“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Edmund Burke gets credit for those words, but there’s no proof he’s the author. Nonetheless, I think he would have agreed with the sentiment.
Burke supported the American revolutionaries.
“Reflect,” he wrote in 1774, “how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free and think they are not.”
He could have been writing about governance in these days of Occupiers and Tea Partiers.
Burke helped create modern conservatism. He was also a classical liberal. He lived in the days when conservative and liberal meant something more than a mindless curse or a cloak of ignorance.
I first saw the “good men do nothing” quote taped on the wall of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent I worked with. He lived those words.
I thought about the quote watching the turmoil unwrap at Penn State this week.
Penn State is my undergraduate alma mater. Students rioted the other night apparently because the university trustees and the media forced a football coach to resign because he did not do more to report a man accused of raping a boy.
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.
The quote echoed again watching University of California police break up an Occupy protest that apparently involved students violating rules about putting tents on the Berkeley campus.
Berkeley is my graduate alma mater. Was it the police or the demonstrators responding to the imperative that good men — and women — must do something in the face of evil?
Alma mater means “nourishing mother.” What a deceptive marketing shroud for a 21st century corporate education enterprise.
I thought about the quote on my way to jury duty earlier this week. I was trying to remember which amendment guarantees the right to trial by jury. I thought it was the 5th.
Wrong. It’s the 6th amendment.
Since I had the Constitution open I kept reading and realized — to my untutored surprise — five of the first ten amendments have to do with the judicial and trial process: 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th.
The Declaration of Independence is included with the copy of the Constitution I have. Although I have read it often, I guess I glossed over one of the colonists’ complaints: The King of Great Britain has deprived “us, in many cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury.”
Trial by jury is a big deal in the security of our homeland.
I took my place in a room along with 129 other people who had been called to serve that day on a jury. Most of the people seemed nervous, out of place. It’s not normal for us to be on a jury. Most of the people were white, male and somewhat past their mid-40s. The women too were mostly white; a few were young enough to need an excuse slip to give their teachers as a justification for missing class. I saw one Asian woman.
The conversations I heard were a variation of “too bad for us we couldn’t get out of jury duty.” As if receiving the jury notice was like getting a tax audit, or a draft notice, or a DUI.
“They took a look at me last time,” said one guy with two 00 ear gauges, each as big as a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, “and let me go.”
“I was called 6 months ago,” said another man. “I think they can only make you do this once every two years.”
“Do you think we’re going to be here all day?” a woman asked to no one in particular.
“Yeah, I’m stuck with jury duty,” said another guy into his cell phone, a little louder than he should have.
At 9:30 the jury coordinator — I think that’s what her title was — stood in front of a microphone and with her pleasant, easygoing voice welcomed everyone to the jury staging room.
She said the words “jury service is important.” But her side comments, her ad hoc remarks, were all about “I know it’s inconvenient,” and “sorry it was your turn,” and “hey; it’s not going to be too painful,” and “it’ll be over soon.”
She explained there were two trials today. Each trial needed a 6-person jury, and to get that number in a fair way they needed a 60-person pool. The rest of the people would be able to go home and that would be the end of their obligation for the next two years.
“I already let one man go today,” she said, as if jury service was about catch and release. “He was on a jury a few months ago and he does not need to serve again for 18 more months.”
Her tone — not her words – said the man had won a prize, and you might too.
“I’ll be playing you a short video,” she went on, “that describes what you can expect today.”
She changed the channels on the two TVs that had been showing Regis Philbin’s apparently final week on television, and pressed play on what I think was a VCR.
For the next 15 minutes, I watched one of the best orientation videos I’d seen about anything government does. You can watch the video here and judge for yourself.
I found the video to be informative, serious, and significant. It did an outstanding job describing what would happen that day, and why jury service was an important part of being an American — maybe even more important than voting.
My words, not the video’s, but the video portrayed jury service as the Constitutional mechanism good men and women use to help make sure evil does not triumph. I thought of it as the We The People part of homeland security.
Then we had a 20-minute break while we waited to get called.
“I had to work really hard not to bust up laughing at that video,” said my new friend with the 00 earrings.
“If I don’t say anything to him,” I thought, “am I helping evil triumph, or would I just be wasting my breath?”
I didn’t know the guy, but my gut told me he did not really believe what he was saying. I figured he was trying to fit in with this crowd of still mostly nervous strangers by saying what he thought was expected, like being in Boston and pretending to be a Red Sox fan.
I kept my mouth shut.
When we came back from the break, the jury coordinator said, “I’ve heard from the judges. A few minutes ago, the people in one of the two cases decided to settle out of court, so we are only going to need 30 people. We’ll pick the 30 of you at random. I will call your juror number in a moment. If you are not called, then bye bye. You’re done for the day. And you’re done for the next two years.”
The odds of being on a jury had just plunged. I wondered how many people thought, “Damn!”
“When I call your number,” said the coordinator, “come up here and take your paper work. Then sit down until we release the others.”
She called thirty numbers. Mostly men — including the ear ring guy — and a few women. They walked to the front of the room, picked up their papers, and sat back down. They did not look happy or disappointed. Resigned may be a better word. I couldn’t really tell. I was trying to summon all the mystical power I possessed to have my number called, all the while knowing that using mystical powers for something this worldly automatically neutralizes — if not reverses — magic.
I was right. And disappointed. My number was not called.
“And to the rest of you, bye bye” said the coordinator again. “And,” she ad libbed with a smile in her voice, “please don’t gloat over the others as you leave.”
On this date 93 years ago, World War I came to an end. 116,516 members of the U.S. armed forces died in that war.
405,399 died during World War II.
36,516 died in the Korean War.
58,151 died in the Vietnam War.
6,280 – and counting – died in the Terrorism Wars.
622,862 members of the military died in the 35,000 days between World War I and today.
That’s an average of 18 people a day, every day, for 93 years.
History is too messy to make many unambiguous claims. But I want to think these good men and these good women gave their lives to prevent the triumph of evil.
For this Veterans Day — as the good men and women in the Tea Party and the Occupy, and the mainstream, and its tributaries, and the police, and the candidates for office, and the people they want to replace, and the people called to service on a jury and elsewhere work, with mindfulness, to prevent the triumph of evil — it is what I wish to hope.