics are part of development. There are now ample experiences for peace and national reconciliation, constitution-making, and fair and free elections in the Sub-Sahara African countries. Democracy at its best is shining in these countries in multiethnic, multiracial, and multi-party settings. In order for such a miracle to happen in my country, ``Ethiopia stretches her hands to God.''
Hailu Wendie, Cambridge, Mass.