A slow learner

Killing someone you think is a terrorist from a helicopter isn’t the same as bringing that person to justice.

Since there’s no such thing as an ineducable student — only an insufficiently skilled or diligent teacher — I must attribute to some deficiency in my earlier exposition of the matter David Bernstein’s failure to get the message that using military force to kill someone who might instead have been tried for criminal acts is not the same as bringing that person to justice.

Since my post failed to point out that it is bad manners to dance on the graves of one’s recently slain enemies, I must also take responsibility for what I take to be Mr. Bernstein’s appalling lapse in taste in making a joke about the death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

(The moral burdens of the educator’s role are almost too much for flesh and blood to sustain, which is why, in a just world, we would receive even higher pay for even smaller courseloads.)

As to the “brought to justice” point, I’m at a loss as to where it was that I failed. The point seems to me an elementary one. Since “To bring X to justice” means “To arrest and try X according to law,” using the phrase “X was brought to justice” to describe a situation in which X was, in fact, shot down like a dog must be an error. It may be warfare, but it isn’t justice.

So: Mr. Bernstein, is there some part of that argument which you would like explained more slowly?

Update: Bernstein responds that, since it wasn’t unjust to kill Rantisi, killing him was the same as bringing him to justice. Pejman Yousefzadeh makes more or less the same point, as does Unlearned Hand. But surely if someone kills my brother and I hunt him down, you wouldn’t say that the culprit had been “brought to justice,” would you? Revenge killing is sometimes necessary or justified, but it’s not the same thing as the legal process reflected in the phrase “brought to justice.” Why Unlearned Hand, a student of the law, regards that point as “marginal” I’m not sure.

None of them sees anyhing wrong with making jokes about the deaths of one’s enemies. Bernstein cites Purim as a counterexample, though he notes that the Rabbis have more complicated things to say on the matter. (I would point out that a holiday on which the participants are supposed to get so drunk that they start blessing Haman and cursing Mordecai is probably a “fool’s day” and not a ceremony designed to teach good conduct.)

It is, I suppose, partly a matter of taste.

One difference, I would have thought, between civilized adults one one hand and adolsecents and barbarians on the other is that civilized adults, having confronted the fact of their own mortality, don’t take the deaths of others — even necessary deaths — lightly.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “A slow learner”

  1. justice, legalism, and reductionism

    David Bernstein says that Rantisi (the leader of Hamas assassinated by Israel last week) has been brought to justice. Mark Kleiman disagrees…. What is going on here is that Bernstein is taking a realist approach to justice whereas Kleiman is taking…

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