Coming to Terms

BIT by bit, the United States continues to come to terms with the Vietnam War and the events that surrounded it.

The act of coming to terms has its most profound effect at the individual level. On Wednesday, Katherine Ann Power, one of nine radical antiwar activists who made the FBI's most-wanted list, pleaded guilty in Boston to charges of manslaughter and armed robbery in connection with a 1970 bank robbery and murder in the city's Brighton section. At the time, she was a sociology major at Brandeis University. An ardent opponent of the Vietnam War, she joined activists Susan Saxe and Stanley Bond in coordinating a student strike on campus. The three, along with two others, took part in robbery, during which a Boston police officer was shot and killed. Other than Ms. Power, all have served or are serving prison sentences for the crime, except Bond, who died in jail while awaiting trial; a bomb he was making exploded.

After fleeing underground, Power moved to Oregon in 1977, using an alias. By many accounts she became a model citizen, raising a family, owning a restaurant, and teaching cooking courses at a local junior college.

According to a statement from Power released by her attorney, she finally recognized that 23 years of physical freedom paled when compared to 23 years in a mental jail, whose bars of guilt, remorse, and fear kept her from her parents and prevented close friendships. As it stands, her attorney expects Power to serve a five-year prison term.

Whatever the sentence, it will never compensate the family of Walter Schroeder, the Boston police officer who was killed during the robbery. In her statement, Power expressed deep remorse for his death. But she added that her ``outrageously illegal,'' ``naive,'' and ``unthinking'' actions also need to be seen in the context of the times. ``The law,'' she writes, ``was being broken everywhere,'' from the White House on down.

We respect the courage Power has shown in facing up to her responsibility for a tragic crime. As we noted here last week in another context, justice is a moral force. It ultimately animates even those who try to flee or deny it. Yet Power needs to go one step further. Many who opposed the war did so nonviolently and with effect. Her ``coming to terms'' will be complete when it includes a recognition that the illegal acts of others never justify an illegal response.

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