Justice & Violence, Police & Military

Justice & Violence, Police & Military

When the military apologises for being filmed walking with the President, it is time for him to watch out. The forces of power are at odds with each other. When the police are indicted for the murder of a black protester, the forces of anger, black and white, are unleashed. They will not be easily contained, especially when they see other power forces aligning with them. The wave of rage that has erupted should frighten all of us, at least as much as the pandemic in which it appears. The immediate noise and demonstration will eventually quieten down. The cause of justice for all, especially for those oppressed and treated unfairly, will never go away again.

Nobody wants violence. And yet, the oppressed say that there is no other route to change and history somewhat endorses their claim.  Nobody wants injustice. And yet, when protests desist and other news commandeers the headlines, justice is forgotten and the old ways of policing return. Nobody wants military intervention. And yet, the military are often the best policemen. They do the job in dozens of places around the world, apparently mostly without cruelty.

Or are those assumptions right? Maybe enough people want violence to guarantee its survival and encouragement. Maybe military policing leads inevitably to a military state. Maybe political inaction prevails until a rude awakening is illustrated by blood and the adornments of cities are torn down and thrown into the sea. Maybe none of the lessons my generation learnt from WWII apply any more. Of course, those lessons, too, were violent. The war was specifically to prevent Europe becoming a police state. Now it is covered by street and entrance cameras recording every step. For the police.

What have I learnt that might make a tiny contribution to all this?

First, that absolutes don’t work most of the time. Absolutes are wonderful ideologies, great aspirations, “the right thing to do”. They are preached by every religion in the hope that they will be learnt but they seldom are. Pope Francis decided not to live in the stately Papal Apartments but instead to stay in a small, insignificant hotel for which he personally pays out of his pocket every Friday. A wonderful, practical example. You don’t get clearer modelling about how to live your life, do you? As far as I am aware not one Cardinal has followed suit.

If absolutes don’t work then what does?

A mixture of what is desirable and what is humanly practical. It’s a fudge, neither perfect nor total failure. It doesn’t exhibit a clearcut model. It is called Compromise. When it works it is because it recognises the futility of perfection while not in any way denying its desirability. It is how every human being, with very few exceptions, lives his or her life. As a young man I smoked cigarettes, cigars, pipes. Enjoyed tobacco. Sat in restaurants where the haze was thicker than a London Smog. Nobody could deny the doctors’ warning that it was the worst thing you could do for your lungs. But we all continued until the American Surgeon General told us it also caused cancer.

Now smoking seems daft, but for a long time – and still in some places – it is a recreational drug less damaging than pills. For a time there was compromise. There shouldn’t have been but there was. The compromise was mostly successful. People gave up killing themselves with tobacco, slowly and over time. There were no riots, nobody was clubbed to death, statues of Sir Walter Raleigh were not destroyed in mock revenge for his introducing smoking. Increasingly strict laws were passed that the people could obey. By and large they did. Smoking declined.

Slavery is more serious than smoking. Institutional injustice perpetrated by authority and prejudice is more serious than ramping up the cost of the Health Service. Correcting bad employment and other practice that disadvantages someone because of the colour of their skin is clearly of urgent and paramount importance. The process of doing it is one of learning.  Laws that try to correct prejudice usually fail because they cannot touch the soul of the prejudiced. They learnt their prejudice when young. It is ingrained into them, into every fibre of their being. They will not lose that prejudice to order, they will only lose it to love. And violence does not bring love, laws do not bring caring.

Only a hand held out to help can solve the world’s history of personal mistreatment.

And only one person can do that.

I’m sure you’ve got it.


On 20Jun20 at 1030am Singapore time I shall be having a fireside chat with Yen-Lu Chow, Co-founder and Director of the Asia Institute of Mentoring and Lita Nithyanandan (Moderator), Managing Director of the Behavioural Consulting Group on the subject of

What we want from new leaders – post crisis.

I invite you to join in, engaging to challenge my possibly antediluvian views.

Register here.