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 Writer's Desk:  NCR's daily Web column
Each week, a member of the NCR staff offers commentary on topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 17, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 7




global perspective The closed world of insiders

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Military police are in the news. And it's bad news.

Any closed world can be. I know.

We were as unlikely a bunch of military policemen as one ever saw. A journalist and an accountant, a chicken farmer and a grocer, an entrepreneur and, yes, one policeman.

Her Majesty's government, in its wisdom, had drafted us into the Royal Air Force and given us all the same option: cook, cop or radar operator. We six were too technologically challenged for radar and too inept to cook.

I was provost division (a detective) and the Royal Air Force also taught me to pilot a glider. But for a while I was a cop in a cop's uniform.

Also by Arthur Jones
Mar. 5, 04 Words that penetrate
Mar. 4, 04 Marketing reverence
Mar. 3, 04 Life can be cruel to good people
Mar. 2, 04 If only we had the time!
Mar. 1, 04 Preparing to cure what ails us
Jan. 9, 04 Rural tranquility and violent times
Jan. 8, 04 St. Magnus the non-violent
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
It was not a world totally strange to me. My paternal grandfather was Chief Inspector in the Liverpool CID, chief of detectives. My uncle Arthur followed the same track. As did my brother.

What I saw through them was the closed world where insiders could set the rules, or breach them. Sometimes breach them with the impunity of silence.

What I saw in the military police was a closed world even easier to breach the rules -- and we knew those in our midst who did.

And knew those who didn't.

Which brings up the question of that crunch moment of overcoming temptation. Of defiling one's own integrity. Of sinning. Did some military police in that prison in Iraq refuse to torture? Refuse to bow to group pressure? Refuse to conform to closed world mob misrule?

If so, it's not just grace of God -- though it is that; it is the culmination of morals formed with sufficient glue that they stick. And God knows, everyone can point to instances in our own lives when our sense of morality has become unglued.

Family mores and standards, buttressing faith's code of conduct, or vice versa, is surely a major factor in developing a sense of shame. Shame shows up as the "flushed or ashen face" of doing something dreadfully wrong.

The ice-cold burning as the sword of shame pierces the pit of the stomach --the viscera that is conscience -- is a frightening reality. Selling out integrity is more a blow to reason, though its end result also is the same -- shame.

From where do we get the strength to stand up, stand out? Those rarest moments of courage?

From example, most bold, and exhortation delivered with love? From something built atop a sense of right and wrong?

My grandfather was a famous sportsman in England. Much feted. And active in that social interlink between sports personalities and entertainment personalities. A man about town. He was a detective whose landmark cases were much publicized in his lifetime.

It was a time of public and private anti-Semitism, which didn't directly affect my grandfather. He was a chapel Welshman.

And he was up for the top post: Chief Constable of Liverpool.

He was investigated -- discreetly -- by the Watch Committee, that supreme civic body charged with overseeing the police. The investigation done, he was called before the Committee for its polite inquiry into his views and suitability. And to tell him of its findings.

Were he to be named Chief Constable -- and there was little doubt he was the front runner -- his wife would have to stop cleaning her own brasses, and a maid hired. "Brasses" were the impressive brass door knocker and brass numbers on the door of their home. Their burnished state a mark of pride for housewives of the day.

Next, they would need to buy "gammon" instead of "streaky" bacon. "Streaky" was considered working class.

Finally, my grandfather would have to give up his "theatrical" friends.

This was a closed world code word. A high percentage of those in the entertainment business were Jewish. It was known my grandfather's dearest friend was a Shakespearean actor named Fitch. Who was Jewish.

And my grandfather told Fitch -- as he would later tell us -- he said, simply:

"Give up Fitch? Never." And he left the room.

And that's what sort of policeman he was.

And in part, of course, because of him, for the short time I served, that's what sort of military policeman I was able to be.

Because of examples like that, and through the Grace of God.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

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