Time to recognize Americas peacetime heroes
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
Its there to see and hear everyday, the cultural phenomenon sweeping
the United States the past year or sothe return of the "hero" as an
American icon to be idolized and revered.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, who served five and half years in a Vietnamese POW
prison, has been rolling over George W. Bush almost entirely with his aura as a military
"hero" and few questions asked otherwise.
Actor Tom Hanks and "Saving Private Ryan" ratcheted up the
publics appreciation of heroes and heroism with its grisly realism.
Former Sen. Bob Doles campaign to raise millions for a World War II
veterans memorial in Washington is paying off.
And NBC News anchor Tom Brokaws best-selling book, "The
Greatest Generation," reminds older generationsand teaches a new
generationabout the stirring gallantry of average Americans in World War II combat
and the can-do attitude on the home front.
But all the hoopla for heroes in the military as well as in law
enforcement and emergency services seems to forget other heroes that probably have done
more in peacetime to impact the American conscience and influence legislation than any
Theyre the guardians and champions of the American environment.
Those who were around in the 1960s when the modern environmental movement
began in earnest will remember the small, but determined, pioneering cadre of crusaders
who endured scorn and mockingusually labeled "tree huggers"whose
vision was belittled as little more than trying to save a minnow-sized fish rather than
build a dam.
Their ranks now have swelled into the millions. Uncounted new
pro-environment nonprofits have cropped up to champion niche causes. Wealthy
philanthropists have endowed programs to acquire and preserve land that might otherwise
have fallen under the bulldozer blade.
Voters are imposing new taxes on themselves to pay for land banking.
Politicians are voting programs to clean up air and water, and to ban pollutants. Whole
animal species have been rescued from extinction.
Those whove been on the frontlines of this battle for the past 40
years will claim their successes in protecting the environment are reward enough.
However, isnt it time these heroes and heroines be given their due,
with awards of the stature of the Oscar for film achievement, Nobel prizes for scientists
and peacemakers, Pulitzers for journalists, Emmys for televisions best?
Surely, someone with the vision, the resources and the philanthropy of
Alfred Nobel will come along in this new century to honor men and women whove given
new hope to the life of our planet. If these champions of the environment had not been
here to lead the way and open our eyes, and our planets environmental fate had been
left to the whims of industry and politicians, imagine the shape Mother Earth would be in
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the
Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.