The Death Penalty Is Just
I had a running battle (via mail) with Mario Cuomo when he was governor of New York state. He was vehemently against the death penalty and I was a gung-ho candidate for it.We exchanged quite a few letters, some of which appeared in Newsday and several Queens weekly newspapers.
Now it seems the battle has resumed, not with the former governor but with men of the cloth, such as Billy Graham, Robert Schuller and Arthur Caliandro. They all seem to utter the same old hogwash. You’d think after all this time they would have changed their routine.
First off, ministers, the death penalty is not revenge but Justice with a capital J. It’s the law of the land in 38 states. Whenever a state finds a person guilty of committing a heinous crime and sentences him to death, it is operating under a judicial system, not perfect but it’s the best we have until it’s improved. Like Cuomo, these men are reading something in it that does not exist.
Yes, it’s not a deterrent. It was never designed to be one but to mete out just punishment. Only the opponents wrongfully refer to it as such. If the death penalty were a deterrent, then we’d have no need for prisons that do not rehabilitate the inmates. But since society has to be protected from criminals, facilities are set up for their confinement.
Just a minor note on prisons. In Joel Osteen’s bestselling book, Your Best Life Now, he states among other things that “Ten years ago (1994) we had only a dozen or so prisons in my home state of Texas. Today there are more than 140 prisons.” In only 10 years. And that’s only in one state. You see how “peaceful” some people are?
Now to something more serious. The main reason we are the only industrialized nation with the death penalty is because we are the only nation with the highest homicide rate. If it were not so high, I doubt whether it would have been passed into law. Moreover, if those nations that criticize us had the same kind of numbers they’d be singing a different tune, especially France and Germany that were saved by us from annihilation in the 20th century. And they showed their gratitude when they were called on to cast their vote in the United Nations.We weren’t asking for money or military assistance but just a simple vote of confidence. That’s “friends” for you.
I agree, retaliation does not solve problems. It only begets more violence. But what are peace-loving people to do when they have been treated so badly? Remember the American Revolution, the CivilWar and World War II. If we hadn’t struck back, the critics wouldn’t be where they are today and I wouldn’t be writing this essay.
I know quite a bit about this subject since I’ve been in both camps. I’ve been a pacifist for over 50 years. In WWII, I was given a conscientious objector rating on humanitarian grounds. I was eventually drafted in the Medical Corps, and served 18 months in England and France. For the past 10 years, I’ve made three exceptions in the use of force: 1) to avoid rape; 2) in selfdefense, and 3) to protect my country from despots. Yes, I believe in just wars now.
The reality is that we are faced with an enemy unlike any in all history surpassing the mongols, the Romans and the Inquisition. The current terrorists target both civilians and the military without the slightest regard for human life. The enemy will bomb a church, mosque, temple or any building where children are playing.
As I’m writing this (January 2006), kidnappers are holding four Christian peace activists who had gone to Iraq to investigate abuse against Iraqi prisoners. The hostages were seized on November 26. The kidnappers threatened to kill them if their demands were not met. You see what kind of wild beasts that are masquerading as human beings.
Yes, Mahatma Gandhi was a nonviolent man and was able to win Independence for India without going to war. Revered Martin Luther King Jr. was another nonviolent made of the small cloth of a man who greatly influenced him. The Civil Rights crusade of the 1960s had been most crucial in shaping the past 50 years than any other American social movement. It is ironic that these two peaceful men should have been gunned down by wild beasts.
One other point about these great leaders. As admirable and laudable their goals were, they may not have been successful had they not lived in civilized nations. How far do you think they would have gone had they lived in Germany, Russia, North Korea or Iran?
Of course these men have nothing to do with our theme. They are mentioned only because some opponents of the death penalty used them to support their position.
Simply put: Whenever someone coldbloodedly takes a life that person automatically forfeits his own. This is not “an eye for an eye,” which is revenge but a just response by civilized people.
Furthermore, I believe the death penalty is more humane than life in prison without parole, where the person suffers every day of his life. That is “cruel and unusual punishment inflicted,” states the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
And let’s not forget that Exodus 20:13 says “Thou shalt not kill.” But five other sections of the Old Testament condone killing: Genesis 9:56; Leviticus 20:10-13; Exodus 21:12 and Numbers 35:16-21. Undoubtedly there are other verses which justify the taking of a life.
Then there are others who are against capital punishment, the Pope, the Cardinals and the Catholic Bishops of America. I would remind these men of the cloth what Matthew 5:9 said about retaliation. “But I say unto you, That whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”
Thomas Paine and Francoise Arouet (Voltaire) have said that there is nothing worse than war. And they spoke from experience, Thomas Paine in particular. He was a Quaker who espoused nonviolence but picked up his musket when his country called. What was extraordinary about this man, who played such a vital role in the fight for freedom was that he had been in the States only two years.
No matter what position you take, when the tyrant is at the gate you have to reach for your gun.
John Favicchio is a resident of Flushing.