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No Excuse Sir

Many years ago, I attended the Air Force Academy. Part of the indoctrination and training there, as well as at all our military academies, was how to acceptably respond to a "why" question.

"Why were you late? Why aren't your shoes shined? Why didn't you complete your assignment?" upperclassmen would harangue me.

And almost always I had an excuse. Someone else made me late. I scuffed my well polished shoes running out to formation. I had to study for a test, that's why I couldn't finish the assignment.

But even when there was an "acceptable" excuse, the Academy's only acceptable response to a "why" question was "NO EXCUSE, SIR!!"

"Why this... why that?" an upperclassman would ask me. After just a few days I learned how to respond with the correct answer. "NO EXCUSE, SIR!" I'd shout back, loudly and proudly. For that was the only correct response. And I had learned how to be "military."

It seemed silly at the time. Afterall, though we all sometimes make mistakes for which we can readily accept fault, more often when we err, we have "an excuse." The Academy's system was meant make an individual responsible for his actions or the consequences of his lack of action. Getting the job done was premiere, not conjuring up an excuse for why it wasn't done. In retrospect, it was a good lesson to learn.

Unlike the military's system of "no excuses," our judicial system works on the opposite premise. Every crime has an excuse.

"Did you kill your parents?" the brother's were asked.

"Yes," they responded. But they were molested by their parents as small children. They had a "good" excuse. Good enough at least for a jury.

"Did you assault and rob that man during the L.A. riots?" another defendant was asked.

"Yes, they responded. But they were caught up in the mob psychology and angry over another unfair verdict. That was a "good" excuse.

The assassin of the former mayor of San Francisco many years ago had a good excuse. He had the "Twinkie" defense. Too much junk food was his excuse.

When it comes to criminal behavior, nowadays you can be found "not guilty" using a variety of excuses. You can blame insanity, or drugs, booze, or passion, or simply being brought up in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong pals. Any excuse is a good one.

Now, medical science is going to provide criminals with some more "excuses." There has been extensive study in the last decade into the neurochemical basis of behavior. Researchers have noted an altered metabolism of important enzymes in the brain in many patients who have exhibited abnormal or aggressive behavior. Recently a team of Boston geneticists discovered a defect in a chromosome that alters the metabolism of these enzymes. There is a high correlation between men that have this defect and those that exhibit impulsive aggressive behaviors - including rape, arson, and other criminal activity. It is not suggested that these people are incapable of knowing right and wrong but merely that they are predisposed to crime, just as other metabolic or genetic defects have been suggested as predisposing factors in obesity, alcoholism, cancer, and heart disease. The game plan in medical research, of course, is to diagnose disease, identify a cause, and seek a cure. But while we await the discovery of a pill that murderers, rapists, and thieves can take to keep their criminal behavior in check, I'm sure a few shrewd attorneys will bring up the "genetic excuse."

Crime and violence are running amok in our society. The cure we need though is more training early on that teaches responsibility for one's own actions. I'd like more judges to respond to the "excuses" of attorneys and their criminal clients with, "The only acceptable response in this courtroom is 'NO EXCUSE, SIR!'"