|JUSTICE WITHOUT JUSTICE|
April 6, 1999
| SPOKESMAN: Captain
Richard Ashby still faces additional charges, but a Marine Corps jury
cleared of the worst offenses, which could have sent the pilot to a military
jail for 200 years.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Even for those who were not directly affected by the terrible event, the court's decision was unsettling. At issue was the acquittal of Captain Richard J. Ashby, an American Marine Corps pilot who last year, flying too low and too fast on a training exercise, sheared the cables of a ski lift in the Italian Alps, and sent 20 tourists down to their deaths. When the American military court acquitted Ashby, the reaction in Italy was understandably enraged.
SPOKESMAN: (speaking through interpreter) I conveyed to the President of the United States that I was personally shocked, and so is Italian public opinion.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: But it didn't settle all that well here, either, and it was not because anybody knows the details of the inquiry, or thinks that the trial was rigged and unfair. The discomfort with the verdict comes from a feeling of helplessness in the face of events to which blame and punishment are not readily applied.
Accidents happen, sometimes disastrous accidents, and they often happen because people are going too fast, or flying too low, or behaving as people behave when they are tired or careless or recklessly stupid. For some of these things, there is punishment, but little justice. A drunk driver can go to jail for vehicular homicide. A construction company can be found guilty of criminal negligence. But there is a category of disaster for which no instruments of justice are available, and even when justice is done, it does not serve.
Helplessness in the face of calamity is, in fact, the rule of society, more than the exception. We create courts and laws in an optimistic effort to make punishments fit crimes, but they rarely do. What satisfaction does the family of a victim of a drive-by shooting get from a successful civil suit against a gun manufacturer? These days, tobacco companies are paying out millions for their lethal business, but ask the victims or their heirs, standing with money in hand, if they feel compensated for their loss. German, Austrian, and Swiss banks are negotiating with the survivors of the Holocaust on reparations. Deutsche Bank, the biggest bank in Germany, has recently disclosed that it loaned the money for the building of Auschwitz, so they toss that admission into the deal. How much exactly should one pay for the ovens and the showers of the extermination camps, for the mass murder of children, the decimation of an entire population?
Descendants of murderers, descendants of victims sit across from each other at tables in board rooms and attempt to arrive at a proper number, perhaps one that corresponds with the number burned into the arms of the survivors. Even when the coin of the realm is not money, it is hard to find reparations. When Adolph Eichmann was executed in Israel, who felt that justice had been done? At the Nuremberg Trials, who believed that the score had finally been settled?
When it comes to a monstrosity like the Holocaust, there is no justice. Injustice prevails, and one is left with the unbearable truth that there are some wrongs that can never be righted. We complain that we live in a litigious society, but there are many circumstances where we would like to see more laws, and more precise laws, applied.
Either by accident or by evil design, people find ways to circumvent the law, commit crimes that will never be punished, and leave others staring into space with a benumbed and pitiless vacancy. We grope for equivalencies that will never be realized. Think of the families of the ski lift victims. Had that military court found Captain Ashby guilty as charged, who would say to those people, are you satisfied now?
I'm Roger Rosenblatt.