Bill Murchison

What about capital punishment? Does it suddenly, after all these centuries, make no sense? The principle, I mean, not every application, as in the burnings-alive of the Reformation era -- none of which we're likely to imitate as a society.

It would have made sense to spare the lives of Goering and Himmler rather than visit on them personally and publicly the consequences of their war crimes? What of Hitler himself, had he survived the war? What of Stalin, could he have been caught by the representatives of a decent Russian regime? What of Saddam Hussein, who was indeed caught and hanged?

Extreme examples? I raise them for purposes of affirming the underlying purpose of capital punishment, which really isn't that of deterring bad behavior; it's that of making a declaration about a particular human act, one so wicked that not to inflict proportionate punishment would be the same as saying, there, there, you've been a bad boy, but that won't stop us from caring for you and feeding and housing you and making sure your plasma TV works right.

Baze, our Kentucky murderer, pleads for exemption from suffering. Why, all he did was kill two men in cold blood. What do we learn from avenging them? the soft-hearted inquire. We learn their human worth, for starters -- their unique place in the created order, as disdained by the man who shot them. We learn of their families' pain and suffering. Lastly, we learn of classic justice -- "to each his own" -- and the urgency of restoring it to a central place in modern affairs.

The renewed, re-quickened attack on the agonies of capital punishment may have its success stories to relate. Whether these stories will speak with equal conviction as to the agonies involved in maintaining the moral order -- we wait to see.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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