Half a dozen heroes to think about

My wife and I watched the movie “Harriet” on Friday about the American hero Harriet Tubman. She helped over 300 slaves find their way to freedom. Her courage, tenacity, faith and smarts are highly commendable. The movie is excellent and quite moving.

It got me thiking about a few other heroes. Let me mention three more historical heroes who need more notoriety, before I close with two current ones who deserve the shout out.

I have written before about Alan Turing, the father of modern day computing. He led a team that cracked the Nazi Enigma code used in secret transmissions. Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower said Turing and his team helped shorten the war by two years and save 750,000 lives. Sadly, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was later imprisoned after his sexual preferences were discovered. What if they had discovered he was gay in 1940 rather than 1950? Would those 750,000 people have died?

Two men who should get more acclaim are Elliott Richardson and William Ruckelshaus. What did they do? In October, 1973, they refused in succession to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox at the direction of President Richard Nixon and were themselves fired. This was the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency. Nixon called the Watergate investigation a “witch hunt” and said repeatedly “I am not a crook.” He was wrong on both counts. It wasn’t and he was.

A current hero is only sixteen years old, Greta Thunberg, the climate change activist from Sweden. She has inspired tens of millions kids, teens and adults in urging the need for more climate change action. I find her candor and can-do attitude refreshing. She has gotten the attention of legislators, but they need to act. We are behind where we need to be.

The other current hero is former US ambassador to Ukraine, Maria Yovanovitch. She was the first to testify to the House impeachment committees. Her political courage and respect for the US constitution is enviable. Her testimony led others to also brave testimony, especially in light of a vindictive president who they reiterated abused his powers. I cannot emphasize their courage enough, as more than a few Republican legislators feel the same but are not as courageous and fear the wrath of the president and his base.

Going against the grain in the face of adversity should be valued. Tubman freed herself and traversed over one hundred miles alone. Then she went back at great personal risk and freed more people. I applaud her and these other five people. We all should.

Vehement and attacking denials

I watched the first of two episodes on the PBS news series “Frontline” regarding the NFL’s cover up of concussions being caused by the money-making game of professional football. Having seen Will Smith star as Dr. Bennett Omalu, the Nigerian born and well schooled forensic-pathologist, who broke the story in the movie “Concussion,” this show caught my eye.

In short, autopsies performed on several deceased players, who had died before age fifty, revealed recurring concussive brain injuries that led to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which caused dementia in these players. Yet, the NFL went out of its way to deny, denigrate and demonize this man and his findings. The NFL conducted its own studies and were able to get them published even when they did not measure up to scientific peer review standards. As a result more players got hurt. Eventually, the NFL settled a lawsuit for $1 Billion payable to the players. This settlement was upheld by the Supreme Court last December.

I mention this story as other entities have followed the vehement and attacking denial approach. You may recall the tobacco industry denied for years that nicotine was addictive, when they had studies in their files dating back to 1964 that told them it was. After years of denying other studies, often denigrating and demonizing the group doing the study, eight CEOs of tobacco companies testified under oath to a Congressional Committee that nicotine was not addictive. That bald face lie was too much for some and insiders began to tell the real story. In 1998, the big four tobacco companies agreed to a settlement with 46 state attorney generals for $206 Billion, payable over 25 years.

President Richard Nixon used a similar approach to attack The Washington Post, in particular Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, for their investigative reporting which linked the Watergate break-in to the White House and the detailed cover-up of various crimes. Nixon threatened them, the publisher and editor attacking their credibility. And, when Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was getting too close, he had Cox fired, but only after the Saturday Night Massacre, when two of Cox’s superiors refused to fire him – Elliott Richardson and William Ruckelshaus – and resigned. While Nixon was pardoned after resigning, over twenty of Nixon’s staff went to jail.

Today, we have two entities that are following suit. Exxon Mobil has attacked critics and scientists for years on climate change using the same PR strategy and firm that the tobacco Industry used. Apparently, they did not read the ending. They dared scientists to look at their data. A Harvard group of scientists did and found that 83% of the scientific papers done by Exxon Mobil’s scientists confirmed that climate change is an existential threat and is man-influenced.

Not ironically, management’s public positions said the climate change science is unclear 81% of the time, the exact opposite conclusion. Exxon Mobil denigrated the Harvard scientists who just completed their work, but are failing to remember a current class action suit by employees and another by shareholders alleging the company is undervalued due to management’s misrepresentation of climate change impact. Right now, two state attorney generals and the SEC are investigating this very issue. If the AGs and SEC find Exxon Mobil did mislead shareholders, Exxon Mobil will be guilty of the crime of securities fraud.

The other entity is one Donald J. Trump, the current occupant of the White House. He has attacked everyone who dares criticize him or suggests that the Russians not only hacked the election, that he may have culpability in colluding with them. Trump says routinely and often the media is lying and consists of bad people. Senators, Congress members, and others, even from his own party, are met with some negative attack, if they dare be critical of him. Like Archibald Cox, there is a very capable Special Prosecutor named Robert Mueller who is investigating further into all the President’s men and women. Like these other entities, the attacks are vehement and brutal. Like these other entities, the stories seem to change as more details come out. And, like others, I believe the President is guilty of collusion. Why? His history, first and foremost, but if he was not guilty, why is acting so guilty?

So, the story line has yet to be written, but the more vehement, relentless and negative the attacks are and the more the denial stories change, the more likely the party doing the attacking is guilty.

A few obscure heroes

The names Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus and Archibald Cox do not conjure up physical bravery, but they are heroes nonetheless. Their honor and duty to their oaths of office gave them the conviction to stand up against the President of the United States. We did not know it at the time, but President Richard Nixon had sanctioned illegal activities and would later resign before he would have been impeached.

What did these gentlemen do that was heroic? Cox refused to back off his pursuit of the truth as the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate hearings. He was asked to do a job and he pursued it with a passion to uphold his oath to the constitution. When the President did not get his wish, he asked Richardson, the US Attorney General to fire Cox. Richardson declined to do so and resigned. Ruckelshaus, his Deputy, also refused and resigned

It came to a head and eventual Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork ended up firing Cox over a weekend in October known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  These resignations and firing may have been the tipping point for Nixon’s demise as the press realized something was indeed wrong. Shortly after the massacre, Nixon released the first set of secret tapes with 18 minutes deleted, which had been requested by Cox and the Senate Commission after learning that Nixon taped all his meetings in the Oval Office. So, Nixon’s own paranoia did him in as he recorded his illegal activity.

Many know the names Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post and their huge roles in reporting on Nixon and all of his henchmen. Yet, we should pay homage to three additional American heroes in Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus  and Archibald Cox.

They were our Men for All Seasons.