Discipline is the issue


THE UNITED STATES ARMY does not operate on a Chinese menu basis. Persons in uniform do not have the right to pick and choose where they will serve and under what conditions and only in pursuit of a mission that suits their political sensibilities.

If they enlist in what is now the all-volunteer military, they swear to obey orders -- orders coming in a direct line of command from the president as commander-in-chief. Their only alternative is to avoid service or object to an assignment as a matter of conscience and accept the consequences.

These home truths need to be kept in mind in assessing the case of Spc. Michael New, who has refused to wear the United Nations blue helmet and other insignia required for service in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. His defiance strikes a responsive chord with flag-waving xenophobes, who hate anything foreign or multi-national, and with others whose distrust of the U.N. has grown exponentially since Somalia went sour.

The issue, however, is not the U.N. The issue is discipline. If Specialist New were an American soldier at the Battle of Yorktown, could he have refused to fight under the French flag? Walked off the field rather than serve under a French officer? More to the point, if he were drafted into the Army at the time of Korea, could he have informed Gen. Douglas MacArthur that he refused to wear the insignia of a U.N. command structure that still exists?

The answer, of course, is that he could have done all of the above -- and face the courts martial he had invited. There are probably plenty of men and women in uniform who think the book should be thrown at Specialist New. But the Army is treating this case with kid gloves as right-wing organizations take up the soldier's cause.

If this is an occasion for debate on the U.S.-U.N. connection, then let the record show how many times Irish and Swedish and Pakistani blue helmets have fostered U.S. security interests. Let the inevitable parallels be drawn between U.N. operations, which are targets of attack, and NATO operations, which are not.

More than any other nation, the U.S. insists on direct control of its service personnel assigned to international missions. If even this is not enough for U.N. bashers, then President Clinton is right to fear the growth of "neo-isolationism" in a world that

needs U.S. leadership.

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