Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pardon me?

"Can my sins be pardoned?"
That's the sort of question I suppose nearly all of us ask ourselves, or ought to, from time to time.  Obviously so for those who believe in an authority, a deity say, who rewards and punishes according to some measure of worthiness.  Or a loved one.  

Less obviously for those of us who don't, but of course there's the question of whether we pardon ourselves.  

Of course, there's also the matter of sins.  But that can be an elastic term.  Put aside Eve and the fruit of the tree of knowledge.   Sins needn't be mortal.  An everyday transgression of the social compact will do.  A little untoward envy.  A sharp word undeserved. (And how often is one really deserved?)  Just being shitty 'cause you're in a lousy mood.  

I'm a criminal defense lawyer.  I traffic in the venal things folks do to each other.  

Some are nearly beyond understanding.   Think Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot.  Or on a smaller scale the mother who dangled her two-year-old boy out the second story window by an ankle.  Then dropped him.  

Others, well, there was the guy who robbed the carry out and the burglar who stole the costume jewelry and the fella who broke into the house to steal some what he could find but fell asleep on the bed and woke up surrounded by cops with guns pointed at various parts of his body.

And pretty much everything in between.

But the question of pardon.  Which is where I began and where I kinda want to go.

You know, if you've spent any significant time reading this blog, that I'm the atheist who believes deeply in mercy and grace.  And that they're about the giver, not the person receiving.  And how the virtue comes not from being generous to the deserving.  That's easy, after all.  It's about giving regardless of merit.

And it's about forgiveness.  Which is the pardon thing again.

And that question, "Can my sins be pardoned?"

Any of us may ask.  perhaps all of us should.  But the question I quoted (note not just the indent but the quotation marks to provide a clue) came from someone very specific.  With a very specific answer.  
They probably won't be.
Her name, she of the perhaps unpardonable sin, is Kim Hyun-hui, and just over 30 years ago she murdered 115 people.  

She was, as Chico Harlan puts it in the Washington Post, "groomed to be a warrior in North Korea’s army of international spies." And that was her task.  Blow up a South Korean airliner with all the passengers aboard.  Though she didn't much see it as murder. She didn't think of the people.  What she saw was a "technical operation."  A task to perform.  

Which she did.  KAL flight 858.  Killing 115.  She was captured.  Tried to kill herself, biting down on a cyanide-tipped cigarette as she was trained and ordered to do.  But it didn't take.  
When she awoke, her left hand was cuffed to a hospital bed, an oxygen tube in her nose. Men in combat fatigues stood around her, machine guns cocked.
Through weeks of interrogation, she remained strong.  Then, Harlan writes, she was given a suit, put in a car, and driven around Seoul.
Kim saw a city that looked nothing like the miserable enemy outpost North Korea had described. She saw families smiling. She saw cars everywhere. She saw crowded shopping malls. She saw street vendors selling food. She saw the Olympic Village.
And she started to think that her mission, her whole purpose, had been a sham.
“Founded upon lies,” she said.
Blowing up the plane was supposed to disrupt the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.  Instead, Kim watched then on TV.  And she cooperated with the authorities.  And she was sentenced to be killed.  For blowing up a plane with 115 innocent people on board.
Can my sins be pardoned?
A year after the death sentence, there was an answer.

South Korean President Roh Tae-woo pardoned her, saying that she had been a mere tool manipulated by the real perpetrators, North Korea’s ruling Kim family.
But of course that isn't the pardon she asks about.

She no longer resembles the spy who was given eight years of physical and ideological training. She is 56 years old. She lives on the outskirts of South Korea’s third-largest city. She wears glasses and keeps her hair short. She no longer practices taekwondo. She no longer has an interest in knife combat or code-cracking.
Rather, she lives quietly, in a suburb.  With her husband (one of her interrogators) and their two teenagers.

Here's a question.  Is this woman, Kim Hyun-hui, taken from a plane, arrested, wearing a mask designed to prevent her from biting off her tongue, this spy 

Is she this woman, Kim Hyun-hui, 56, suburban housewife, mother of two?

Only one of them, I think, would wonder, as nearly all of us do, or ought to, from time to time.

Can my sins be pardoned?  
And I'm quite sure only one of them would offer as answer
They probably won't be.

1 comment:

  1. Putting aside the flaws and inadequacies of the justice system in the U.S., I've always maintained that the cruel and unusual part of a death sentence is the time from the sentencing to the time of execution. This is almost always measured in years. By the time the condemned reaches the death chamber, 20 or more years have gone by, and the man we're executing is not the same man that was tried, convicted, and sentenced 20 years ago.

    While I wouldn't approve of just turning this person loose in society, I really don't think that execution is the answer.