05 November 2006


I have been an opponent of the Iraq war from well before it started. It is immoral, stupid, and counterproductive.

I have alluded before to how I oppose the death penalty, in all cases, no matter how heinous. It is not right for the state to have the power of life and death over its citizens.

I dread the unholy elevation to martyrdom that some folks will find in this news.

But that does not mean that I am immune to schadenfreude at the news that Saddam Hussein has been sentenced by an Iraqi court to be hanged. If it is right to call anyone in this world evil, then Saddam Hussein is rightly counted among their number. I would prefer that the war had not been fought, and the sentence been different, but I am neither proud nor ashamed to admit that I am human enough to feel some pleasure at the news that fortune will bring him death at the hands of people he once oppressed.

SF writer Thomas Disch has a thought on the subject.

Que la bete meure!

Or, The Beast Must Die! A Chabrol movie, much admired, from 1969, as well as my feelings of grim satisfaction at Saddam's death sentence. Only die-hard anti-capital punishment types are likely to feel otherwise, though I would like to hear a case made for showing mercy and offering life without parole. And would the same leniency be shown toward Hitler or Stalin or Mao? Should all prisoners be free?

I do have my own alternative to capital punishment, which would be that convicted felons be kept where they could not avoid being hectored and lectured by anyone who wanted to pay for the privilege or who had been the man's direct victim, and that these sessions be viewable at some public web-site. Saddam goes ballistic when he's scolded. I'm sure he would come to beg for the mercy of a hangman.

Will someone come to the poor man's defense

I suppose, then, that I will come to his defense, so far as to say that I feel that Disch's alternative would be more wise and just.

And this reminds me of a passage from Iain M. Banks' grim, brilliant SF novel about war and moral responsibility, Use of Weapons.

“We're nearly at the end of the story,” the young man interrupted. “These nice people—who you would call soft, like I say—they remove the bad people, and they take them away. They put them somewhere they can't do any harm. Not a paradise, but not somewhere that feels like a prison, either. And these bad people, they might have to listen sometimes to the nice people telling them how bad they've been, and they never again get the chance to change histories, but they live a comfortable, safe life, and they die peacefully ... thanks to the nice people.

“And though some would say the nice people are too soft, the soft, nice people would say that the crimes committed by the bad peple are usually so terrible there is no known way of making the bad people suffer even a millionth of the agony and despair they have produced, so what is the point in retribution? It would be just another obscenity to cap the tyrant's life with his own death.”
“Yes,” the young man said. “Must be rather awful, thinking you're about to die.”

“Not the most pleasant experience,” agreed the Ethnarch, putting one leg, then another, into his trousers.

“But such a relief, I imagine, when you get the repreive.”

“Hmm.” The Ethnarch gave a small laugh.

“A bit like being rounded up in a village and thinking you're going to be shot...” the young man mused, facing the Ethnarch from the foot of the bed. “...and then being told your fate is nothing worse than resettlement.” He smiled. The Ethnarch hesistated.

“Resettled; by train,” the man said, taking the little black gun out of his pocket. “By a train which contains your family; your street; your village...”

The young man adjusted something on the small black gun. “...And then ends up containing nothing but engine fumes, and lots of dead people.” He smiled, thinly. “What do you think, Ethnarch Kerian? Something like that?”

The Ethnarch stopped moving, staring wide-eyed at the gun.

“The nice people are called the Culture,” the young man explained. “And I always did think they were too soft.” He stretched his arm out, holding the gun. “I stopped working for them some time ago. I'm freelance now.”

I've read several of Banks' novels about the Culture, and they are pretty much my idea of a utopian civilization. And in Weapons, we learn some very dark things about the young man's moral perspective.

But still I find it impossible not to also cheer quietly inside for him, doing what I would not.

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