I’d like to wish all of you a peaceful and productive New Year.
I’d also like to remind you that in the coming years our future
demands that we all must make well informed, conscientious
decisions in all aspects of our lives and society — decisions that take
into account their long term effect on the environment. These
decisions can only be made by people who are not only committed
to environmental responsibility, but have an understanding of the
interdependence of all living things, the need for the diversity of all
forms and all phases of life and the potential problems of
unrestrained human population growth. These decisions must be
made by people who believe we have a moral responsibility to future
generations to protect and restore the earth, its life, its
communities and its processes. These goals and commitments
must be shared, not only by all segments of our society, but by
every other nation on Earth.
However, the environmental legacy of the twentieth century is
threatened with this reality: unless we avoid some deadly pitfalls the
environmental triumphs we’ve achieved and the challenges we must
continue to address will soon be cast aside. Remember personal
survival always takes precedence. Environmental responsibility and
understanding require spiritual, moral and intellectual growth;
something that cannot occur in people that live in a world of
poverty, injustice, desperation and despair.
I spent Christmas Eve,1967, at a Marine Base in Da Nang, Viet
Nam. It was uncharacteristically somber for a Marine Base, probably
because of the holiday. Most of us tried to sleep. The marines in
the base were mostly young recruits, new to the country, waiting
for assignment. There were also some older marines returning to
I was no longer one of them. I was waiting for a flight to Okinawa,
then a discharge and home. I was much older, a hardened veteran,
someone who’d seen the war and returned to tell about it. But I
wasn’t talking much. I was 22.
I remember that night vividly. I couldn’t sleep. I just lay in my cot
and listened to the new marines whimper as they thought about
their limited future, the inevitability and the proximity of their
violent ends. Occasionally, one of the returning marines would
wake up and scream in terror.
I felt fear that night more deeply than I ever had before. Unlike my
companions, I was not afraid of a paralyzing, disfiguring injury or a
violent, bloody death. I had resigned myself to that months
before. I feared that with only a week or so left, that I successfully
avoided the inevitable. I would not die.
Instead I would return home and face a future that I could not
imagine, no matter how hard I tried. I would return to a family and
friends I no longer knew. I would be forced to deal with a hostile
society and my own bitterness. I would be expected to have
emotions; to make responsible decisions; to find solutions other than
attack or retreat.
When I returned home, I was not a responsible, contributing citizen.
My adjustment was long and painful.
We cannot expect people who live in fear; who live under the threat
of violence, either sanctioned by governments, or from individuals or
groups, to make decisions that consider the future and the common
good. Violence, fear, intolerance, hatred, poverty and despair are
all barriers to a sound environmental future.
I’d like to wish you peace in the new year, but instead I implore you
to aggressively pursue it.
A New Year’s Wish from Past-President, Chuck Tague