Osama bin Laden is Dead and All I Can Think About are My (Still) Unresolved Convictions on Capital Punishment

It seems that this morning is an appropriate time to sort out my thoughts on concepts like “kill or be killed” and “deserving to die”.

Reading my Facebook friends’ comments the hour after Osama bin Laden was announced dead taught me two things: 1) They are glad someone finally caught him and killed him.  2) They are proud of our U.S. military for doing it.  As for myself, I feel the same way.  I also am somewhat comforted by the assumed concept that it’s morally okay to have wanted this man dead, and that we collectively as a nation do not feel any guilt for Osamba bin Laden’s death.

I would feel the same sense of relief knowing other antichrists were dead, had I lived in their era; the most obvious example being Adolph Hitler.  It’s my observation that while most American religious and political groups have no concrete collective agreements on capital punishment, it goes without saying that if a man is responsible for thousands of lives being lost in a war or political action which he led, then that man deserves to die.  And I agree.

What I am confused about isn’t whether or not we should want evil war tyrants dead.  The thing I have unresolved convictions about is the much smaller scale version of men like Osama bin Laden and Adolph Hitler.  What about serial killers who only kill 20 people, as opposed to 2 million?  How high does the body count have to get before the killer “deserves to die”?  Where is that conceptual line drawn that causes our American society to agree that a man needs to be killed?

I understand the inescapable concept of “kill or be killed”, as it applies to both war and self-defense.  What I find fascinating/confusing is knowing when it’s “okay” to kill a criminal, after he committed a horrible crime.  A month after a man killed and raped a dozen people, it is no longer self-defense or “kill or be killed”.   Once that murderer and rapist has been captured, can we kill him?  If not, would it be any different if he was a member of the enemy army in a war?

Probably, because it’s my observation that war justifies killing people who “deserve it”.  But when that same evil man who deserves to die is not fighting our nation as a whole, but instead is individually picking out individuals to kill and/or rape and he is not associated with al-Qaeda or Communism or a being a Nazi, we suddenly are reluctant to collectively agree to place them in the electric chair and remove them from our society to keep them from hurting anyone else.

Despite trying to understand my own beliefs and convictions on capital punishment and self-defense for over a year now, the death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t help much in removing the blurry haze clouding my mind on these issues. And maybe this is as clear as it will ever be in my head.  What do I believe?  I don’t know for sure.  What do you believe?

If this post was the least bit interesting or fascinating to you, I invite you to read its two prequels, by clicking on the titles below:

Capital Punishment, In Theory: Do You Support the Death Penalty Enough to Do It Yourself?

Self-Defense, In Theory

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Self-Defense, In Theory

War.  Capital punishment.  Self-defense.  Protecting someone else from a deadly attack.  When is killing another person necessary?

In American culture, on a near daily basis, we hear or make comments jokingly threatening to kill someone or be killed: “Man, my wife is gonna kill me when she finds out I forgot to go by the bank today!” or “I could just strangle that kid!”  It’s so common we think nothing of it.  The idea of actually killing a person for some trivial offense is humorous, because committing murder is so serious of a crime, we obviously wouldn’t act out our off-hand remarks against some who has frustrated us.

But often, behind every joke is at least a little truth.  I know as a man, I sometimes have to calm my own emotions in events where a person offends or frustrates me.  Because in reality, I am wired to kill, as most men are.  It sounds more melodramatic than it is, and I’m not just saying it because Dexter is one of my favorite TV shows.  Since the beginning of time, men have been engaging in and defending themselves in war.  There is an “execution switch” in a man’s body that once it is turned on, it prepares the man for one sole action: Terminate the enemy.

In Capital Punishment, In Theory, I admitted that I don’t know that I have what it takes to fight in a war: I don’t know that I could kill another person, the enemy, when other than trying to kill me because I am trying to kill him, he could be another  law-abiding citizen who will do anything it takes to protect and care for his family because he loves them, including killing me.  In a way, the dictator of his country is forcing him to kill me.

Yet many men I’ve talked to told me they would be willing to kill someone in war before they could be an executioner of capital punishment.  Not me- I would be willing to pull the trigger, flip the switch, whatever necessary to kill a man who is a murderer or rapist; therefore preventing them from hurting other potential victims.  Other men are wired to terminate soldiers of enemy nations; therefore preventing them from hurting weaker nations, what I call “group self-defense”. And I’m sure there are some men that could do both.

There’s also the scenario of a man defending himself and/or his family- what if an armed man breaks in the house?  Is the man of the house willing to kill that armed shadowy stranger to protect himself and his family?

At some point, taking another human life has to be justified.  Whether as a nation or as individuals, if we never defended ourselves, we would be weak, foolish, defeated, and possibly dead ourselves.  It’s important as a man, who is wired to kill when absolutely necessary, to know which lines another person must cross in order to be worth losing his life.  For me, a man loses his right to live when he murders/attempts to murder or sexually assaults/attempts to sexually assault another person.

Because our nation has basically been fighting most of its wars on foreign land, the thought of “a good man killing a bad man” is pretty much a concept reserved for our military; on a different continent.  But I can’t just look outwardly; I have to look within our borders as well, at the men of the same race and religion as we are who prove they can’t live their lives without hurting their neighbors.  When is killing necessary?  Unfortunately, “never” is not a valid answer in the world we currently live in.

“Kill or be killed” is a tough law to live by; but mankind has been doing it for a long time now, premeditated or not.

Lowercase Punishment

“Cruel and unusual punishment” is a relative term.

Today as I was driving back to work from my lunch break waiting at a red light at a major intersection consisting of 3-lane roads, there was this guy in a big pick-up truck who basically ran a red light in the midst of a lot of traffic. And I thought, “If only a cop was here to catch him…”.

Then I thought, “What if I had the power to obtain and punish him myself?…” The way I would want to punish him is by annoying him, for his crime of causing a potential wreck that could have affected a lot of people.

What if I could punish him without taking anything away from him? What if I could simply freeze his mind for one nanosecond in real-time, but in his mind, it would be for any amount of time I choose? Like I could freeze him for 20 hours in his mind, and everything he saw in that nanosecond would not move at all, like an annoying skip on a DVD? It would not affect his body or future at all. He would not miss anything.

Think of it this way: Sometimes you’ll wake up from a dream and it feels like you were dreaming for hours, even all night- but in reality, most dreams only last less than a minute. What seemed like hours was only seconds.

Now imagine having the power over someone to control their unconscious state for only a second, but during that fraction of a second, it would feel like however many hours, days, or years as you wanted. But the person’s eyes would be open so they had to look at the same thing during what felt like a long time.

The criminal would not age any faster than the rest of us. But if someone did something very bad, you could freeze their mind for a nanosecond in real time but 30 years in “dream time”. It would kinda be like purgatory, except the criminal couldn’t move around and nothing in sight would move neither. It would bore them out of their mind.  But we couldn’t let this power get into the wrong hands. Good thing I’m not a mad scientist.

For a similar post by the same author, read Capital Punishment, In Theory.

“Help us someone, let us out of here. Living here so long undisturbed, dreaming of the time we were free. So many years ago before for the time when we first heard ‘welcome to the Home by the Sea’. Sit down, sit down as we relive our lives in what we tell you.”
-Genesis/ “Home by the Sea” (1983)

“In the delusionary state, no wonder he’s been feeling strange of late. Nobody here to spoil the view, interfere with my plans…Steady, lads…and easy does it. Don’t frighten him! Here we go…”
-Paul McCartney/ “Mr. Bellamy” (2007)

“Such a mean old man…”
-The Beatles/ “Mean Mr. Mustard” (1969)

Readers’ Expectations 1: Chris Harrison Shirtless, The Remake of Starry Night, and The Personality That Causes Cancer

Straight up, what did you hope to learn about here?  If I was someone else, would this all fall apart?

What makes a post popular is not necessarily when a lot of people read it the day it’s published.  What makes it popular is when random people do Internet searches and stumble on it, day after day.

For example, by far my most read is Capital Punishment, In Theory, which at the moment has had 889 direct hits.  That means nearly a thousand readers have come to my site because they wanted to know more about the morality or immorality issues of executing criminals.  So it’s safe to say that more random people have come to my site to hear my thoughts on capital punishment than for any other specific reason.

Statistically speaking then, the other main reasons people wash up on my shore is to read my thoughts on The Bachelor, LOST, healthy eating/organic lifestyle, and oddly, mustaches.

Honestly, when I write, I never think about what the reader might want to read about.  No offense.  I write about what I personally would want to read about it.  Then from there, the readers can sort out what they feel is worth reading past the first paragraph of.

My definition of successful writing is the ability to write about anything (from The Golden Gate Bridge (I Wish You Would Step Back From that Ledge, My Friend) to an old abandoned amusement park (Canyon Land) and make it interesting and intriguing and to hopefully reveal some kind of truth in the process that wasn’t obvious before.

But far all the times the metaphorical spaghetti has stuck to the wall, there were also times it didn’t.  I have made it easy to revisit my most popular posts with pages like Best of 2009 (statistically the most popular posts from last year) and Reruns (a collection of all my different series), but today I will celebrate my least popular.

That doesn’t mean they weren’t popular the first time they were published, because many of them were.  It just means no one has read then since.  In other words, they evidently don’t have much replay value.

Bottom Ten Posts of All Time

Mixed Reviews

The Friendship Police: Why the Heck Not?

Dr. Deja Vu: The Interstate to Memory Lane

The Modern Day Tortoise

I Was Born in a Small Town

Of Mutts and Men

Did You Know?

Ghosts in the Machine

Dr. Deja Vu: Before and After

The Edge of “Me Too” Culture

That was fun.  But before I’m done with this subject today, I also need to acknowledge some of the random Internet searchers who came to scenicroutesnapshots.com, only to be disappointed.  I’ve seen all kinds of random search terms that people have typed in to get to my site.

Surprisingly, only a few of them have been kinky.  And a few were deliberate pranks, like “Nick Shell that I dated in high school”.  I never did find out who did that.  But just in the past few weeks, grazing the floor of search terms, I have definitely come across some oddities:

“Chris Harrison shirtless” I’m sorry, sir or ma’am.  I know you really want to see what’s underneath that tuxedo, but he’s the host of The Bachelor, not a contestant.  You wish.

“Buzz Aldrin shirtless” Okay, same person.  Chris Harrison was one thing, but leave the 80 year-old astronaut alone.

“where can I get a remake of Starry Night?” You mean a reprint?  If you want a remake, I’ll do it.  I haven’t painted since the 4th grade, but I can make this work. I won’t even charge that much.  Fifty bucks sound good?  It may end up looking more like the abstract version of the original, but I’ll get you your remake.  Nice doing business with you.

“to increase your salary, simply mustache” Alright, buddy.  Yes, it’s true.  I can actually help you with that one.  Men with mustaches have higher salaries (Must Not Mustache).  But never, and I mean never, say the words “simply mustache” again.  Not cool, man.  Not cool.

“Lynyrd Skynyrd song that goes- oh that third eye blind” I’m no Casey Kasem, but I think you’re referring to their song “That Smell”:  “Oh, oh, that smell.  The smell of death all around you.” The actual lyrics were a lot different than you thought, I know.  Yes, because “third eye blind” and “that smell” sound so much alike.

“personality that causes cancer” That would be “the Kate Gosselin”, but I haven’t written about that yet.  Good for you for reading my mind, though.

“road turns into mouse” Oh, I get it.  I’ve heard about guys like you.  Look, it must be pretty cool to test different kind of marijuana for pot dispensaries in Denver for a living, but maybe you should cut back on your Internet searching while you’re “working”.

Capital Punishment, In Theory: Do You Support the Death Penalty Enough to Do It Yourself?

To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?


Back in November, I wrote a post asking the question, “If the only way you could eat any meat was by actually killing the animal yourself, would you still be a carnivore?” (click here to read it http://wp.me/pxqBU-ef). I ended up saying that I am a hypocrite- I couldn’t bring myself to killing animals as regularly as I eat them. (Though since then, I have begun trying only eating meat with dinner, and having vegetarian lunches.)

Recently, thanks to Netflix’s instant streaming, I have found a new series to satisfy me until LOST comes back in February. It’s a Showtime original called Dexter. He is a “blood splatter analyst” for the Miami Metro Police Department. He has unique insight and information regarding criminals who he knows are guilty but can not be convicted because of lack of evidence proven in court.

Interestingly, Dexter himself learned as a young teenage that he had a desire to kill people. His foster dad saw this and guided him into the possibilities working in the police force. So in addition to his day job as a blood splatter analyst, he also hunts down the criminals and kills them himself.

Dexter is a serial killer. He kills murderers on his own time, without the acknowledgement of the Miami police department. And has the know-how to get away with it. So other than breaking the law by killing the criminals, is what he is doing really so bad? He’s killing serial killers. Though he is one himself. He doesn’t kill innocent people, though.  Just the killers.

I am thoroughly entertained by this TV show, yet I can’t go unaffected: It forces me to sort out how I feel about capital punishment. I have always believed that without a doubt murderers and rapists should be killed. That’s what I am sure of.

But who pulls the trigger? Who turns on the electric chair? Who holds the responsibility of killing another human being? Of sending them into eternity? Like Dexter, does it take a certain kind of person to execute this kind of justice?

For those who don’t believe in capital punishment, there’s no need to continue reading. This is for those who are like me- those who do support capital punishment, but haven’t necessarily been able to sort it through. This is my way of sorting it out.

So the question is this: To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?

I’ve thought it through. I say yes, I would be willing to do it. Because if I say no, then like my earlier question about only eating the animals I killed myself, I make myself a hypocrite.

Aside from the fact I would be taking the life of murderer or rapist, what would hold me back? Knowing that I am in a way playing God. Why am I okay with that? Am I somewhat deranged for admitted I could do it if I had to?

Is there justification in executing a murderer or rapist? I looked it up. From everything I found in the Bible in old Jewish law, murderers are to be put to death. Along with people who commit adultery. But not rapists.

And that’s annoying because that doesn’t add up to where I stand. I want it to say that murderers AND rapists should be executed. But it doesn’t. And I definitely don’t believe that a person who cheated on their spouse should die for it. That seems quite harsh.

Why is it so common for murderers and rapists to repeat the crime once they are released from prison? Because they can’t “learn their lesson”. Something traumatic happened in their earliest years of childhood which corrupted the way they think. While they were at one time an innocent child who may have been a victim of violent abuse or rape, they are now an adult who has chosen to continue that pattern. I don’t see how giving a person like that a second chance is an option.

It’s not a question of revenge. I want no part in revenge. But I do support justice.

This scenario was played out in Season 5 of LOST. Sayid travels back in time and shoots Ben as a child. An adult tries to kill a future serial killer. The ethics of Kate prevented Ben from dying. She took him to get help and his life was saved.

I would say that few people would be willing to do what Sayid did- to try to kill a future serial killer. Because that’s altering the life of an innocent child.

But once that corrupted child has grown up and proven that are corrupted by murdering or raping another person, I don’t see how anything can change them. They can be forgiven by God and people, yes. But not excused from the law of man.

The thing is, there’s no way around the fact that executing wrongdoers is a necessary part of life. War is a great example. Our country fights the bad guys. The other nations who are out to get us and/or other countries. They are the ones who attack. We must defend ourselves.  Self-defense.

But even then, who are we fighting? A lot of the soldiers in the armies we fight against are fighting us because they don’t have another option. Their own corrupt government is often the one forcing them to fight us.

If they don’t fight for their country, they may be executed by their own army. If they do fight for their country, our country may execute them in war. They lose either way. But if we don’t kill them, they will kill us. We can’t avoid the situation.

But going back to capital punishment for our own criminals, why can’t we keep them in prison for life? Aside from the millions of dollars in cost us in taxes every year, we have a justice system that often lets them back on streets eventually. And as mentioned before, they often repeat the crime when they are freed.

The biggest issue I have in sorting all this out has less to do with whether or not I could execute a guilty person and more in deciding what crimes are worth of death. I say murderers and rapists. But where are the lines drawn? I’ll leave that to the courts to decide.

I don’t see capital punishment as a political or even a religious issue. Because in all I’ve researched, political and religious groups are split on the issue across the board. It’s one of those issues that isn’t cut and dry. It has to be pondered and discussed and seen from many perspectives.  But it can’t go ignored.  Someone has to answer the call.

But if we say really support capital punishment, in theory we should be willing to be the one who executes the criminal. If not, we are saying it’s wrong to murder a convicted criminal. Or that we’ll let a person who is more fit for the job take care of it.  And do we think that the person who is willing to execute the criminal is less moral than else? Do we fear God will judge us for carrying out what we perceive as justice?

By agreeing that certain criminals should be put to death, we are already making that decision in our mind that it’s justified. But there is something scary about the thought of carrying out that action ourselves. Ironic.

To answer anonymously, then see how other readers answered this deep question, answer below: