Monday, October 11, 2004

Justice & Violence

When someone is asking for "justice" against any wrongdoing, most would assume he implies -as a victim - to use violence to satisfy a legitimate thirst for revenge. If he doesn't use violence himself, he will ask the society to do it for him with the death penalty (if necessary).
Similarly, when a country asks for "justice" against another country, other countries often fear that this country really means to start a war.
There is therefore a kind of paradox that peace-loving people (and nations) would fear "justice-loving" people as potential trouble-makers. There would be an opposition between the "cowards" who prefer peace to justice and the "hawks" who prefer justice to peace.

Let us think about awful crimes such as cold-blooded murders & rapes etc.
At the international level, a "just war" is often started when there is an agression, or (more controversially) the risk that an agression takes place.

In each case, those who seeks to use violence (death penalty / war), are doing so in the name of justice. Those who opposes the use of violence are understood to prefer peace to justice.

There are a few problems with this kind of thinking.
First, crimes or international agressions often take place in a context where justice is nowhere to be found. In other words, these crimes and conflicts may be the effects of the lack of justice. By using more violence, the victims will not solve the lack of justice which is the real cause for these wrongdoings.
Second, even though these crimes have been commited without any good reasons to justify them, the use of violence may jeopardize the return of justice. Why?
a. Victims will not feel any better once criminals are killed. The dead won't come back to life.
b. People always have a capacity to be "reasonable persons" and change their previous "evil ways". To deny these people a second chance is not the right thing to do.
c. The use of violence may strike totally innocent people. What comes next when these "new victims" ask for justice? Bertrand Russel used to say that "war does solve problems, but it solves them the wrong way".
Third, justice implies to have a fair trial where the motives of the criminals are well understood. What should come as "justice" is a form of punishment that keeps potential victims safe (by keeping criminals in jail, or "rogue" nations under international pressure) but this punishment must also prepare for peace by seeking to educate the criminals.

There is therefore a constant relationship between peace and justice. A lack of peace brings a lack of justice (violence/war brings injustice). A lack of justice also brings a lack of peace (the more there is injustice, the more violence/war will appear justified).
However, a peaceful environment appears to be sustainable when people acknowledge a rule of law ensuring a sense of justice.

At community level, avoiding violence means having a credible system of laws and enforcement. A system of law must come from a legitimate government with legitimate courts of justice (where judges and lawyers are not corrupt). Off-course, a primary requirement is non-corrupt police force.
At international level, avoiding violence means a credible international system of laws and enforcement to solve conflicts before war is declared. This should be the role of the United Nations.

With the right understanding of this close relationship between injustice and violence, it becomes common sense to say that those asking for justice must stick to non-violence. Non-violence is really relevant in the face of injustice. Non-violence is absolutely the norm in a context of "justice" anyway.

The limits of non-violence are found during a situation where it's a matter of life and death to use violence. Once again this is controversial and depends on each context. Gandhi used to say that practicioners of non-violence must be ready to die without using violence "in the name of justice". What he probably meant is if the use of violence to save our own lives implies putting other innocent people at risk, we should avoid defending ourselves to avoid more injustice to others. This is controversial as our death means we won't be able to protest injustice anymore. Is it ethical to accept to sacrifice our life when we don't deserve to die?

The fear of dying and being harmed is however a primary cause of violence.

To conclude, those who pretends to defend "justice" should abstain to use violence whenever it is possible. Violence is really the mean used by those who accept injustice.


At 8:39 AM, Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said...

You place a well thought out arguement there. War isn't going to further anybody along. What is needed is a change in society at it's basic roots to be non violent. It needs to come from the indivitual to stand up for non violence. The question that will come up is how do you handle the violent ones?

At 4:04 AM, Blogger Sailom said...

Thanks Sean for your comment,

There is no magical solutions in handling those who use violence recklessly and without remorse. Those have a "policing" role (armed forces or the police) should seek to reply to their challenges with enough violence to save lives but no more than that.
But, once again, a soldier or a police-man may be doing his best to control these threats, it will not solve the issue of the legitimacy of his actions (or the legitimacy of the enemy's acts of violence). The question of legitimacy of violence is political, a soldier or a policeman is powerless to deal with these issues. But if he does realize that he is "not on the side of justice", he should find a way to resign from his responsabilities and join others who critize those politicians who advocated violence.
However, if he is convinced the (political) motives for using violence are right, it should provide a sense of moral confort that helps you deal with his own burden. In any case, those who use violence are a minority of people whereas the "silent majority" will eventually side with those who are "morally right".


At 5:23 AM, Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said...

You're right, there is no magic for putting the violence back in the bottle. BTW I'm also Thai and my job in the military is a Corpsman (medic). The Military also needs people that believe in peace too. Yelling from a far off protest isn't going to help the person on the ground, you need someone there to relieve the pressure. There are no checks and balances if everybody believes the same thing. I inject some of that. hopefully... I like your blog and you tell some good points, being in the military isn't a burden on my soul, I have never done anything keeps me up at night unlike some other soldiers. You need to live what you preach, not just when people are watching. Take care, my mom's heading to Thailand in December on vacation, she has a house in Ubon.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Sailom said...

Actually, I am not Thai. I'm a French expat living in Thailand. My wife is Thai and she called me "Sailom" for a while, so I use it for blogging.


Post a Comment

<< Home