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"
"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,
"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
"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!'"