Friday, January 11, 2008


Manzanar, Guantanamo, and all that

We Americans cherish the values of individual freedom and justice. We believe that even a person accused of a heinous crime is entitled to a day in court and should not be considered guilty until a jury has rendered its verdict. We say we believe in simple, honest justice and not vengeance. A guilty murderer should be executed as punishment for his crime and to serve as an example to deter others from committing murder. The punishment should not be determined simply by the relatives and friends of the victim.

These values apply in our decisions and attitudes regarding war and peace. We dropped the atomic bomb on Japan because we believed that it would bring the war to an immediate end and save lives, particularly American lives. We did not drop it in revenge for the underhanded sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 - or did we? We rounded up and interned thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry because we feared they might be loyal to Japan, not because we were angry and outraged at the Pearl Harbor attack - or did we?

The destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York and the damage to the Pentagon building in Arlington shocked, frightened, and angered us. Naturally, we sent a military force to Afghanistan to capture the terrorists who had planned and carried out the attacks. Combatants captured in the fighting were dragged away from Afghanistan and locked up in stockades in the naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba. We put them away to prevent them from continuing to fight and harm us, not to avenge the attack of September 11, 2001 - or did we?

I think that vengeance instead of a desire for justice too often influences our decisions. We execute murderers for vengeance - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc. - rather than justice. There is also snobbery in our motives. A wealthy man who murders his wife is less apt to face a death sentence than a poor man. We are revenge-seeking snobs. We scorn the poor man. Aren't people poor because they choose to be poor? Isn't there opportunity for any person in this country to become rich if he or she chooses? If the person doesn't take advantage of the opportunity offered to every American, are we not justified in regarding him with a little contempt?

Fortunately, we are not all like that. We are not all seeking vengeance. At least some of us do not scorn the poor for being poor. There is still hope.

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