Encroachments on individual rights and assaults on the environment and quality of life proceed from so many directions that efforts to throw up protective boundaries seem futile. And yet dedicated citizens keep trying.
One issue that won't go away is the redundancy of overhead military flights. "(Davis-Monthan) is Turning Tucson Into One Gigantic Airbase" was the title of an op-ed written by me that was published in the Arizona Daily Star years ago, and in a recent Tucson Weekly, Molly McKasson and Dave Devine addressed the threat of much louder planes possibly being based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base or the Tucson International Airport. Air Force data estimates that F-35s will triple noise levels of the loudest planes currently flying here.
The late Dr. Herbert K. Abrams mocked our City Council's eager support for blind obedience to the military mentality: "The council's advice to midtown folks: Soundproof your home. Stay in your house. Keep your children indoors. Don't enjoy Arizona's beauty. Make your home a bunker."
Evading decibel readings, our mayor and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords act as if the country will fall apart if the Air Force relies on nonurban space. Our governor, who also attacks auto-emissions limits, is lobbying to get F-35s based both at Luke Air Force Base and in Tucson, as if her ideal dystopia needs pollution from both streets and the sky. And now, even though one historic Davis-Monthan jet crash incinerated lives directly across from the UA Recreation Center, and the university is directly under a flight path, President Robert Shelton has weighed in with approval of F-35s in Tucson.
Our politicians act as if their sole responsibility is to boost corporate profits, as we go on guzzling oil in every way possible, all around and over us. Diplomacy is often forsaken, with both hostile nations and fellow citizens. Tucson was long a haven for those who seek health, fresh air and peace of mind. But that reputation will be severely impacted if our city becomes famous for intolerable, ear-shattering noise and bad air, conditions linked to the exacerbation of many medical conditions. Ironically, boosters of the military agenda, in the name of economic prosperity, are putting Tucson's traditional attractions at hazard.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the Military Industrial Complex as a dominant threat to America's future, but we have become so subservient to it that activism against its excesses is stigmatized as unpatriotic. Surely we should be wary of propaganda and mind-shattering reminders of the dominance of the military. Isn't that power maintained by keeping the public scared to death—scared of honoring their own needs, and scared of speaking up to foes of their happiness?
Is it unpatriotic to urge mitigation of torture from the skies? A suicide by a D-M pilot reminded us that such incidents could take place over the city as easily as elsewhere. Despite this and other issues, concerns have been politicized and polarized more with ideological red herrings than study of realities and risks.
Nick Taylor, in a 2006 Authors Guild Bulletin, wrote of a 1946 Supreme Court case, U.S. v Causby: "North Carolina chicken farmers ... had a problem. ... Their farm was near a military airport, and their chickens were all a-cackle over big, noisy, heavy bombers taking off and landing right over their heads. They were frightened, sick and dying. The farmers had the temerity to assert their air rights over their farm on behalf of their chickens, to prevent the takeoffs and landings. ... The air space required for air travel was a commons available to all citizens, but the farmers had rights, too, essentially the common law right to the beneficial use of their property. Since this was taken away, the court ruled in favor of the farmers" and gave them compensation for their losses.
Aren't we citizens in Tucson in the same position as those chickens?
Are assaults on ears and health really "the sound of freedom" or of needless environmental destruction? Doesn't the Air Force already have plenty of nonurban space where they could operate? If the goal is to protect Americans, why not think of citizens who live under flight paths? And think of our planet, which needs nurturing rather than more torture.
"What kind of community do we live in, where thousands must fear their Air Force?" Dr. Abrams asked. And the question is ever more urgently relevant today.
David Ray is a Tucson author and professor (www.davidraypoet.com).