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For the week of Mar. 1 through Mar. 7, 2000

Time to recognize America’s peacetime heroes

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

It’s there to see and hear everyday, the cultural phenomenon sweeping the United States the past year or so—the 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 public’s appreciation of heroes and heroism with its grisly realism.

Former Sen. Bob Dole’s campaign to raise millions for a World War II veteran’s memorial in Washington is paying off.

And NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw’s best-selling book, "The Greatest Generation," reminds older generations—and teaches a new generation—about 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 others.

They’re 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 mocking—usually 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 who’ve been on the frontlines of this battle for the past 40 years will claim their successes in protecting the environment are reward enough.

However, isn’t 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 television’s 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 who’ve 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 planet’s environmental fate had been left to the whims of industry and politicians, imagine the shape Mother Earth would be in today.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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