Remembering the legacy of former Gov. Ralph Carr, who stands on right side of history
War brings out all kinds of chaos in the human experience, and the dreadful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago reminds us that even the best of people fall victim to evil and pettiness.
And yet, honorable actions can punch through. When they do so, they have a way of shoring up good will in places never expected.
We wish to mark this bitter anniversary by remembering the legacy of former Gov. Ralph Carr, whose story Denver Post reporter Jesse Paul retold for readers this week. Carr’s actions during a time of heightened turmoil remind us of the good in people and the good a principled stand can lead to.
In taking up arms against Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were to be rounded up and sent to camps in the West, lest they serve as spies against us. Carr, a second-term Republican with a big political future, agreed to house them on the Eastern Plains. He did so not to appeal to xenophobic fears, but to make sure the Japanese would be treated fairly.
Carr’s decision can be tricky to appreciate, as it suggested an acceptance of the federal violation of due process rights. But he traveled the state to explain that while agreeing with the president was his duty, he could make sure it was administered with respect for those housed there.
“America is made up of men and women from the four corners of the earth, of every racial origin and nationality,” Carr wrote at the time. “There is no place here for the man who thinks that his people or his language are in turn entitled to preference over any others.”
When there were threats of violence directed against those in the camp, Carr warned: “If you harm them, you must first harm me.”
Carr’s story no doubt has inspired countless Coloradans, Americans, Japanese and others. Among them, as Paul notes in his story, is Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
We bring it up to remind readers how times of war and instability still threaten to make petty tyrants of us all.
President Barack Obama’s decision to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country last November inflamed critics, who worried about acts of jihadist terror.
Likewise, Hickenlooper’s decision to accept some of the refugees from that blood-soaked land drew enormous criticism. Many Republican governors balked and swore not to take part in the relocation.
Hickenlooper defended U.S. screening procedures and responded to criticism, saying: “We can protect our security and provide a place where the world’s most vulnerable can rebuild their lives.”
Historians credit Carr as being on the right side of the argument, but his stance ended his promising political career.
Japan’s Emperor Akihito honored Carr in a visit to Colorado in 1994.
And what of the brave men and women who fought and died for America during and after that vicious attack 75 years ago?
As we thank them for their service, we hope those still with us, and their descendants, too, join us in acknowledging the good that can rise out of even the worst of times.
America has never been simply about its military might, but about using its influence for the ideas and ideals we cherish, like those that guided Ralph Carr.
We hope Americans remember them.
Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr in 1939 after being sworn in.