What is Justice?

By April 5, 2018 December 30th, 2018 Personal

   From page 98 of the draft of Annals of an Empire:       

            A smoke trail was all that remained of the other ship Pharsalus had destroyed earlier.

            The cheer of battle-hungry soldiers went up from the bridge, but Marcus was lost in thought.
            “Berthier, a word.” And he motioned to the exit.
            Only when in his office, did Marcus speak again. “Chairman Tyke was the one who informed me of the insurrection on this planet.” He paced the office. “Obviously he was correct that something was happening here, but I’m not sure either of us understand what exactly it was. What do you think we just witnessed, was it rebellion?
            “No.” Was the terse reply.
            “Neither do I. That’s the problem. Something else was happening here, and exactly what it is eludes me.” He clicked a pen on the table in frustration. “Was it a diversion? Some kind of suicide pact?”
            “I’m afraid it’s impossible to determine without more data, sir.”
            “Indeed.” Marcus acceded. He paused. “Another thing, Berthier…”
            “Yes, Commander?” He still stood at attention.
            “I know you don’t approve of my methods, and you disagree with my handling of the situation.” Marcus waited for a response, but Berthier remained at attention. “You may speak freely, Berthier. As my XO I want to reach a level of understanding with you.”
            “Very good, sir.”
            “You joined the crew of Cannae about what, nine months ago?”
            “Yes sir, after six I was transferred here as your XO.” Berthier replied.
            Marcus nodded, “Did Captain Antonius tell you why you were being transferred?”
            “No, sir.”
            Marcus sat down behind his desk and motioned for Berthier to do the same, “It was because I noticed the way you managed your crew. You are efficient and effective. Your men look up to you and respect your decisions. The XO position requires someone I can rely on and trust. I felt you were a perfect replacement for the job.”
            “Thank you, sir.”
            “Which is why I respect what you have to say.” Marcus tried to make himself look relaxed, which was difficult in his chair which did not recline. “So please, tell me what’s on your mind.”
            “I don’t like it, sir.” Berthier’s voice was level. “In the Legionnaire Directive it states we are to uphold and enforce the values of the Empire and establish its order throughout the galaxy. I didn’t see any of that today.”
            Marcus nodded. “What are imperial values? Berthier?”
            “Pardon?”
            “You mentioned your duty as an Imperial Legionnaire is to uphold Imperial values. Well, what are those values?” It was a probing question, but also one Marcus had been wondering himself, so he was curious what Berthier’s answer would be.
            “The Directive doesn’t specify.”
            “Correct. But in your opinion?”
            “In my opinion? They would be liberty, equality, and fraternity. Definitely the virtues of the gods, and strength and justice.”
            “So, a nebulous grouping of all things good and praiseworthy?”
            “It would seem so.” Berthier nodded.
            “But why justice?” Marcus asked.
            “A modern society is built on justice. Without it, everything would be chaos.”
“I agree, but surely justice isn’t unique to the empire? I assume there is some form of justice in the free cities, and in the Republic.”
            “Well… yes, but I wouldn’t count being thrown into fighting pits and tortured by pirates as just.”
            “Why not? Justice is just punishing someone for a crime.”
            “I wouldn’t say that, sir. You would need laws in order to have crime. Those remote colonies don’t have any laws. Their punishments are random and arbitrary. Justice is the natural consequence of your actions, like a dropped ball will inevitably hit the floor.” Berthier paused, taking a breath before continuing. “The evil tortures in those places are above and beyond what the people deserve, justice doesn’t call for that.”
            “So, the death sentence is not just for petty theft?”
            “Right.”
            “And neither is a slap on the wrist for murder?”
            “I would have to agree, sir.”
            “But who decides what is an appropriate punishment?”
            Berthier thought for a moment, “I would say the government decides, which it does. But then you would ask by what authority they assign such punishments. And I would respond: the authority that there is nobody to argue with them.”
            “I knew you were smart for a reason.” Marcus couldn’t help a laugh. “We agree, then, that two different cultures could have two very different punishments for the same crime, and both are considered just.”
            Berthier thought for a moment, “I suppose that’s true.”
            Marcus nodded, “So justice isn’t really a specific law, or punishment for crime?”
            “No.” Berthier agreed. “I would have to agree with your implication that it’s simply the natural consequence of action. The form of justice depends on your situation.”
            “Well said!” Marcus was enjoying himself and it came out in his voice. “What is the natural consequence for murder, rebellion, and attacking imperial forces within the empire?”
            Berthier was silent for a moment. “Death.” He said.
            “So, using your own definition, was justice served today?”
            Berthier frowned, “You’re turning my words on me, sir.”
            “I’m an Imperial Commander, it’s my job to turn my enemies on each other.” That drew a smile from him, before Marcus continued. “According to The Directive which you quoted earlier, part of my responsibility is to make sure justice is served, no matter the consequence.”
            “No matter the consequence…” Berthier repeated almost whispering.
            “I don’t expect you to like it, Berthier. Indeed, I want to you speak out when you have something to say. As long as it’s not in front of the crew, I need your input, and your counsel. But I also need you to understand that consequences are something I deal with after I have served justice.”
            “Understood, sir.”
            “Thank you, XO. Inform the bridge to descend to bombard range, the facilities on the surface have been compromised. Proceed with the bombardment of insurrection strongholds.”
            Berthier stood and turned to the door. “Very good, sir.”

Aaron J. Webber

Author Aaron J. Webber

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