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Opinion | 75 years after ending World War II: Celebrating a lasting peace

Will Sellers

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Seventy-five years ago today, on Sept. 2, World War II officially ended. After six years of global conflagration, the guns fell silent and the lights, a barometer of civilization, began to once again chase the darkness from the world. The war left Europe decimated, with 60 million people dead, and the islands of Japan smoldering piles of rubble and ash.

Although victory in Europe had been secured four months earlier in May, it took the horrific devastation of two atomic bombs to convince the Japanese that continued resistance was futile. In the years that immediately followed, the American occupiers punished Japanese war criminals while exercising restraint not to humiliate or dishonor the Japanese people.

Perhaps the finest moment in the United States’ ascension to superpower status was its treatment of the vanquished Empire of Japan. The plan to occupy, restore, and rehabilitate Japan transformed the nation from a fierce enemy to a valuable ally.

The occupation of Japan contrasts sharply with the experience in Europe. There, Germany and its capital, Berlin, were divided among the four major Allied powers, with France, Britain, and the United States overseeing West Germany and the Soviet Union controlling East Germany. This geographic and political division immediately set the stage for the Cold War. In Japan, there was only one occupying power — the United States — and it gave near-absolute authority to General Douglas MacArthur to organize and deploy a systematic plan to bring democracy to the Japanese people.

Other allied nations attempted to insert themselves so as to influence Japan’s future, but MacArthur would have none of it. In fact, the Russians, who conveniently declared war on Japan less than a month before Japan surrendered, planned to invade Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and second-largest main island.

Imprudently, Stalin notified President Truman of his intention, and Truman emphatically responded that all of mainland Japan would be placed under General MacArthur’s control. At the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, MacArthur reportedly told a Soviet general that he would not tolerate a divided Japan and would use military force against any attempt to place Russian troops on Japanese soil.

The Soviets backed down, and MacArthur proceeded to rebuild Japan completely free from Russian interference.

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MacArthur approached his mission to win the peace in Japan with the same tenacity he exhibited when fighting the Japanese during the war. After securing for the Japanese people the basic necessities of food and shelter, he set about to secure their trust. To do so, he made the bold move of permitting Emperor Hirohito to remain the titular head of state.

This did not sit well with a number of MacArthur’s contemporaries and allies, who viewed Hirohito as only a notch below Hitler on the evil-dictator scale.

MacArthur understood that if the emperor publicly approved of MacArthur’s plans, the Japanese people would acquiesce peacefully and without objection. An example of MacArthur’s keen understanding of Japanese culture, which revolved around shame and honor, took place when he allowed the emperor, in his own time, to visit him and accord him the respect of a hereditary monarch. Such steps taken by MacArthur went a long way toward gaining trust and cooperation with the people of Japan.

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MacArthur’s plan for post-war Japan stands in stark contrast to the treatment of Germany after World War I.

Following the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to pay reparations amounting to $12.5 billion in today’s currency. The German economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations were ever paid, and what little was paid may have contributed to the hyperinflation Germany experienced in the 1920s.

Having fought bravely in WWI, MacArthur learned many lessons from observing first-hand the failure of the Allied powers to enforce the treaty and secure lasting peace in Europe.

Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, MacArthur refused to exact a crippling, retributive fine from the Japanese people to fund his plan to rebuild Japan. Instead, he tapped the United States Treasury to finance the occupation. Some 75 years hence, we can be proud that our policy was to rehabilitate and not humiliate.

MacArthur wisely realized that Japan was an anchor in the Pacific and, as an ally, would be of great utility in providing stability to the region. What may have appeared as an excessively charitable approach toward conquered Japan at the time has proven incredibly prudent. The plan to forgive, rebuild and democratize gained the United States a key ally in the Asia-Pacific Rim.

MacArthur became a modern-day Moses, basically writing a constitution, encouraging collective bargaining and installing a market-driven economy to bring Japan’s industries to their pre-war production level. His Civil Liberties Directive is the clearest example of how radical his plan had to be in order to successfully transform Japan’s feudalistic society into one of democracy and liberty.

This directive lifted all restrictions on political, civil and religious rights; political prisoners were freed and censorship of the press was abolished. MacArthur authorized free elections and not only gave women the right to vote, but saw 38 women elected to the Diet, Japan’s equivalent to Congress. Up to that point in Japan, property rights were practically nonexistent.

Most Japanese farmers worked under a system of virtual slavery, in which they were forbidden from purchasing their own land but were required to give a disproportionate amount of their crops to a small group of landowners. MacArthur extinguished this last vestige of feudalism by requiring the government to buy land at fair prices and then sell parcels to farmers on affordable terms.

After the land reform program was fully implemented, nearly 90 percent of all farming land was owned by the people who lived on and cultivated it.

Seventy-five years ago, the mighty Japanese Empire, which initiated a war that killed millions of soldiers and civilians, was brought to heel and surrendered unconditionally on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. From the ruins of total defeat began the process of total reconstruction. The United States, through the command of General MacArthur, guided the Japanese people as they beat their spears into plowshares and started down the path toward modernization and alliance with the West.

Americans can be proud of the far-sighted policy of Gen. MacArthur who totally and unconditionally won the peace. When MacArthur left Japan, ordinary citizens spontaneously lined the route of his departure, most with thankful tears in their eyes for an American soldier who changed their country, secured their rights and gave them a stable constitutional government that stands today as the high mark of benevolent conquest.

Will Sellers is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama.

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Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie

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On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

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According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?

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Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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