This telling little sentence says a lot about civilization, says a lot, specifically, about Justice. Before there was a system of Justice, there was only revenge. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
We've learned since then, we've become wiser and truer and more godlike, and one of the chief examples of this is that we've created Justice, a system of laws, that exists to regulate conduct among people in our society to try to see to it that all are treated fairly, that acts which are bad for the community are discouraged, and that those who prey upon others are similarly discouraged, by creating and enforcing consequences of those acts that are greater than the benefits to the actor.
I truly believe that this, this distancing of Justice from Revenge, is what sets humankind apart from "lesser creatures."
So it is that I have been increasingly unsettled by our system of Justice's ceding greater and greater roles to victims in deciding punishments. That's a very bad precedent to set, because victims, whatever they say, don't want justice. They want revenge.
Ted Koppel, trying to wring an emotional reaction from Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis during his Presidential bid, provoked him, in the famous "You just don't get it" exchange, with the question of what he'd want in a hypothetical situation in which his wife or daughter were raped and murdered. Dukakis responded with great intellectual precision, but he did indeed punt the question. The answer is, of course, "I'd want to kill them. I'd want to strip the flesh from their bodies and roll them in salt, lower them feet-first into a wood chipper a quarter-inch at a time and laugh while I pissed into their screaming mouths. That's why we have a system of justice: So I won't get what I want, because all I would want would be cheap vengeance."
To keep from being savage vengeance, no better than any beast of the jungles, Justice must be administered without passion or prejudice. What is they law, what is the evidence? That's all.
This week, 30 years after fleeing the United States to avoid sentencing and punishment for a crime to which he pled guilty, Oscar-Winning director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland, where he awaits extradition to the U.S. for sentencing and carrying out of his sentence.
This is a very simple case. Convicted of a crime, a man fled the country to avoid punishment. There's no room for controversy here. He goes to jail.
But I find I am uncomfortable with the responses of many.
I am, of course, baffled and angered by the army of celebrities who have signed "Free Roman Polanski" petitions. It's not like there's doubt of his guilt. He pled guilty!
But I am also disturbed by the vengefulness of many who rail against Polanski, screaming, it seems, not for imprisonment, but for his blood.
Now, don't misunderstand me: His crime is one deserving of rage. I have to believe that his celebrity supporters don't really know what the crime itself was, and think it was akin to his relationship with then-15-year-old Nastassia Kinski. I have to believe that they don't realize -- or didn't when they voiced their support -- that he drugged a 13-year-old girl, and forced himself sexually on her, orally, vaginally, and anally, ignoring her telling him "No." If you know that he did that, and don't feel rage, I'm pretty sickened by you.
But that rage should not be part of the process of Justice. There is no question of guilt or innocence. Polanski, by his own admission, is guilty.
And he should face Justice, without passion or prejudice.
Because that way, all know, without question, without doubt, that he was sentenced fairly, and none can argue that he received, not Justice, but Vengeance.