The arguments for and against the death penalty still rage on in the wake of Timothy McVeigh's execution.
When I was young, I lived in mortal terror that someday I would be put to death in the electric chair. I had seen "Angels with Dirty Faces" with Jimmy Cagney and it haunted my nightmares long after I watched it. The chilling climax in which Cagney screams his way in terror to the electric chair gave me the heebie-jeebies. If anyone ever asked me if the death penalty would be a deterrent to me, my answer would, to this day, be a resounding "yes."
Not that I would ever consider killing anyone, mind you. I always pictured a frightening scenario in which I was falsely convicted or framed for the murder of a loved one, with no hope of reprieve. As is still the case, I watched far too much television for my own good.
I have fluctuated back and
forth seemingly forever on whether I personally favor the death penalty.
I have tried to cover every viewpoint. With my vivid imagination, I have
stood in the shoes of the accused, the victims, and their families, and
have come up with compelling arguments, pro and con.
Although they never referred to the death penalty as a good thing, I always got the impression that they felt that someone who ended up in the electric chair had only himself to blame.
I have fluctuated back and forth seemingly forever on whether I personally favor the death penalty. I have tried to cover every viewpoint. With my vivid imagination, I have stood in the shoes of the accused, the victims, and their families, and have come up with compelling arguments, pro and con.
If I were to put all these conclusions into a stream of consciousness, a la James Joyce, they would probably run something like: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth ... thou shalt not kill ... you'd put a mad dog to sleep right? Why not a madman? ... Because he's human ... but he took away my loved one; why should he live? ... Taxpayers' money for life imprisonment? No way. Nuke him ... everyone has a right to closure ... but what's closure? There's never really closure in a case like this ... Jesus told us to forgive ..." and on and on, all valid, all contradictory.
A few weeks ago, I had convinced myself that in light of the Oklahoma bombing and McVeigh's sentence, I was in favor (this time) of the death penalty.
"So would you do it?" my friend asked quietly. "Would you stick the needle in his arm?"
"Hell no," I said, shocked. "I couldn't kill anyone. That's the state's job."
And then I thought about what I'd just said.
An article in The New York Times said, "Timothy McVeigh ... was executed by the government he so despised," but that's not really true, is it? A person wielded that needle, just as someone fires the gun, pulls the rope, releases the gas pellet, or activates the electric chair. Behind the executioner's mask, there is flesh and blood, and, it is hoped, a brain and conscience.
Who do they get to do a job like that? Do you look for an atheist who doesn't believe in any kind of afterlife? Is he one who doesn't worry about facing his maker and explaining why he was justified in breaking one of God's major laws? Someone who feels that he is providing a valuable service? Or is he simply someone who can justify the execution of a person and then continue his life without dwelling too much on it?
Mind you, I'm not criticizing the guy who volunteers to be the executioner. All I'm saying is that when we do support the death penalty, we expect someone else to step up and do the dirty work for us.
There are people like me who feel that we would be sacrificing our immortal soul if we took a human life, and yet we're perfectly willing for someone else to do the deed.
I can't help but wonder what I may be sacrificing, what explanations I will have to make to the Almighty as to why I was very content with the death of Timothy McVeigh.
McVeigh died without apology, and one can only guess if he was in any way remorseful. His only statement was the poem "Invictus," which includes the lines, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." However insane this young man may have been, he apparently remained true to his violent ideology, "head bloody but unbowed" (also from "Invictus").
And what about the executioner? His job is to carry out the sentence of the people, to put an end to a human life, and to give the victims and their families the closure (or is it revenge?) they crave. What an overwhelming responsibility.
I wonder if he has nightmares too.
But then, he too is the captain of his fate, the master of his soul.
This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with permission.
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