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Letters to the Editor: John Muir was a racist? History will be harder on us for ruining the planet

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir
President Theodore Roosevelt stands with conservationist John Muir on Glacier Point in Yosemite in 1903.
(MPI / Getty Images)

To the editor: One cannot judge the values held by people in the past using the standards of the present. Prior to the 19th century, slavery was present in almost every society on Earth. It is even acknowledged in the Bible.

To consider John Muir a bigot for representing the values of his time is irresponsible and distorts the values of his time.

Imagine someone from the 22nd century judging you for failing to stop driving fossil-fueled vehicles after scientists acknowledged the damage that carbon dioxide emissions did to the atmosphere and to future generations.

In fact, there is an inertia to ideas. Time is necessary for societies to change, and it is wrong to blame Muir for representing what were the conventional views of his time.

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Fred Krueger, Santa Rosa

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To the editor: Muir’s biggest failing was being born in the first half of the 19th century. In those days, Europeans routinely assumed they were superior to the other peoples of the world.

The horrors of the 20th century were often consequences of that assumption. Unchallenged assumptions can be very dangerous.

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As Muir and the Sierra Club that he founded have warned us, future generations may judge us quite harshly for our assumptions about proper stewardship of this planet. To avoid those condemnations, we should act now to end environmental destruction.

Jim Ralston, Los Angeles

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To the editor: Recent revelations about Muir’s statements show that regrettably, he was a racist. But he may also have been somewhat of a misanthrope.

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Muir’s love of nature was unquestioned, and he devoted his life to its preservation. His gift was the ability to convince people that we should preserve a collection of nature’s timeless jewels for future generations to enjoy.

In reality, he was endeavoring to protect these wild wonders from the exploitation of future generations. Muir knew humanity for what it was: selfish, short-sighted and destructive. But he also knew the idea of environmental preservation would only garner acceptance as long as it pertained to the enjoyment of people. Protecting nature for nature’s sake was a nonstarter.

Through it all, Muir helped create the Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier and Petrified Forest national parks. If the ancient redwood trees, an untold numbers of thriving animal species and an impressive array of pristine wilderness had one person to thank for their continued existence, it would be Muir.

Mark McCloud, Newhall

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To the editor: The assertions by Muir’s critics are incompatible with many of his written thoughts about equity.

As a young man in Wisconsin, he wrote of the Winnebago people “being robbed of their lands and pushed ruthlessly back into narrower and narrower limits by alien races who were cutting off their means of livelihood.”

In 1876, he wrote a newspaper article calling for vacation time for “men, women and children of every creed and color from every nation under the sun.”

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Our public lands are the best thing our government has done for all of us. Muir would encourage us not to divide ourselves, but to get more of everyone out on the trail.

Peter Yates, Culver City


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