I pressed my palm against my heart and listened to the Pledge of Allegiance as my neighbors recited it around me on the grass in front of the local fire station. In our other hands we held small, flickering candles, which grew brighter in the gathering dusk.
Together, we pledged ourselves to a country of liberty and justice for all. Even as we sorrowed for those who had lost their lives and loved ones, even as we remembered the heroism of the firefighters who had served to their fullest ability, even in anger hot with revenge, we pledged ourselves to the cause of justice, one of the most noble of American ideals.
In this country are some who maintain that justice in response to this act of terrorism is retaliation in war. Some even advocate "bombing Afghanistan into the Stone Age." But my dictionary defines justice as: 1. just conduct; 2. fairness; 3. the exercise of authority in the maintenance of right; 4. judicial proceedings ...
In the entire definition there is no mention of war or vengeance. Rather to do justice is defined as treating "fairly or appropriately."
Why is it fair or appropriate to bomb Afghanistan, a suffering, oppressed, poverty-stricken nation in which the vast majority of the population had nothing to do with this tragic act?
Dropping bombs has so far failed to bury Saddam Hussein, though it has managed to ravage Iraq, where over 100,000 people have died as a result of U.S. air strikes.
Afghanistan has already been pillaged first by the Soviet Union and now under the despotic rule of the Taliban. Today, Afghanistan is a country lacking food, medicine, human rights and safety. The wealthy can slip easily away while the poor remain to serve as targets.
Where is the justice in that? If an American terrorist attacked another country, would we feel it fair to suffer bombings in retaliation for the acts of an American extremist?
Nor do I believe that justice involves "taking out" Osama bin Laden. Certainly, a response must be made to this crime. But justice refers to a system of lawfulness, of trials and juries in which those accused face us and we them.
When we as Americans pledge "liberty and justice for all," do we include only those Timothy McVeighs among us? Or might we now make a stand for global justice, where wrongdoing is tried within a system of law a system that provides an opportunity to pursue the truth with objectivity and evidence, where the facts of the crime are aired along with the vast evidence of harm?
Because of our commitment to liberty, even those accused of the most unspeakable crimes are given the opportunity to speak in their defense.
If we have sufficient evidence to arrest Osama bin Laden, then let us make that our goal. If he is innocent, as he claims, let him come forward to face trial.
Or perhaps, like most accused criminals, he will need to be captured. Perhaps it will take time to find him and bring him to trial. Hurrying will not bring back our dead. But doing them justice brings us all valor.
If we are to behave as a democracy, if we truly believe in the rightness of our national ideals, then we must stand by our mechanisms of justice. Rather than retaliating and causing global damage, we must arrest and try those people who are personally responsible for this crime.
We each hold a light that together could lead us through this great darkness. The dictionary says to do oneself justice is to perform "in a manner worthy of one's abilities."
Now is the time to contact our representatives and opinion leaders. The world can scarce afford a war that will waste our precious young, squander essential natural resources and lead to ever more warfare. We already possess a democratic alternative to hasty violence.
Those of us who prefer trial as an alternative to war need to become more visible. I suggest we wear a green armband or ribbon, that we fly green flags next to the flag of our nation. Green represents growth, renewal and a fresh approach to challenges.
The Earth spins green, brown, blue and white within the larger universe. Our response to this tragedy will affect the entire planet. It is important we use our freedom and speak out in favor of our desire for justice.
Louise Wisechild is an author and educator who lives on Vashon Island, Washington.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company