Yesterday, SOF and I went to our favorite little guitar shop.
So we are shopping while these two Oklahoma residents are discussing football. I engage, noting that one of them is wearing an Oklahoma State shirt, and try to keep my vocabulary short and simple. (Just a joke). I mention that OSU pulled out their bowl game. All nice and polite.
Well, our Oklahoma resident decided to talk about Saddam's demise, saying that he had tuned in to see if they had "stretched his neck yet." We just ignored as much as we could and got out of the store as quickly as possible. The simplistic "good v. evil" that Bush and his people have sold us is ultimately hard to sustain. True, Saddam was evil. But it is much harder to find the good in this story. Iraq is a catastrophe, and the future is grim. Saddam's execution will actually lead (and has led) to more violence in the short term. It is hard to imagine that will change anytime soon.
Thinking about it later, there are many things about our music store experience that bothered me. I have no doubt that Saddam was just as bad as people said. I have no doubt that if anyone deserved this ending, he does. But people enjoying this bothers me. It bothers me when trolls and others smugly talk about ending life--about executing "scum" or whatever. There is a bloodthirsty side to the pro-death penalty side that really bothers me--especially when it comes from religious people. I imagine there were many who enjoyed Jesus' crucifixion.
Those two would do the same if the execution was for a convenience store robber as they did for a genocidal tyrant. That doesn't seem right. If we are going to execute people, we shouldn't enjoy it.
One of the problems with this approach is the levels of separation between killing and culpability. Of course, it is very simple to assign guilt to the robber who pulls the trigger--and of course they are guilty. Likewise, deciding that Saddam is a genocidal maniac is quite simple as well. But they aren't the only people who kill. Many, many people make decisions that lead to destruction, but their complicity is less direct. It isn't less destructive, just less simple.
The death penalty, however, is a simplistic response to a complex world. It doesn't deter crime, nor does it provide closure. It simply continues the killing to show that we think killing is wrong. Sigh.