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Another day, another installment, another note from the editor

December 14, 2007 |  8:29 am

With today’s installment of our series on the 2008 campaign, we move the discussion squarely to our system of justice – and particularly to the stresses on our liberties that the war on terror has created. Liberty, the value we explore today, is an embattled American idea, one honored in peacetime and all-too often abrogated during war.

In the long and recurring clash between liberty and security, we side with liberty and maintain that America’s long-term interests are best served by the jealous protection of its freedoms. The Cold War, for instance, was a clash of governments, but also of ideas, including the question of how much personal liberty a society can and should sanction. In that international competition for loyalty, America’s freedoms – its civil rights movement, its open markets, its acceptance and embrace of unpopular ideas – proved a far more compelling ideology than that of communism. We won the Cold War in large part because ours was a freer country than that of our adversary.

That said, our predecessors on this page have not always seen these questions quite the way we do today.

In January of 1942, with Californians on edge since the bombing of Pearl Harbor and with their fears stoked by the release of a study of the attack that suggested support for it among Hawaii’s Japanese population, The Times joined a clamorous call for the removal of the state’s Japanese. “California is a theater of war,” The Times editorialized on January 28 of that year. “The time has come to realize that the rigors of war demand proper detention of Japanese and their immediate removal from the most acute danger spots.

“It is not a pleasant task,” we then concluded. “But it must be done and done now. There is no safe alternative.”

That was a shameful moment in the history of this paper – one barely made less odious by the fact that our predecessors were in good company. Such devoted civil libertarians as Justice Hugo Black, President Franklin Roosevelt and then-California Attorney General Earl Warren, who 11 years later would write Brown vs. Board of Education, were among those who supported the internment, which began soon after that editorial was published. The internment locked up 110,000 Americans who were charged with no crime, a deprivation of liberty on a vast and abominable scale.

But we learn from history, and today our faith in liberty is more resolute, less insecure than it was in those frightening first months of America’s World War II. We on the editorial board believe wholeheartedly in freedom. We rely on the Supreme Court to protect it. And we hope for a President who, unlike the present occupant of the office, shares our devotion to it and sees it as part of our strength, not as a weakness.

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