[sixties-l] 25 Years And 1 Death Later (fwd)

From: sixties@lists.village.virginia.edu
Date: Thu Jan 24 2002 - 19:18:58 EST

  • Next message: PNFPNF@aol.com: "[sixties-l] Re: Roxanne's book"

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2002 15:36:04 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: 25 Years And 1 Death Later

    25 Years And 1 Death Later

    By Richard Cohen
    Thursday, January 24, 2002; Page A21

    I want to ask a question about Sara Jane Olson, who was sentenced recently
    to 20 years in prison for a crime committed in 1975. Is she the same person
    who was known as Kathleen Soliah, the self-styled revolutionary and member
    of the Symbionese Liberation Army, or is she the Minneapolis housewife of
    the past 25 years? -- "the best mother anybody would ever want," in the
    words of her daughter.

    I ask this question because I know that I am not the person I was, say, 25
    years ago. Not only am I less roiled by an internal cocktail of potent
    hormones, but intellectually I don't even believe in some of the things I
    used to. I am more conservative on some issues while being more liberal on
    others. I bet it's pretty much the same with you.

    In fact, I can imagine doing something awful in my youth -- something
    arising from the times and from my youthfulness -- and now being asked to
    account for it. Me? I would say. I didn't do that. Another Richard Cohen
    did that. He was a punk and a jerk and was only showing off to impress some
    girl. He deserved to be punished. But I am a different person. I don't need
    to learn a lesson. I already know the lesson.

    More and more, it seems, we are holding people accountable for what they
    did many years before. Old cases from the civil rights era, such as the
    1963 murder of Medgar Evers, have been revived. New forensic techniques,
    DNA analysis for instance, work like bellows on embers. In what seemed like
    ash, a flame erupts. The case is still hot.

    In a recent essay in The Post, a philosophy professor named Crispin
    Sartwell summoned the "ship of Theseus" to discuss the vexing matter of
    what determines continuity. The ancient Greek hero Theseus spent many years
    wandering the Mediterranean, Sartwell tells us. Suppose that over time,
    every plank and board in the ship was replaced. Not a single piece of the
    original boat remained. Is Theseus still sailing "the same boat"? Sartwell

    Yes, he answers. Theseus's boat remains Theseus's boat because its history
    is more important than its planks. Even if another boat were constructed
    from the wood taken from Theseus's boat, his would remain the original. For
    lack of a better word, the boat had continuity because of Theseus and his
    crew. They remained the same.

    I suppose something similar could be said about people. Olson is Kathleen
    Soliah because they are one and the same. They have a common, identical
    history. Yet that doesn't quite clinch the case. Patty Hearst, who was
    kidnapped by SLA members and later participated with them in at least two
    bank robberies, has somehow been allowed to become a different person.
    She's now Patty Hearst Shaw, a suburban mom who recently commented on
    Soliah and the SLA on "Larry King Live." It's as if the 21 months she
    served in prison changed her identity and reordered her past -- Patty
    Hearst once, Mrs. Shaw now.

    But if the crime is murder -- or even attempted murder -- then the
    trajectory of the accused, the voyage from sinner to saint, from
    whacked-out revolutionary to suburban mom, becomes a mere extenuating
    circumstance, a virtual irrelevancy. What matters more -- what matters most
    of all -- is our obligation to both the victim and his or her loved ones.
    This is an obligation not to exact revenge, not even really to punish, but
    simply to remember the victim and honor his or her life. This is why no
    Nazi is too old to be tracked down.

    Olson, in fact, has now been indicted for murder. The victim was Myrna
    Opsahl, shot -- maybe by accident -- back in 1975. The alleged killers
    were, again, the SLA -- yet another bank robbery. One of those accused
    robbers, Emily Harris, allegedly dismissed Opsahl as a mere nothing -- a
    "bourgeois pig" whose death "doesn't really matter."

    Harris may no longer feel that way -- if she ever did. Over time, she may
    have come to cherish life -- her own, of course, but others' as well. But
    none of that changes the fact that Opsahl is dead and the only way we have
    to show we value her life or, indeed, life itself, is to freeze time and
    get her killers.

    So now I come to the answer to my question -- the one that works for me,
    anyway. In the end, it doesn't matter who Olson really is. It only matters
    that Opsahl is dead.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu Jan 24 2002 - 20:06:21 EST