Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


{A} "Without justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the most important issues that will face the Obama administration will be how it approaches the questions regarding the alleged crimes committed by members of the Bush administration. This appears to involve members of the Department of Justice, as well as both VP Cheney and President Bush himself.

The legal issues involved have been discussed on such programs as MSNBC’s Countdown and Rachel Maddow Show. There have also been interesting discussions on political web sites, including the Democratic Underground. In those discussions, it has been noted that investigations and possible trials could divide the country. Indeed, there appears to be a divide within the democratic party, between the progressive/liberal wing, which favors pursuing legal action, and the moderate/conservative wing, which opposes such actions.

One of the fascinating aspects, in my opinion, is that members of the moderate/conservative wing have attempted to use the examples of Gandhi and King to support their claims that people need to "forgive and move forward." Looking to Gandhi and King’s teachings is a good thing; both men called upon the best within individuals in order to heal the worst within society. Let’s take a closer look.

{B} "Goodness must be joined with knowledge. Mere goodness is not of much use, as I have found in life. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character."
--Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi was many things: a barrister by trade, a political activist, an economic socialist, and a religious leader among them. Although he is most commonly remembered for his role in the larger social events in India, it may be useful to focus here on some of his teachings for individuals.

Gandhi recognized that a key to unlocking what he called the love force came by way of forgiveness. A wonderful study of this part of Gandhi’s message is found in Thomas Merton’s 1964 book, "Gandhi on Non-Violence." In it, Merton notes that one of the major stumbling blocks to social justice is found in people’s rigid belief systems, which too often hold that "sins" or crimes are unforgivable. He explains how, for example, Hitler believed that certain "sins" could never be forgiven; and surely Hitler stands as the opposite in human potential from Gandhi.

The inability to forgive is closely associated on an individual level with the desire for revenge. This desire for revenge is at the root of the numerous "blood feuds" that we see in places such as the Middle East today, and which surely are the cause of many of the most horrible injustices found in human society. More, the inability to forgive others translates into an inability to forgive one’s self, and in this sense, it definitely prevents the individual from "moving forward."

Yet this should not be taken as Gandhi’s endorsing individuals not taking personal responsibility for their actions. The transformation of the individual, and of society, demands that people do take responsibility. The combination of taking responsibility and forgiveness is necessary to make the parts that are fractured by "sins" and crimes whole.

More, Gandhi spoke harshly about those who fail to take actions (to "do the right thing") because of cowardice. (See Merton, page 36) The failure to take actions for social justice, because one feels the "odds are against them," which simply means they are afraid to risk failing, should never be confused with Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy. It never results in society moving forward. The obvious example in this context would be the failure of democrats in Congress to move to impeach President Bush and VP Cheney, a move that progressive and liberal democrats at the grass roots level recognized could help to end the administration’s violent foreign policy, and anti-Constitutional domestic policy.

{C} "We must not become bitter; nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

The above quote is taken from King’s eulogy for the four girls who were killed by a bomb while attending Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, on September 15, 1963. When he said that people should not become bitter, nor seek to retaliate violently, he was speaking on an individual and group level. Yet he was not attempting to promote the idea that the matter should be dropped when those four coffins were placed in the ground. He did not intend to say that people should simply forgive the murderers, and move forward.

When King was participating in the civil rights struggle, he was advocating justice. He recognized the differences between what he called just laws and unjust laws, and he was willing to be incarcerated for violating unjust laws to promote his cause. He also spent a considerable amount of time and energy in lobbying three administrations for proper law enforcement to protect black citizens, and to insure their Constitutional rights. He recognized that just laws, properly enforced, helped to promote social justice.

{D} "The future will depend on what we do in the present."

The Obama administration should conduct investigations into the possible criminal actions that resulted in torture, suffering and deaths, and violations of the Constitution. If the Department of Justice finds evidence – and it certainly appears clear that they will if they look – then they should prosecute those who violated the law. This should be done not out of bitterness, nor a desire for revenge, but rather for the sake of justice. It is only possible to move forward to a more peaceful future if we insure justice today.


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