Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Civility another casualty of the times

Citizen Staff Writer

C.T. Revere

Metro Columnist

Peace on Earth. Good will toward men.

Maybe next year.

There’s been a bit too much disregard for those noble ideals in the year about to pass.

The same partisanship that divides and polarizes Capitol Hill has trickled right on down to the population at large, creating two camps of citizenry who often don’t even try to understand one another.

It’s tragic enough that American men and women are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Try having a civil discussion about the war with anyone on the opposite side of the issue.

In the end, you’re either an unpatriotic wimp or you’re blinded by government-issue fear.

We’re a nation at war, divided by war.

And that big wedge issue gives life to a host of other disputes.

Is it OK to torture our captive enemies?

Depends on where you stand on the bigger debate.

Government eavesdropping on Americans in pursuit of terror suspects?

Ditto.

“It’s certainly the case that these critical issues of the day continue to be very partisan, and meaningful conversations in the best spirit of deliberative democracy are difficult and very rare,” said Kirk Emerson, director of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution at the Morris K. Udall Foundation in Tucson.

The Udall Foundation deals with public policy issues related to the environment and natural resources, but its credo – “Civility, Integrity, Consensus” – should apply to all manner of public discourse.

“That is in the best tradition of the man we revere here at the Udall Foundation,” said Emerson. “That’s what we’re trying to carry out as part of Morris K. Udall’s legacy.”

The foundation recently took on one conflict in which those ideals are lacking in the public debate – arbitrating between midtown Tucsonans and the operation of aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Working with a group called the Military Community Compatibility Committee – MC3 – and residents of several midtown neighborhoods, the foundation heard a meeting last Wednesday that carried a welcome civil tone.

But that tone swiftly evaporated after my column describing the meeting ran in this newspaper the following day.

In e-mails and phone calls, the venom flowed.

“. . .you are a bumbling idiot!”

“. . . you should be fired . . .”

“. . . be thankful that they are protecting your freedom.”

The more productive responses included several questioning whether jet fuel exhaust and “fuel dumping” are legitimate issues with D-M flights over the city.

They often are cited as health concerns by residents who live with Air Force flights over their homes and neighborhoods.

Some people insist there’s no proof exposure to jet fuel poses a health risk.

Dr. Herb Abrams, a retired public health physician, admits he has no proof.

“I believe in preventive medicine. We shouldn’t have to prove it,” he said. “Jet fuel consists of hydrocarbons that add to the air pollution of this town. I know that when they fly low over our house, we frequently smell the exhaust.”

Does anyone argue that city smog is as healthful as clean country air?

It’s unlikely we’ll learn that exposure to jet exhaust is good for us, but maybe it makes us more American.

It seems embracing really loud jets does.

As for fuel dumping, D-M has strict guidelines allowing it only over unpopulated areas in dire emergencies under direction of air traffic controllers, said Col. Scott Hines, the 355th Wing inspector general and the base liaison to the MC3.

“We don’t have records that I was able to go back and capture, but there is an air traffic controller who has worked for nine years who knows of no instances of fuel dumping in that time,” Hines said, adding that ejected fuel disperses like a summer virga.

So, nine years is the institutional memory of fuel dumping at D-M.

It’s been 27 years since the last Air Force jet crashed in the city.

Nobody can talk in absolutes here.

It isn’t unreasonable that people who live beneath flights every day have “concerns” about these things.

And it’s appropriate to hold a civil conversation to address them.

Demagoguery doesn’t resolve much of anything outside of elections.

At the risk of sparking another debate – happy holidays.

C.T. Revere can be reached at 573-4594 and ctrevere@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. His columns run Mondays and Thursdays.

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