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Tony Day, RIP

September 4, 2007 |  4:13 pm

Tony_day_3 Anthony "Tony" Day, editorial page editor of the L.A. Times from 1971-1989, died Sunday of complications from emphysema. He was 74. Read The Times' obit here. Memorial services will be held Saturday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

As today's editorial page points out, Day was famous around these parts for, among several things, fighting for, and then writing, a June 7, 1970 editorial entitled Out of Vietnam NOW [PDF file]. You can see some of his more recent book-review work for the paper, as well as articles that reference or quote him, here.

The obituary describes his departure from the editorial pages thusly:

Day was relatively safe while Otis Chandler had a corporate role, but when Chandler dissolved his last official ties in 1988, the shield was gone.

[Publisher Tom] Johnson and [Editor William] Thomas were pressured by senior members of the board to fire Day because they regarded him as too liberal. Both men refused, but two months after Johnson was replaced as publisher in 1989, Day was removed and given the post of senior correspondent reporting on ideas and innovation.

The back story to that is pretty interesting, at least to veteran Times-watchers. According to the 2001 Otis Chandler biography Privileged Son by Dennis McDougal, the refusal to fire Tony Day cost Tom Johnson his job as publisher. (He landed on his feet, moving to CNN.) David Laventhol, president of the Times Mirror board, "had ordered Johnson to not only replace Bill Thomas but to handle a long laundry list of unfinished assignments, according to Otis, including. ... Replace the editorial page editor, Tony Day." Thomas was indeed replaced, by Shelby Coffey. Here's what McDougal says happened next:

Laventhol abolished the editorial board and the daily meetings. Instead, he ordered Day to present his daily editorial list directly to Coffey. The editor and publisher alone would decide what went into the next day's editorial page. When Day objected to this procedure, Laventhol told Tom Johnson it was time.

Johnson disagreed. He had never had his authority as publisher breached before and he refused to start by submitting to Laventhol's direct order to fire Tony Day. What happened next was a swift, clear example of how things were to be done under the new regime. If Johnson would not rid the Times of Tony Day, Laventhol would find someone else to do it. Tom went to Otis in a panic, but Otis had already heard from [Times Mirror Chairman Robert] Erburu and Laventhol. They had asked him not to interefere, and Otis agreed. Otis told Johnson that he could not save him. [...]

"Tony Day is a good example of Tom's inability to make a decision until it is too late," said Otis. "Tom is told over and over. I told him. He didn't listen."

But Shelby Coffey did listen. Two months after David Laventhol supplanted Tom Johnson as the sixth publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Coffey called Tony Day into his office to tell him that he had ben given a new assignment. He would be the Times' new columnist for ideas and ideologies. [...]

Fear and rumor raced at Mach 2 through the halls of Times Mirror Square in the closing days of 1989. If they could fire the publisher and the editorial page editor, they could fire anyone. [...]

Overnight, life inside the Velvet Coffin went from rosy to wretched, and most Timesmen and -women began leading professional lives of quiet desperation.

Dramatic stuff! But the question this all brings to my mind, and is certainly more appropriate on a day of mourning, is what did Tony Day write about ideas and ideologies after 1989? For a February 1993 Column One example, keep reading after the jump:

In his new job probing world ideologies in the wake of communism's collapse, Anthony Day brought the same thoughtfulness that characterized his previous work on the editorial page, and his later book reviews. Here's a prime example from February 9, 1993, interesting in its own right as a time capsule from a familiar-sounding yet altogether different era, but ultimately a too-rare example of a journalist daring to ask the hard questions out loud, rather than continue nodding along to unspoken assumptions. Enjoy:

When Evil Calls Out for Action
The nation is urged to intervene around the world to do 'God's work' and to avert a 'second Holocaust.' How do we know when to act on the humanitarian impulse?

The United States has launched a U.N.-sanctioned humanitarian relief expedition in Somalia. It is being urged to intervene to stop the spread of war in the former Yugoslavia and to restore democracy in Haiti.

When are nations and individuals obliged to respond to evil and human suffering? What are the unspoken philosophical, religious and legal principles that underlie the recent decisions and current debate?

The action in Iraq can largely be explained by referring to America's national interest, its unwillingness to see a hostile Iraqi regime dominate the Persian Gulf oil supplies on which it and the rest of the world depend.

But intervention in Somalia and to some extent in the former Yugoslavia directly raises questions that are principally humanitarian. No important American national interest is involved in Somalia. Whether one is in the Balkans is the subject of dispute.

So the debate over intervention is cast largely in moral terms.

Bush announced the dispatch of the armed forces to Somalia as "God's work." Those who advocate intervention in Yugoslavia use the arguments both of self-interest (a wider Balkan war would imperil the stability of Europe) and of moral obligation (there must be "no second Holocaust," said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher). "The human tragedy of Bosnia cries out for a human response," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.). The inability of the West and the United States to act is "a form of moral as well as political abdication," wrote columnist William Pfaff, an early and strong supporter of intervention.

"Stop Genocide In Bosnia," declared a recent advertisement in the Washington Times directed at President Clinton and Congress and signed by former Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon and a host of others, from Thatcher to former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidates George McGovern and Michael Dukakis.

Calls like civil rights leader Jesse Jackson's for a threat of armed international intervention in Haiti to restore elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power are based on humanitarian grounds--though, as often, there is a touch of self-interest, in this case preventing the boat people from setting sail to Florida.

In most of the history of the world, and of the United States, disinterested moral arguments for intervening in the affairs of other nations have been seldom heard. The governing principle has been self-interest, the supposed national interest of states.

It still largely is.

But in the last century or so, and especially since World War II, the notion of a humanitarian basis for one nation's actions toward another has been raised with increasing frequency, though acted on much less than discussed.

This humanitarian impulse is based on often-unspoken assumptions about human conduct that are deeply rooted in Western culture.

For the Western world those principles have one of their sources in the first five books of the Bible, the Jewish Torah. No sooner had the children of Adam and Eve grown up than Cain killed Abel. God said, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" God said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground."

From these beginnings, said Rabbi David M. Gordis, president of Hebrew College, Boston, developed "the most fundamental religious imperative in Jewish tradition: not to stand mute in the presence of evil." Jews must respond to the needs of Jews and non-Jews alike.

Christianity inherited from the Torah the command to "love thy neighbor as thyself," but in its infancy the new, pacifistic and often-persecuted religion was in no position to formulate rules of duties to the outside world. That changed when it became the state religion of the Roman Empire with the conversion of Constantine in AD 314. St. Augustine developed the doctrine of "just war" to justify the defense of the empire against the barbarians, and the church developed a body of doctrine to provide for the charitable duty to help others.

Christianity incorporated ideas from the Greek philosophers about the universality of norms for human conduct and concepts of the human soul. The notion of justice as the ideal for nations and groups, as is love for individuals, is embedded in both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology.

"An element of coercion is always necessary to bring about justice," observed Marjorie Suhocki, a Protestant professor of theology at the Claremont School of Theology. She added that an individual must respond in one way or another to an occurrence of evil. The question, as always, is how.

Islam contains the same moral obligations to assist others. Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, said, "The Koran commands us to fight for those who are oppressed, whether individuals or nations."

The Enlightenment of the 18th Century introduced concepts that, though often unexamined, resonate today in the general culture. What the 18th-Century Scottish philosopher David Hume called "universal sympathy"--the feeling of one human being for all others--is at least in the West nearly universally accepted, though of course with uneven to indifferent application.

The 18th-Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that a person's sense of moral duty is deeply ingrained; one does not act solely out of self-interest. Kant's views are influential to this day among those who believe in a community of humanity, said UC Riverside philosopher David Glidden.

The contemporary American philosopher Michael Walzer points out that in 1859 the English philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that it would have been "an honorable and virtuous act" for Britain to have intervened in 1848--it hadn't--to help Lajos Kossuth and the Hungarian revolutionaries against Austria when Russia joined Austria to suppress them.

A similar conviction animated the many Americans who advocated intervening in Cuba in 1898 to help the Cuban revolutionaries overthrow their Spanish rulers. American public opinion was particularly incensed by the Spaniards' forcible resettlement of Cubans helping the insurgents. The explosion and sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor brought the United States into the war to free Cuba, but its humanitarian goals were quickly swamped by the American seizure of the Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain and later by U.S. insistence on maintaining a large degree of control over Cuba.

President Woodrow Wilson's injection of idealism into foreign policy created the adjective Wilsonian for the strain of morality--or moralizing--in America's approach to world affairs. Long opposed to America's entry into World War I, he was drawn into it and, in asking Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, he said that it was a war "to make the world itself at last free." At the peace table he promoted the independence of Eastern European states from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and fruitlessly pressed for American participation in the League of Nations, which he had strongly promoted.

The end of World War II brought the establishment of the United Nations; the discovery of Nazi Germany's deliberate slaughter of 6 million Jews and others in the Holocaust led to the Genocide Convention, intended to prevent a repetition. Under it, such deliberate killings and repression are crimes, and any signatory nation may ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize intervention in a nation where such acts are taking place. None ever has.

It is generally agreed that the afflictions befalling Muslims in Bosnia and other groups of people in the former Yugoslavia are a matter of humanitarian concern to individuals and nations generally. The questions here, as always when intervention is discussed, are not whether you might like to but whether you should intervene, and how to do it. These are the kinds of questions that philosophers call "prudential"--that define the practical course of action to be taken under general guiding principles.

"The question in Bosnia is not 'Should something be done?' but 'What can you do effectively?' " said Father J. Brian Hehir, Roman Catholic chaplain at Harvard University and professor in its Divinity School, and an expert on the Roman Catholic doctrine of just war.

A point in ancient Jewish law illuminates the modern dilemma. If you see a man with evil intent pursuing another, you are obliged to stop him even if you have to kill him--but not at the risk of your own life. Always questions of prudence arise immediately; each potential remedy for human suffering or human evil forces the weighing of risk against gain.

The American intervention in Somalia was undertaken because it was thought to be relatively easy and short. No one has seriously proposed a similar intervention 1,000 miles away in Sudan, where ethnic strife and a civil war have created ghastly suffering; it would be too difficult and costly.

Similar debates about cost and risk color the international debate about the former Yugoslavia. Those who support the plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina drawn up by Lord Owen and former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance argue that it is the best plan for peace, even though it would ratify some Serbian gains. Those who oppose it argue that it is not yet accepted by all the warring parties, and in any case would for years require at least 100,000 or 200,000 U.N. troops, including Americans, to enforce.

That armed intervention is even being considered is evidence of the change in world politics in the wake of the death of the Cold War. Then it would have been out of the question as raising too great a risk of conflict with the Soviet Union.

American soldiers moving east into the foggy German countryside in November, 1956, for their annual maneuvers were asked by German villagers if they were going to Hungary to aid the hapless Hungarian revolutionaries rising up against the Communists. Some of the soldiers wished they were, but America did not want to risk a war with the Soviet Union over an issue that tugged at the heart but was not a central point of national interest. The story was repeated in Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Soviet tanks crushed the brief "Prague Spring" of budding democracy.

When China set about in 1959 to destroy Tibetan Buddhist civilization, those outside who noticed were outraged, but the outside world did nothing--because Tibet was too far away, too high and cold and inaccessible, and besides no one wanted to tangle with the Chinese. Yet philosopher Michael Walzer sees two examples of humanitarian "rescue operations" in the post-war period, even though each was mixed with self-interest.

India briefly invaded East Pakistan in 1971 to support the Bengalis oppressed by the Pakistanis. The Indian army defeated the Pakistani army and left; the Bengalis proclaimed the independent state of Bangladesh. India's self-interest in a weakened Pakistan was obvious, Walzer wrote in his book "Just and Unjust Wars." "But the intervention qualifies as humanitarian, because it was a rescue, strictly and narrowly defined. So circumstances sometimes makes saints of us all," he wrote.

He said that the Vietnamese overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1979 falls in the same category--though Vietnam's motives toward their ancient enemy were, like the Indians', mixed. International law, which is an outgrowth of Western culture, ordinarily is based on the recognition of sovereign states and respects that sovereignty. But, Walzer argues, it permits rescue operations like these.

The dilemma of what other nations should do when a nation savagely represses its own population strains the traditional constraints of international law, some people believe.

David Scheffer, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a member of President Clinton's transition team in the State Department, thinks that "the moral issue of the evil character of some deeds transcends the traditional legalistic paradigm and rules."

"If the law is going to change and reflect these new circumstances," he said, "it will be moral pressure that makes that change."

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