Security surrounds the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Credit: Susan Walsh / AP

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Steve Ball is a retired U.S. Army colonel who now lives on a farm in Windsor.

“Laws can embody standards; governments can enforce laws — but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us,” Robert Kennedy, then attorney general under his brother President John F. Kennedy, said in 1961. “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted — when we tolerate what we know to be wrong — when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened — when we fail to speak up and speak out — we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”

For several years we all have witnessed an erosion of what we know to be right, just and decent. Many of us turned our heads the other way. What happened on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., has been brewing for years. It is time for each of us, all of us, to speak up and speak out for justice.

We witnessed an unprecedented assault by Trump supporters designed to overthrow the government. The scaling of walls and violent invasion of our U.S. Capitol, armed guards standing behind hastily barricaded doors, drawn weapons attempting a last line of defense against the terrorists, and the loss of lives have become indelible images for many Americans. These stunning images broadcasted across the airwaves in America and around the world leave little doubt just how broken we are as a nation.

It’s hard to imagine how we’ve gotten ourselves to this point in our relatively young history as a nation. We’ve made it through a nation-forming revolution with the most powerful country in the world at the time, through a devastating Civil War, and drafted our young and lost thousands in two world wars. Overcoming these challenges have become the basis for the lore that has come to make up our identity. We’ve come out of these events with a nation that was, by many accounts, deemed on top as the most powerful and stable nation in the world. That image of ourselves is now called into question.

After nearly 250 years it looked like this experiment in democracy was complete. America was here to stay as a world leader, an example of what democracy can produce if people play by the rules and respect the law. And then came Jan. 6. Almost as if we needed a lesson in humility, the Capitol, a symbol of America and democracy, was under siege. Our nation came face to face with its mortality.

In cases when an event is so jarring to our psyche that we come to see the world a bit differently, accountability is the only means a democratic government has to heal.

As we’ve seen, it is somehow far more acceptable to hold accountable foreign attackers and terrorists who dare to attempt to topple our government. The nearly 20 years the U.S. has been involved in the War on Terror attests to our commitment to hold terrorists accountable. Holding those responsible to account has been a national necessity at the cost of thousands of American servicemen’s lives. The assault on the U.S. Capitol deserves no less commitment and effort to hold those responsible to account.

The recent vote by the House to impeach the president for the part he played in inciting the seditious mob that day is a start. This was the beginning of what will no doubt be a long and hard journey toward accountability. Even so, there were cries that impeachment should not be undertaken for fear of further armed actions targeted against those who voted against the president.

A democracy held hostage by fear of retribution is, I would argue, not a democracy at all. It is rather a government where decisions are made by mob rule rather than law.

The fact is that the inciters of this violence are just as guilty as those who stormed the Capitol, broke in and defiled rooms, or threatened our elected representatives with harm or even death by hanging.

We should no longer allow ourselves to look away, to tolerate what we know to be wrong. Accountability is hard, especially when it involves our own citizens and leaders. But, difficulty is no excuse for abandoning democracy’s essential legal and moral imperative that no one is above the law.