I understand murder to be the taking of an innocent life without just cause. Shooting down a hijacked plane which would otherwise crash into a building would classify as just cause. Aborting a baby because it has some cancer which will kill both him and his mother is just cause. Killing German soldiers to rescue Jews during WW2, even if they don’t participate in any torture, is just cause.

But what about more domestic cases? I watched two films this year which made me really consider this.

I don’t know the name of the first one, though I hope someone can tell me what it is. It concerns a husband and wife adopting two boys. They were very abusive to the children. They always viewed the older boy with suspicion, limiting his freedom, verbally and physically abusing him, downgrading him and eventually sending him off to live under other parents. In the meantime the younger one, though he loved his brother, was mostly respected, though also controlled. After the older one was sent away, they adopted a new child. Then they started treating the second child, the one who watched his brother being beaten, with the same disrespect, abuse and control as the first. Every aspect of his life was being determined by them, with constant psychological and physical abuse.

Then this boy had to make a choice: he could either leave his foster parents like the older child, or… You see if he leaves, then he leaves his now younger, innocent brother to the same curse he had: abuse and eventual replacement. He can’t just leave him. What could he do? So he murdered his foster parents.

The second film whose name I also forgot, though I think it’s something along the line of “Family Sins” concerned a mother who adopted a number of children through the years. She would abuse them, let her son and husband rape them, and teach them how to shoplift. In one case, she locked up a woman in a basement for years at night, allowing her out during the day to do chores, while psychologically convincing her that it is for her own good. That poor woman’s daughter was one of the victims of the house as well. She eventually got a child while in the house. Both she and her mother were also raped by the house woman’s husband and son. What could she do? If she leaves, no one would believe her. Everyone who wants to leave is intimidated by threats to stay. Can she leave her mother? What about her child? Eventually she took a chance, got out, and amazingly managed to convict them by getting former victims to confess in court.

At one point in the film her brother was tied up and beaten by the woman and her son, with the intention of killing him, because he wanted to leave. The girl who got out eventually saw this and managed to convince them to leave him alone. At that moment I thought: “I would not hesitate to take a blunt object, knock out the son and kill the woman right there and then. They can lock me up, at least we’re free”. Would that have been fair? Would that have been just? Later in the movie while the woman is sitting in jail before the court case, they show how she already controlled a number of inmates whom she allowed to beat up her daughter locked up with her. If this woman was sent to prison, wouldn’t she be a bad influence in there as well? What, then? Solitary confinement?

She was eventually sentenced to thirty years. Her son and husband were sentenced for less. Is that just? Wouldn’t it have been just to kill those three? Or to execute them? Would that have been just?

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