Letter: Meaning of justice

In his discussion of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal on Monday, Elie Dvorin refers to Plato’s attempt to define justice, which to Dvorin is “elusive.” But it is clear that individual instances of justice become problematic in any system where laws are not applied consistently. Justice is done if I am ticketed for speeding, but systemic justice is not done if other drivers under the same circumstances are ignored. A system that operates arbitrarily is not just, and will be viewed with cynicism even when an individual instance of justice is done.

What does this have to do with Wiesenthal? I am not referring to the fact that some Nazis managed to escape prosecution. I am broadly referring to the well-documented history of systematic CIA recruitment of ex-Nazis under the pretext of fighting the Cold War, and specifically to Klaus Barbie, “the butcher of Lyons.”

According to “White Out: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press,” Barbie was placed on the U.S. payroll, beginning “a new life remarkably like the old one, working for the secret police and drug lords, and engaging in arms trafficking. In the years that followed he became a major player in the U.S.-inspired Condor Program to suppress popular insurgencies and keep U.S.-backed dictators in power throughout Latin America.”

Barbie was finally prosecuted in 1983, when the CIA had no further use for him, and when the Holocaust Card was being more frequently played to counteract Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and our support for them. His career reflected U.S. policies that valued global power over social justice. While Wiesenthal’s career can be rightly seen in terms of individual justice, the system in which he operated must be viewed critically – especially given the temptation to identify his achievements with an illusory notion of the essential goodness of the U.S. and Israel.

David Green

University employee