Disclaimer: The West Wing isnít mine. But it sure is a fun place to play
Spoilers: Takes place during the season three closer, Posse Comitatus. No major plot spoilers, but looks at a major theme that ends the season.
POV: Jed and Leo
Summary: Iíve been fascinated by the gray area of right and wrong argued by Jed and Leo in the Qumari assassination arc, and, quite frankly, I still donít know what side I fall on. One part of me likes to think right is a universal truth that can not be impacted by circumstance nor violated with situational justification. Another part of me grants that right is rarely boxed into convenient, consistent parameters. So, this is me arguing with myself. And the President. And the Chief of Staff.
He is an idiot.
One can short of a six pack. A bucket of sand short of a beach. Two lengths short of the finish. Dumber than a wood clock. Nothing upstairs. A screw loose. A 22-caliber mind in a 45-caliber world.
Ahh, today thatís an unfortunate metaphor.
But really, ďCrime, boy, I donít know?Ē
I feel strangely sorry for the governor of Florida. Maybe he thought heíd come up with a brilliant repartee. And maybe I overreacted, but he inadvertently hit on the underlying question in a days-long battle Iíve been losing with Leo, with Fitz, with Nancy, with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and my other eighty-nine hundred close advisors.
Crime, Mr. President? Is killing a man a crime? Boy, sir, I just donít know.
Spare me, please. We know a crime when we see it.
Simon Donovan is dead, killed because he was the wrong man in the wrong place. Two boys planned an armed heist, prepared to take action, and they killed my agent. This, everyone knows, is wrong. There is no question; there will be punishment and justice. There must be, for right has been grievously violated.
Was Donovanís death a crime? Yes. Was it right for these thieves to ďprotectĒ themselves, to take action to defend their liberty? No. The very idea would be laughable if it was not the madness of a grotesquely twisted mind.
Consider Rosslyn. West Virginia White Pride and three boys, in the name of their cause, took weapons of individual destruction and shot at the leader of their country, his daughter, and her boyfriend. They hit me, they hit other people.
A crime? We say so, but what of their ideas, their beliefs? They considered themselves patriots. Did this justify their actions? No, of course not. I weep for their confusion, their hatred.
What, then, of us?
The government of the United States, in the name of our liberty, our cause, will hire snipers and assassinate a leader of another country. We will not miss; he will be dead, and others beside him.
A crime? Boy, I donít know. In structure and form, our justifications would be no different than those of a larcenist-turned-murderer or a West Virginia White Pride hit man. Is it right that we can protect ourselves, while saying that those who killed Simon Donovan can not? Can we kill in the name of our ideas and ideals, while condemning the Roslyn three for doing the same? In any case, the end result is death.
I have faith in the rightness of our beliefs, in the goodness of America. Our causes are higher than those of felons or hate groups; even the village idiot Bobby Richie would agree. But does this not make us more accountable for our actions? Does not our lofty position demand higher standards? I would not see our rightness tainted; I would not have us become thugs.
Thieves, skinheads, and the United States government.
If we become like them, we are lost. Leo says it is in self defense, but there is a higher purpose here than our own lives. If this Qumari terrorist kills us, we only die, but if we start down that same dark path of tyranny and blood, we will become monstrous. You think the terrorist groups of the world are bad? Just wait until the United States gets in on the game; doing things bigger and better is a national obsession. I can think of no greater horror than the strength of the United States unleashed from the self-enforced bounds of morality and honor.
If we could be stopped, it would only be because we had been destroyed. But I do not think we could be stopped.
There are moral absolutes. A wrong thing done for right purposes is still wrong. And chances are, those ďright purposesĒ werenít so right after all.
Crime, boy, donít I know it.
But right is not free; just because it is right does not mean it comes without heavy cost. If I do not kill this man tonight, he may kill my people tomorrow. It is a terrible choice, but it is not death that is wrong. Death comes as part of life; the absolute is ďthou shalt not kill.Ē If the price for right means granting an evil man another day to deliver death to my people, can I pay it? Will I fulfill the Truth that rules the universe, only to find I have blood on my hands nonetheless? Can one be right, and still go to hell?
I live in the dread that he will say no.
He will stand behind his moralistic shield, and quote the law out of a book, and Iíll wake up one morning to CNN screaming that thousands of Americans are dead.
But Jed Bartlet will still be right, dammit.
He argues about right and wrong, but right and wrong are menís ideals for civilized times. When the world is racked by evil, the only cure is good.
The right thing isnít always the good thing. Right is dictated by codes and laws, by judges and crisp lines of black and white. Good is far uglier. Itís a gray mass that comes from an understanding torn up from your guts. It exists without bounds and without explanation. It simply is.
Not killing a man is right. Killing one man who has killed many and will kill more is good. Why? Because it is.
It may well be a crime. It may well violate the laws of civilization and of god. It could be a step out on a slippery slope that ends in a pit of tyranny. But this does not keep it from being good. If we save our people, we can go forward another day. We will at least be alive to deal with the problems we may have caused today when we had no choice. Being right and dead serves no purpose. Being alive, if mortally bloodied, means that we can fight for the day when men will no longer force us to decide between right and good.
Just ask Simon Donovan.
If killing is always wrong, where did he find himself tonight? He killed one of those kids at Rosslyn; in one moment, he decided he would trade the boyís life for the possibility that the next bullet might kill the President. Or Zoey. Or Charlie. Or Jane Smith, the random college freshman who came to hear her leader.
Does Jed Bartlet really believe that this hero woke up this evening surrounded by fire and brimstone? Would he claim that a criminal who was killing, who would probably kill again, should be allowed to live another second because killing is wrong?
The very idea is counterintuitive.
My academic President might say Iíd entered into a conundrum where weíd have to kill the killerís killer, and thereby wipe off all life on Earth. You know: under my logic, Agent X would be obligated to kill Donovan because Donovan was now a killer, and then someone would have to kill Agent X, ad nauseam.
But Simon Donovan was acting on his duty. He did not start the shooting; but he ended it. He did not want to kill, but he could kill the man who did. And there is the difference. Simon Donovan was good. The assassins were not.
In this terrible task Iím asking Jed to approve, we are Simon Donovan. Shareef began this, and we must end it. This is not an empty justification, but a sound reason.
Why can he not see this?
I may be headed to purgatory for any number of reasons, but when I think of the deaths at my hands thirty years ago, I wonder where my friendís mortality and my friendís god puts me.
I donít grant Jedís absolutist premise, but for the sake of argument, I would give it to him.
And it still doesnít matter.
Because itís not about him, and itís not about me. Our personal moralities fade in the face of our obligation. We both want to do the good and the right thing, but today we can not.
So we must make a choice, and this fight isnít about sleepless nights and guilt, itís about the people we promised to protect.
If I can keep even one of my people from making and early entrance to heaven, Iíll do what it takes. Iíll not meet my own eyes in the mirror. Iíll damn my own soul to hell, and feel Iíd made a bargain. We do this for our people.
If thatís the price, we must pay it.
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