Friday, May 9, 2014


Sadly, Justice is one of those bloated and hollow words that dies on the lips when spoken. It could mean anything from retribution to reparation to forgiveness. For many people it is a euphemism for revenge though it passes for fairness or closure.

In front of the Supreme Court building there is a statue of a female figure, blindfolded, holding a scale which represents impartiality. Regrettably, the majority of our present court issue decisions are extensions of their ideology and serve their political agenda. They mock justice.

We seem, at times, to have moved very little from the ancient Hammurabi Code. When Saudi fanatics attacked us on 9/11, rather than address their grievances, Bush-Cheney felt the need to dump their vengeance on Iraq and Afghanistan; and eye for a tooth… since the corresponding eye wasn’t available. After all, Saudi Arabia is our friend so Dubya took the opportunity to avenge the mischief of Saddam Hussein on behalf of his father and Cheney smelled that black stuff under the sand.  Any act of violence can be rationalized as bringing the adversary to justice. This isn’t far from the schoolyard bully saying, he started it. In fact every act has its antecedents.

Even in baseball, the gentlemanly sport, when a batter is struck by a pitch, retaliation is in order, according to the unwritten rules of the game. The same mentality holds for former players and managers. Tommy Lasorda, in his infinite wisdom, commenting about Ms. Stiviano who exposed Donald Sterling for his racism said, I don’t wish that girl any bad luck but I hope she gets hit by a car.

The Greek plays grappled endlessly with this revenge ethic. Agamemnon had to destroy Troy since Paris abducted Helen (daughter of Zeus). But the winds ceased to move his sails unless he sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia. When he returned ten years later his wife, Clytemnestra, gave him his just dessert, a sword to his innards. Then she pays for her act. In short, the house is cursed. And so maybe is the human condition.

Gilbert & Sullivan had their say, after mocking such punishment as decapitation, when the more humane Mikado sings:

My object so sublime / I shall achieve in time
To have the punishment fit the crime / The punishment fit the crime

On the other hand John Updike writes of a young man (himself?) who throws pebbles at his father. The father asks him to stop and when he doesn’t slaps the boy’s face. As a blow it was neither hard nor soft; it had the perfect quality of justice.

It seems to me the highest form of justice is to hold the offending part accountable, then urge some form of remedial education n (or confinement if incorrigible) and finally to turn the other cheek .When the mother of a hit and run victim was asked to testify against the drunken driver who killed her daughter she declined telling the court and family of the defendant that she offered forgiveness.

Will we ever evolve from the punitive ethos to this point? Where survivors of a terrorist attack can open their hearts to the perpetrator and end the cycle of vengeance? Too humanistic perhaps presume that the Injury done is reciprocal and sufficient punishment for the person who must live with it? It works for me.


  1. A friend asked..What about Hitler and mass-murderers etc... My response is that Justice is not an operable word. Clearly they need to be removed from society but not put to death since state-sanctioned murder only serves to perpetuate the concept.

  2. This from my daughter, Lauren:
    I do think justice is not complete until forgiveness happens, or some kind of closure for those who were wronged. That is more for those trying to heal than anything else. To find a way to go on living where they feel some sense of empowerment again. With "justice" in a general sense, of course I agree, in particular on a federal level, it's a travesty.