: A Nation of Men . . . and Laws :

an excerpt by Leon E. Panetta

In these days of violence and dissent and demonstration, politicians are often heard to reiterate the proposition that America is a nation of laws and not of men; that somehow, in the close adherence to the provisions of law, orderly change can be brought about. Now if the laws were a sanctified set of rules, untouched by human hands, these, propositions might be fairly effective guides in any system of government. But what happens when the laws themselves are subject to change, to policy interpretations, to compromise based on political pressures? What happens when laws are passed but go unenforced? What happens when the wheels of justice grind slower and slower as the wheels of injustice turn faster and faster?

The simple fact is that America is a nation of men; men who determine to a large extent whether it can also be a nation of laws. When the directions and goals of a nation have been clearly outlined, there is no question but that the laws can prove an invaluable adjunct to government in the pursuit of those ends. But laws alone, without the support of government, without the commitment of national leadership, can never, by themselves, resolve the social injustices of a society.