Regarding the May 2 article "Boot camp, camouflage, guns - and Farsi lessons?": I finished my training in Arabic at the Defense Language Institute more than a year and a half ago, yet I have never used my language skills. This is because I, like many of the Army's linguists, am assigned to a tactical combat unit. In my unit are Arabic, Korean, and Dari linguists. Only the Arabic linguists' skills will be called upon during our anticipated year-long deployment to Iraq this fall. Shortly after my unit returns, almost all of the linguists I know will have fulfilled their contractual obligation and plan to leave the Army.
The argument put forth by the Army is that it's important for us to develop our "warrior skills" and to be integrated into the unit that we will support. While these skills may allow us to be used as if we were the infantry, and could help us protect ourselves if we should come into contact with the enemy, the downside is that our unique and valuable language skills are not being used - and are, in fact, wasting away. Because of this, we linguists will be less able to support the unit we are assigned to when we are deployed.
Perhaps the Defense Department should ask itself whether the cost of keeping linguists integrated into combat units and assigned to bases where no language work is done is worth the benefit. And perhaps taxpayers should ask whether they are getting their money's worth from sending soldiers to a year or more of language training.
Regarding the May 5 article "Beijing Presses Taiwan Overture": China's red- carpet treatment of the leaders of Taiwan's two opposition parties does improve the atmosphere of cross-strait relations in the aftermath of China's passage of the "antisecession law" in March. But since China has not changed any of the substance of its policy toward Taiwan, and it continues to refuse direct dealings with Taiwan's duly elected leader, Beijing's new diplomacy must be seen as an exercise in "united front" - allying with the lesser enemy in attacking the main enemy - or "divide and conquer."