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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of April 23 - 29, 2003

Opinion Columns

Of politics and
war ‘heroes’

Commentary by Pat Murphy

The late Sen. Barry Goldwater died four years and 11 months ago, which partly explains why no geographic landmark bears the name of Arizona’s best-known human icon.

The Arizona’s Board of Historic Names and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names require five-year waiting periods before memorializing a deceased person in geography. Arizona, in time, will dutifully honor its five-term senator, presidential candidate, father of modern political conservatism and Air Force Reserve general by naming a landmark.

But—poof!—Arizona tossed out its five-year rule last week and made an exception by renaming a Phoenix mountain "Piestewa Peak" after Lori Piestewa, a 23-year-old Hopi killed in an ambush in Iraq a few weeks ago and regaled as a hero.

In the ensuing controversy created by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s push to waive the five-year-rule—and threatening to oust the chairman of the board for refusing to heed her demands—the real motive was obvious.

For years, Phoenix politicians have been arguing about changing the name of the mountain—Squaw Peak—to end criticism by Native Americans about the word "squaw," which many regard as a vulgar slur on women.

So, although Lori Piestewa didn’t actually perform feats of extraordinary gallantry in Iraq, was in a maintenance unit that turned on to a wrong road, and hadn’t met the five-year rule, she became an expedient "hero" for ridding Phoenix of a name that had become an embarrassment. The end justified the means.

Meanwhile, three other Phoenix area GIs killed while actually fighting Iraqi forces in shootouts are relegated to passing mentions in accounts of the "hero" name attached to Piestewa Peak.

Lori Piestewa isn’t the first military person to be exploited by politicians.

Consider the shameless spectacle in 1995 when President Bill Clinton, in urgent need of approval by the military, ordered a full-scale Pentagon welcome for Scott O’Grady, the F-16 pilot shot down by a missile over Bosnia and who huddled in underbrush awaiting rescue six days later by daring U.S. Marines.

Although O’Grady did little more than survive his ordeal by hiding, his "heroism" led to speaking tours, a book deal, membership on the National Rifle Association board and talk of a movie, in addition to presidential honors and Pentagon brass turning out in their finery. Meanwhile, O’Grady’s Marine rescuers, who risked death, were never even identified.

The word "hero" has been cheapened over time. It now often simply means celebrity, but requiring no distinguishing gallantry or sacrifice.

History is sprinkled with genuine heroes--explorers plunging across uncharted frontiers, aviation pioneers who died perfecting technologies, firefighters and police giving their lives protecting others, and, yes, military men and women doing the impossible.

The sad reality is that some real heroes often must wait for honors.

Only recently has the U.S. military gotten around to finally bestowing medals for genuine gallantry on black Americans of past wars who were ignored because of their race even when performing acts of incomprehensible courage.


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