There’s a campaign spot for President Obama’s re-election, narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, that’s getting quite a bit air time here which, frankly, makes me queasy. Here’s the section I’m talking about:
Every president inherits challenges. Few have faced so many. Four years later, our enemies have been brought to justice, our heroes are coming home, assembly lines are humming again. There are still challenges to meet: children to educate, a middle class to rebuild. But the last thing we should do is turn back now.
The part I question is “our enemies have been brought to justice”. The details that have emerged of the killing of Osama bin Laden have suggested that of the five individuals killed in the operation only one was armed and it wasn’t Osama bin Laden. Essentially, bin Laden was assassinated.
I can see how one could argue that it was expedient or operationally necessary or politically necessary or that he deserved it or that bad things happen in war or that revenge feels good. I have difficulty in seeing it as justice. Compare that with the arrest of Hermann Goering:
I took my sedan, a jeep with my aide-de-camp, Captain Harry Bond, and a half-platoon of our Division Reconnaisance Troop in their jeeps and reconnaisance cars. Colonel von Brauschitz led the way in his German touring car. We passed through the American Lines near Kitzbuhel and very shortly ran into German road blocks and sentries. When von Brauschitz explained the situation, they made no difficulty and we continued on, over the Pass of Thum and down into the valley of Brucht, perhaps 25 miles.
Near this small village, there was a gateway to a driveway leading up to a modest country estate. On arrival at the house, we were met by Waffen S.S. officers, a Colonel and a Major; one looked like a gangster and the other like a pervert. The manor was occupied by the remains of the Florian Geyer S.S. Division which had been badly mauled in Russia. It was here for rest, recuperation and replacement. The S.S. Colonel was Chief of Staff of this division; it’s generals were probably on leave. But no Goering.
When von Brauschitz asked about Goering, the S.S. Colonel said he knew nothing of his whereabouts.
When von Brauschitz explained our purpose was to accept Goering’s surrender, the Colonel said he knew nothing of any surrender plans and certainly his division was not going to capitulate. Their discussion was becoming heated when I told my Sergeant-Interpreter to interrupt them, tell them I wanted to bottle of wine right now, and some lunch as soon as it could be prepared.
Speaking German, I had understood their argument and I know the best way to handle Germans is to get “tough” with them; — give them orders, make demands on them. The wine was brought by an orderly and the S.S. Colonel departed to see about lunch. Von Brauschitz found some telephones and began trying to locate Goering. We had lunch and hours went by but the German telephone system was in such bad shape that he was unable to contact Goering.
Finally, about 5.00 P.M., I became exasperated and asked him if he knew where Goering might be, or his intended route. He said “Yes”, so we started on the probable route. I left the half-platoon of the 36th Reconnaisance Troop at the manor and took only my aide’s jeep and my sedan. Von Brauschitz rode with me as his German touring car had “conked out”. We drove southeast over another mountain pass down into Radstaat, (probably). Here we found hundreds of Allied Prisoners of War whose guards had left them. I told them to stay put, that United States troops would be there in two days. I also told them I would be returning a little later with a German convoy and that they must not touch these Germans or the vehicles as they were mine.
We drove on another 5 miles or so through many German troops bivouacked alongside but off the road. We finally came to a detachment of about 25 vehicles, halted on the road and facing in the direction from which we were coming. This was Goering’s personal convoy. He had with him his wife, his sister-in-law, his daughter, General von Epp, (the Gauleiter of Bavaria), his chef, valet, butler, aides, headquarters commandant, guards, etc, — altogether about 75 persons.
He and I got out of our vehicles and von Brauschitz introduced us. Goering gave me the old German Army salute, not the “Heil Hitler,” and I returned it. I asked him if he wished to surrender unconditionally and he said “Yes” but that he would request my promise that his family would be brought inside the American lines. I hoped we would all get back inside United States lines so I agreed. We talked through my Sergeant-Interpreter although Goering said he spoke English but that he had not had much practice in the last five years. He did not wish to speak English as he might misunderstand or be misunderstood. His wife was crying so he comforted her saying everything was all right now as this was an American General.
or the arrest of Tojo:
On Sept. 11, 1945, nine days after Japanese officials surrendered, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered Tojo’s arrest. He had gone into seclusion, but proved easy to find for then-25-year-old Lt. Wilpers and the rest of the small Army counterintelligence detail sent to arrest him: American newsmen had picked up Tojo’s trail and were already camped outside his house in suburban Tokyo.
“The best way of finding Tojo was to find our own U.S. newspaper people, because they were there well ahead of us,” Wilpers recalled.
Through an interpreter, Tojo was told he was being taken into custody by the Americans. After appearing at a window, Tojo ducked back inside. Soon after, a gunshot was heard. Wilpers kicked open the door to Tojo’s room and found him lying on a small couch, blood splattered on his white shirt and a pistol still clutched in his right hand.
“I was trying to keep one eye on him and one on the pistol,” Wilpers said.
He had tried to shoot himself in the heart, but only managed a severe wound. Reporters piled into the small room behind Wilpers and photographers began snapping pictures. One of the best-known photos, taken by a correspondent for Yank magazine, shows a uniformed Wilpers aiming his sidearm at the wounded Tojo as he picks up the man’s gun with his other hand.
News accounts reported that Tojo’s house staff and a Japanese doctor summoned to the home apparently were inclined to let him die from the self-inflicted gunshot. According to the reporters and photographers on the scene, that didn’t sit well with Wilpers.
“We managed, at gunpoint practically, to get a next-door neighbor to get a doctor, and he was forced to come down and treat him,” Wilpers told the AP on Friday.
An American Army doctor and medical staff eventually showed up and kept Tojo from dying.
in World War II.
Have we become so calloused, perverse, or cowardly over the period of the last 70 years that we think of what happened as justice? Clearly, our views used to be very different. The very idea taints everything in which the word is used: Justice Department, system of justice. If we were to say that we wanted Gov. Rod Blagojevich to be brought to justice does that mean that we want to see him executed without trial? What is justice?