Volume 18, Number 8
December 2001

The Chair's Corner

Let Freedom Ring

By George R. Ripplinger, Jr.

I am writing this column on October 7, 2001. Our Section's Fall Meeting in Santa Barbara ended yesterday. I am still in Santa Barbara, looking out at the peaceful ocean, while the television in my hotel room shows destruction raining down on sites in Afghanistan.

Since September 11, I have been trying to understand the mood of this great country of ours and the reactions of our people. It suddenly hit me while watching the news that this is the first time in more than 50 years that an enemy has been actively attempting to bring death and destruction directly to this country and its people. This is the first time massive violence has been inflicted inside our borders since Pearl Harbor 60 years ago and on our mainland by foreign forces since the capital was burned in 1812. That is a dramatic change in our lives to assimilate.

I was born in 1945 in the waning days of World War II, but I was too young to comprehend the danger. Few of us today have lived through such a threat. But we have moved into a new and more dangerous era that, despite our best efforts, will likely result in recurrence of tragedy, though hopefully of smaller proportion.

Lawyers will have many roles in the coming years but none will be more important than safeguarding our freedoms. There will be a reaction from some in our society to make safety the principal goal of our societal institutions. Some have already vocalized such sentiments.

Civil liberties were abridged or completely denied to many in this country during World War II. That was a mistake that we now recognize, and for which we have apologized and even paid reparations. Not far from where I now sit are the empty spaces of internment camps such as Manzanar, their gates bearing silent witness to the loss of freedom suffered by Japanese Americans during World War II. It is doubtful that we will ever do such a thing again; however, freedom can be lost by small erosions as well as great ones. The urge to give up freedom for safety must be resisted. Lawyers should be on the forefront to preserve those freedoms our forebears, most recently my own father and his generation, fought to preserve.

World War II saw more than 400,000 U.S. citizens killed in the protection of our freedom. That is more than 6,000 killed per day of war. While it is true that they died protecting their loved ones at home, they also died to preserve and protect the freest nation on earth, the United States of America. The disaster of September 11 must be viewed in proportion when solutions are considered.

Our responsibility as lawyers is to preserve our freedom and, when discussing these recent events with our families, clients, and others, to emphasize that there is a cost to freedom and that the world will never be a completely safe place.

More than 1 million U.S. citizens have died since the Revolutionary War to found and preserve our country and our freedom. More will undoubtedly make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom in the future. We must never lose sight of why the ultimate sacrifice has been made: Freedom.

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