A Sharon friend, who is also a folk singer, recently forwarded me a perfectly astounding quotation from Edward R. Murrow that was broadcast over the BBC in February, 1946, as Murrow left Britain after years of covering World War II from there. Said Murrow: “I believe that I have learned the most important thing that has happened in Britain during the last six years.”
No, Murrow wasn’t speaking of routine courage, or the Blitz, or the Battle of Britain, or El Alamein, or Normandy — important as those facts and events were. He was speaking of the continued British respect for democracy and human rights, in spite of the war. Murrow cited two particular examples, excerpted here:
“Do you remember that while London was being bombed in the daylight the House devoted two days to discussing conditions under which enemy aliens were detained on the Isle of Man? Though Britain fell, there were to be no concentration camps here.”
“Do you remember that two days after Italy declared war an Italian citizen, convicted of murder in the lower courts, appealed successfully to the highest court in the land, and the original verdict was set aside? There was still law in the land, regardless of race, nationality or hatred. Representative government, equality before the law survived.”
Future generations who bother to read the historical record will see that in Britain, during the greatest war of all time, there was no retreat from basic human rights and principles. Isn’t it telling that today our U.S. Supreme Court should have to be even considering whether “detainees” in the so-call “war” on terrorism have the right to fair trial, to habeas corpus, to counsel, or even the right not to be tortured in violation of national and international law?
Surely, this is not our “finest hour.” Compared with our British friends in wartime, how far have we fallen? How far have we yet to fall?