O'Neill quotes Stewart Udall, from this NYTimes oped.
“There is nothing comparable in our history to the deceit and the lying that took place as a matter of official Government policy in order to protect this [the nuclear arms] industry. Nothing was going to stop them and they were willing to kill our own people.”
Santa Fe Portrait; A Longtime Pillar of the Government Now Aids Those Hurt by Its BombsEast of the Nevada Test Site, where the Government conducted atmospheric tests of atomic bombs, the town of Alamo, Nev., rises in the desert. In August 1978, at the urging of a cousin, Stewart L. Udall went to Alamo and listened to mothers tell of the dust and radiation from the blasts that settled over the town in the 1950's and of the children they had lost to leukemia.
"Until then, there were a lot of people in that country who suspected a link, but they kept it to themselves," said Mr. Udall, who once was Secretary of the Interior for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. "They had been fed a steady diet of lies by the Government that there was no danger. That was my first trip to investigate, and I felt there was more to it, that it would be difficult and that we would be breaking new ground."
It also nearly broke the spirit of an elder statesman of the Southwest and the Democratic Party, a man who wears his hair in unruly silvery waves these days and is almost never seen in anything other than cotton work pants and white sneakers. On a bright spring afternoon in his new adobe home overlooking Santa Fe and the Jemez mountains, Mr. Udall says he is happier than he has been in years as he finishes what may be his greatest work of a life full of achievements. Apology and a Promise
From a study decorated with the pictures of the Kennedy brothers, Robert Frost, William O. Douglas and other men of history who were his close friends, Mr. Udall is using his considerable stature and influence to change the system. He has appealed to the Clinton Administration to make the law as compassionate as it was intended to be. And he is beginning to get help from Congress
In early May, Representative George Miller, a Democrat of California and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, asked Attorney General Janet Reno for an accounting of the compensation program and ways it could be improved. Recently, two Democratic lawmakers from New Mexico, Senator Jeff Bingaman and Representative Bill Richardson, began looking into problems in the program at the Navajo reservation in Shiprock.
The compensation law, which Mr. Udall helped to write and push through Congress, came 12 years after he began to uncover and prove one of the terrible secrets of American democracy: in the name of safeguarding the nation from the Soviets, the United States had knowingly exposed millions of its own citizens to harmful levels of atomic radiation. Signs of Fatigue
The hours of research and the miles of travel are beginning to show in a walk that is stiffening, fatigue that creeps up on him at odd times of the day, and the anger that flares in his eyes when he describes the Government's behavior.
It will be left to historians to decide whether the collapse of the nuclear weapons industry played a role in ending the cold war and in decisions to begin disarming the American atomic arsenal. But some experts contend that an important part of that story begins with Mr. Udall. Byproduct of Arms Race
"He got America to recognize that there was a tragic human face associated with the arms race," said Robert Alvarez, an investigator on Senator Glenn's Committee on Governmental Affairs and co-author of "Killing Our Own" (Dell, 1982) a history of the nation's experience with the atom. "Stewart forced the atomic weapons industry to begin to fall under democratic control. And when it did, it led to further revelations that unraveled the consensus that had allowed the Government to operate without anybody questioning them."
Stewart L. Udall was born in 1920 in St. Johns, Ariz., the oldest son of six children raised by Louise Udall and her husband, Levi, a Mormon and self-educated lawyer who ended his career as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. Mr. Udall and his younger brother Morris, a future Congressman and 1976 Presidential candidate, followed in their father's footsteps, opening a law practice together in Tucson in 1949.
The older brother won the first of his three terms in Congress as a Democrat from Arizona in 1954. His seat was taken by Mo Udall in 1961, when he was named by President Kennedy to become Secretary of the Interior, a job he commanded as only one man before him had, Harold L. Ickes, who served during the Depression, and none since.
From 1961 to 1968, Mr. Udall wrote or helped to write four landmark conservation laws, among them the 1964 Wilderness Act, which permanently safeguards tens of millions of acres of forest from logging, mining, and road-building. He established four national parks, 56 wildlife refuges, 8 national seashores and lakeshores, 9 national recreations areas and 22 national historic sites. Cold War History
Yet Mr. Alvarez and other nuclear experts who have followed his career say Mr. Udall's greatest work may have come after he left Washington, when he challenged the Government's nuclear warriors.
When the last lawsuit was concluded, Mr. Udall moved to Santa Fe two years ago to live next-door to his son Tom, who was elected New Mexico's Attorney General. Each morning Mr. Udall awakens early, pads into his study, and reckons with the country's cold war experience and his role in it in a book he is finishing, his fourth.
"The atomic weapons race and the secrecy surrounding it crushed American democracy," Mr. Udall said in a interview. "It induced us to conduct Government according to lies. It distorted justice. It undermined American morality. Until the cold war, our country stood for something. Lincoln was the great exemplar. We stood for moral leadership in the world."
Until 1978, Mr. Udall said he had known little about the behavior of the officials inside the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the Department of Energy.
Then came the plea for help from his cousin in Alamo. Over the next decade, Mr. Udall, a team of other lawyers, and four of his six children investigated and litigated the three lawsuits asserting that Americans had been harmed by the Government's negligent management of the nuclear-arms industry.
The first suit was brought by thousands of men, women and children in the Southwest who said they had been harmed by radioactive fallout from the atmospheric testing of atomic bombs in the 1950's and early 1960's. The second was brought by families of Navajo men who had mined uranium for the Government and were disabled or killed by lung cancer caused by radiation in the mines. A third suit, still pending, was brought by workers at the Nevada Test Site. Power of Government
Ultimately, the first two lawsuits failed because the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 gives officials broad discretion to carry out programs, whether or not they cause injuries. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the cases in the late 1980's, Mr. Udall said he was crushed.
In the spring of 1988, Navajo leaders asked Mr. Udall to come to the reservation in northern Arizona to explain what happened. Mr. Udall said he could not face them. "They believed in me," he said slowly, the memory evident in the hardened corners of his mouth. "They believed in our system of justice. I had told them the courts would listen. It was almost as though I had lied about our system of justice. That if you were patient and persistent, there would be justice at the end. At that point I thought we had reached the end."
For months, Lee Udall said, her husband, normally a tower of energy and moral fire, moped around their house in Phoenix. Mr. Udall said he had been broken in spirit and in finances.
He even refused an appeal by a friend, former Representative Wayne Owens, Democrat of Utah, who called him in the summer of 1988 for help in writing a bill to compensate the victims. Mr. Udall told Mr. Owens he was too broke to pay for a plane ticket to Washington and too discouraged to be much help. "I thought it was another lost cause," Mr. Udall said.
But Mr. Owens, who lost the election for a Senate seat last year, persisted. In 1989, Mr. Udall made the first of a number of trips to Washington to write the legislation and lobby for its passage. He helped build the coalition of western Republicans in the Senate, led by Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Pete G. Domenici of New Mexico, and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, who were needed to persuade President George Bush to sign the law on Oct. 15, 1990.
Justice Department officials, who administer the program, point out that by fighting for his clients Mr. Udall will receive legal fees provided by the compensation law.
Mr. Udall acknowledges that he, his family and several lawyers who helped with the lawsuits have received $570,000 in fees from 57 victorious clients and that they stand to gain $1 million or more in fees. But he noted that the payments come after 14 years of work, and he said he had spent at least $200,000 of his own money investigating and litigating the cases.
"If the pot gets sweet at the end that's fine," he said. "Whatever I get I will have earned. That is a fact. But that has not been my permanent concern. I have a personal commitment to my clients. You start a job. You finish it."
As for the compensation legislation, Mr. Udall says it is a statement that only the United States is capable of making. "It shows the country is resilient," he said. "It shows a willingness to admit mistakes. We still have the ability to let our children see our triumphs and how we betrayed our ideals."
Why does his son Tom not display some of this integrity and stop feeding "this steady diet of lies by the government"?