Friday 13 May 2011

Finding the difference

In the televised debate of the 1988 US presidential campaign, candidate Michael Dukakis was asked whether in the event of the rape and murder of his wife, he’d favour the death penalty for the killer. Dukakis replied “No”, pointing out he’d always been against the death penalty and explaining the reasons why. Some analysts believed this answer a contributing factor towards him losing the election that year; others considered the question itself unfair.

Guardian angel
Two weeks ago, Osama bin Laden, after years on the run - or more accurately years hiding next to a Pakistani military base - was finally tracked down and killed in a US operation. Despite my best efforts, I am unmoved by the summary justice (call it revenge if you will) meted out for his crime. The moral twist is the possibility that information leading to his whereabouts may in part have been obtained through the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

I find this “torture is immoral and anyway it doesn’t work” argument, unsettling; for the simple reason that I imagine it can work. Likewise, the question to the former Governor of Massachusetts was valid, as was his answer, though something was missing; if a member of my family were murdered I’d want to kill the bastard. Yet both these acts - torture or state execution - are wrong. I don’t think there anything amiss in acknowledging this contradiction; it reminds us we are but a few steps from barbarism. Our response is the measure of any compassionate society.


  1. I thought a lot about this when you posted that link on Facebook, and I couldn't quite put into words how I felt.
    You have done it for me.
    I totally abhor the use of violence and torture, and yet... if someone I love was hurt or kidnapped, and someone could tell me who did it, or where the loved one was, I'd pull the bastards nails out myself!! xx