• by Pete O'Brien
  • 06-22-2020
Take a look at the Great Sphinx - it’s missing its nose.
A number of years ago I was a witness in a murder trial. It was fascinating for a host of reasons, some tragic, some actually enlightening. But one of the overriding lessons I learned from it was the “pedestrian” nature of the courts and of law. The specifics of the case aren’t relevant here, but, what struck me was the character of the major figures: there was no Judge Marshall, no Clarence Darrow, no Donny Cochran, etc. Both the district attorney and the defense attorney were smart, but neither were remarkable, the judge was smart but also unremarkable, the jury was a jury of average men and women. And in the end the court produced what seems to have been an appropriate answer.
Was it “Justice?” The family of the deceased probably felt that both the verdict and sentence were too light. Others might have thought the sentence was inappropriate (the guilty man had mental health issues). Was Justice served? Only God knows. Literally.
Therein lies the only truth you’re likely to find.
“No Justice, No Peace” sounds good, but, as with the court I found myself testifying to, I’m pretty sure that most courts have fallen short of the mark since the first courts were established several millennia ago. With the possible exception of Solomon, any decent judge will echo the words of Justice Holmes that his or her job is not to “Do justice,” but rather the job of a judge is to “apply the law.”
Most courts want to find “justice,” and across the face of the US Supreme Court are the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” But, as judge Holmes noted, what really happens is the law is applied within the construct of the court in which you find yourself, the facts as they can be teased out by the District Attorney, and refashioned by the defense attorney, within the structure and guidelines and boundaries as defined by the law, and all as viewed through the “lenses” of the jury.
In short, in the real world, “Under Law” is, in a practical sense, more important than “Equal Justice;” we can apply the law, we can only strive for justice.
So, what is Justice?
This isn’t being pedantic. Politics allows for all sorts of foolish statements; consider the statement by the Junior Senator from Virginia who asserted just a week or so ago that slavery began in the United States. That statement is wrong on so many points it’s hard to know where to start. But just consider the Old Testament… What were the Jews doing in Egypt? Sightseeing? As far as I know, Ramses II was not a Senator.
But Justice isn’t “Politics.” Justice, or something approaching it, includes perhaps well crafted laws applied in well run courts, and requires both truth and accuracy, and that is something that seems in short supply these days. 
Rather, we have mobs. And Politicians responding to mobs, even kneeling in front of mobs.
Make no mistake - you do not, you cannot find Justice with a mob. You may not find Justice in a court, you absolutely will not find it in a mob. Mobs are horribly blunt instruments that, in 6,000 years of recorded history, always end up destroying far more than they ever hope to create. The mobs are already far from the truth. Consider the mess that is downtown Seattle, or downtown Minneapolis, the despicable actions of different mobs vandalizing and in some cases destroying, statues of Lincoln, Grant and Washington. A mob defaced a memorial to Col. Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts. More will follow. Where will it end? Who knows. If spineless leaders continue to bend the knee, continue to let the mob have its head, there is simply no telling. Will they burn Monticello and Mt Vernon? Tear down all the monuments in Washington? Why not… 
And then what?
Will they find some sort of truth in the ashes? And from that truth will they have justice?
Mob violence in the end becomes something worse than a holy war; it has all the passion of religious fanaticism, but none of the order or discipline; in either case the result is never good. Without a little discipline, and some sense of a rational objective, things can (and usually will) unravel into chaos in a fairly short period of time. Revolutions that start under the general heading of “No more of this” (whatever “this” might be) will usually be co-opted very quickly by someone who does have an end state in mind, and it usually involves a great deal of destruction.
As for the Sphinx, in 1380, while the Mamluk Ali Salih Hajji, last of the Bahri Dynasty, ruled Egypt, he decided to destroy the Sphinx - it was idolatry. It had lasted almost 2900 years with its nose, until a fanatic decided it needed to go.
The Great Pyramids look unfinished - or ruined - for much the same reason. They lasted some 3,000 years with their facing stones, until Amr ibn al-As decided to try to tear them down in the 7th century for much the same reason. He soon stopped but Sultan An-Nasir Hasan, followed in the 14the century and was more successful.
And if you’re wondering what that looks like today, consider the Bamiyan Buddhas or the Babri Mosque…