We explored some questions of justice in part one of this examination, but in the second part I would like to focus on something else that I think does not get very much thought when it comes to historiography and it deserves a lot more attention, especially in contemporary historical writing and reportage, and that is the duty that we have to be just to our enemies, to people we do not like or sympathize with. Why is it important for us to be just to people whom we hate when it comes to reporting and history?
Rather than focus on a contemporary example for whom feelings are high, let us look at the life and times of one Benedict Arnold. For much of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold was not only a patriot, but was a conspicuously brave patriot, suffering two serious leg injuries during the war as he served as active and able military leader in New England, Update New York, and Canada. One of the highest ranking American officers, his treachery led him to be removed from the pantheon of revolutionary heroes and to become synonymous with treachery. What is the value of being just to someone who betrays a vital cause that one is committed to? How can one be fair and just to someone who has caused such harm to something that we cherish and hold in high regard, and why should we even try?
When someone has betayed us, it is our natural instinct to follow this betrayal by reading everything that the person ever did or ever was in light of that betrayal. We look for telltale signs of the traitor and read them as being diabolical all the while. This sort of demonization serves our desire to separate ourselves from those who have proven to be unfaithful, but it does not serve the interests of justice. It is far more profitable to ponder what sort of resentment built up over time that led someone to betray out of frustration and alienation, for the same sort of things that alienate others from a cause may in fact alienate us–petty personal and political problems, frustrated ambitions, being treated or seeing our friends treated unfairly by those in positions of authority, witnessing incompetence and hypocrisy in high places, and so on. Nearly everyone, if not in fact everyone, can relate to these frustrations because they are things we all witness in governments and other institutions in which we serve, and all too easily our own service of God and others can be hindered by our bitterness at the frailty and wickedness of those we happen to suffer from in authority.
The importance of being just to our enemies lies both in developing the hard work of being just and fair in our own dealings and in our own view of other people, but also in developing awareness of the vulnerabilities that can make us act in ways that others would view as being betrayals of their trust. To the extent that we realize that the raw material of betrayal is something that is present in all of our lives, to the extent that we are invested in causes and institutions with other flawed and fallible people like ourselves, we can all be more watchful of ourselves and less determined to justify ourselves when we ought to confess our weaknesses with one another. A knowledge that we are not so far apart from those we consider to be the worst sorts of traitors that exist can help us to be more merciful in the knowledge that we too are beings in need of mercy from God and from others.