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Stewart Udall reflects on the mistakes of this century

By Kathleen Shull
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 15, 1999
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There was a time when every dam was a good dam.

When foreign dignitaries visited America in the 1950s, they were first taken to the Tennessee Valley Authority. Cheap hydroelectric power and the dams built to produce that power became a kind of secular religion.

U.S. government officials even preached this religion in Egypt and helped build the Aswan Dam on the Nile and other dams elsewhere in the world.

"The era of dam building ended too late, but it finally ended," said Stewart Udall, one of its former proponents, interior secretary from 1961 until 1969.

Udall was first elected to Congress in 1954 after graduating from the University of Arizona Law School in 1948 and practicing law with his younger brother, the late Morris Udall.

He was the first cabinet member from Arizona, serving in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

"Not until 1961 did a more balanced river policy begin with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Bill," said Udall, who helped father its congressional passage. He also helped promote expansion of the national parks system.

Udall was the keynote speaker at Friday's luncheon at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law Environmental Restoration Conference at the Doubletree Inn.

Udall spoke about the mistakes made in this century and cautioned the audience to recognize that "all good ideas carried on too far become questionable."

"There is a kind of human being who gets attached to an idea and makes it an icon. I've always been a questioner," he said about his personal reflection on the 20th century and the errors he and others helped promote.

He said recognizing mistakes like the bombing of Hiroshima is necessary if we are going to understand the past.

Udall said the Interstate Highway program was another plan that never asked counties or cities what they thought might be better for their constituents, and destroyed many existing public transportation systems.

"It took the Senate decades before they allowed cities to have options," he said.

He also said the space program, which performs pseudo-science when it investigates how the sex life of spiders plays out in outer space, was an idea that has lost its appeal to him as he nears his 80th decade.

The Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona and the Central Arizona Project, which split up water by states, were two mistakes with consequences the present generation has to deal with, he said.

Although CAP water was promoted for agriculture, no one admitted then the water was needed to build cities like Phoenix and Tucson and fuel growth in Los Angeles, he said.

Udall said some of these projects were either wrong or misadventures, and fortunately many are now being corrected with the energy of youth and focus of communities around the nation who do not sit back and wait for Washington, D.C., to solve their problems.

Training people to keep their minds open and educating those who had no opportunities in the past will help correct mistakes made by his generation, he said.

He listed the century's greatest leaders as those who promoted peace not war - India's Mahatma Gandi, former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev, Martin Luther King Jr., and looming above them all, South Africa's Nelson Mandela.

He ended by quoting and adding to the words of poet Dylan Thomas.

"Lovers may be lost but not love. For death shall have no dominion over the earth and its life-giving systems. Some of us will die, We all will eventually, but the earth will survive. Man as yet does not have dominion over her."

Jessica Lee, an environmental science freshman who attended the conference said she appreciated Udall's recognition of error.

"I think it's important we have people like this who own up, who come out and say that we have made mistakes and I'll admit to them and this is what we can do about it," she said.

Jonathan Gettleman, a first year law student and Center for Biodiversity volunteer, said he was heartened by Udall's speech and his admitting some of the ideas of his time have come and passed, such as nuclear energy.

The conference, organized by Robert J. Glennon, UA constitutional law professor, was a three-day summit from Thursday to Saturday that drew together leaders in science and law and writers to discuss the interrelationship between science and law with an emphasis on watershed restoration strategies.

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