What has happened to the concept of honor?

Two examples - the U.S. hockey team's deplorable behavior at the Olympic Games in Nagano and the failure by the United States to pay its back dues to the United Nations - have needlessly focused that issue on America.Since both are situations that represent the nation and not an individual, they are doubly disturbing.

The hockey team incident reinforces all the "Ugly American" stereotypes.

Here they were, guests in a foreign land, America's hockey elite. Their poor performance on the ice was overshadowed by an even poorer one off it. After being eliminated from medal contention, several hockey players decided to make a statement. They did so by trashing three dorm rooms at the Olympic Village. According to various reports, as many as five chairs and three fire extinguishers were tossed out a fifth-floor window to a courtyard below. Fortunately, no one was in the courtyard. Great statement, guys.

That, of course, is inexcusable. What is equally as inexcusable is that the guilty parties have refused to identify themselves and apologize, thereby implicating all 23 members of the team. Despite appeals by coach Ron Wilson and U.S. Olympic Committee officials that those responsible 'fess up, they won't. And their teammates won't say who they are either, adding to the frustration. So, to lack of honor, add cowardice.

Apparently when you're a millionaire athlete used to getting your way, getting drunk and trashing rooms is acceptable conduct, as is refusing to acknowledge it. Over the weekend, Chris Chelios of the Chicago Blackhawks, who was the captain of the Olympic team, sent a $3,000 check and an apology to the Japanese Olympic Committee on behalf of the team. It was welcome but late and still doesn't resolve the problem that no individual has admitted taking part in the vandalism nor is likely to do so.

The same lack of responsibility affecting the hockey team can be found at the highest level of U.S. government regarding the U.N. dues debacle.

How can our government leaders possibly ask other nations to accept responsibility for improving situations around the globe, when the United States thumbs its nose at the United Nations by not paying its dues? And we wonder why all the other countries don't wholeheartedly support our stance against Iraq.

The reasons for not paying the dues, which now amount to almost $1.5 billion, are foolish, the kind that might be associated with a country like Iraq, not the country that's the leader of the free world.

There are those in Congress, mainly conservative Republicans, who want assurances that U.S. dues money won't be used to help fund organizations that promote family planning. Others want the United Nations to usher in reforms before the dues are paid. And still others claim the United Nations owes the United States up to $3 billion for past peacekeeping work.

And now Congress is insisting that the General Assembly agree to reduce the annual U.S. assessment from 25 percent of the annual regular budget to 22 percent.

Fine, let's talk. But first, United States, pay your dues so you have the right to talk.

What if those who owed the United States money started saying things like, "Before we pay you, we want assurances that none of our money goes toward building up your military," or "We will pay you only after you make massive reforms in the way you elect your public officials." And what if Russia said, "The money we owe you is nothing compared to the money you owe us after `stealing' Alaska from us in 1867 for $7.2 million. You need to make some back payments to us before we pay our debt."

How embarrassing to have the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, visit Washington and have much of the focus be on the dues instead of the very serious problems worldwide. As Annan noted, the United States is "offending friends and foes alike."

Honorable people and countries deal from a position of strength. They deal from a position of strength because they're honorable. It's what gives them their credibility. It's why people trust them.

Unfortunately Congress and the Olympic hockey team haven't learned that.