Paul Greenberg
Ever since quisling became a common noun, a synonym for traitor, Norway has produced its share of low scoundrels with high political ambitions. But at least Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nazis' puppet regime in his country, was executed for his various crimes, including murder and treason.

Last week, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in all during his murderous rampage last year, was sentenced to up to 21 years in prison -- not even 21 years for each victim, but for all. In Norway, they must be cheaper by the dozen(s).

The sentence handed down by the Norwegian court last week may be extended if the defendant is still considered dangerous after doing his time. That may be some degree of assurance that he won't menace any more innocents, but it's scarcely enough.

The leniency shown this unrepentant killer ought to make even opponents of capital punishment rethink their position. For his was an attack on the state and therefore on all who are part of it. In his case, capital punishment would have been an act of self-defense on society's part.

As long as someone like Anders Breivik lives and breathes and orates, he is a danger to all. He was already receiving fan mail in prison, corresponding with potential followers, and at work on a sequel to the 1,500-page rant he'd issued before committing his crimes.

Norway, and the world, cannot say it hasn't been given ample warning of his homicidal tendencies, which may now be restrained for 21 years -- if he doesn't make probation in six months, and then . . .

For now, having been duly tried, convicted and sentenced, the killer is off to his three-cell suite in a Norwegian prison -- bedroom, study and exercise room complete with treadmill, not to mention his television set (15 channels). We wouldn't want him to get bored, would we? He also has room service. He just rings a bell when he wants cigarettes.

In short, all the amenities of home except possibly freedom, and Herr Breivik doesn't seem to care much for that anyway, or at least not freedom for others. Or their lives, for that matter.

Given a chance to address the court, Anders Breivik did apologize -- for not killing more: "I would like to apologize to all militant nationalists in Norway and Europe. ... My brothers in the Norwegian and European resistance are sitting out there following this trial, while planning new attacks. They could be responsible for as many as 40,000 being killed."

That kind of talk could be just empty braggadocio, which is why a civilized world once underestimated any danger from a failed Austrian artist and rabble-rouser when he was locked up, for an all-too-brief time, after his part in a failed putsch.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.