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Hyperion June 8, 2001

#45 Lights, Camera, Action!

“If we as a society are to kill, we must do so publicly, or admit we have no right to kill at all.”

-Albert Camus

As you may recall, last month I started a 4 part series on Timothy McVeigh. In Part 1, I concluded that McVeigh had foreign help, the details of which will go with him to the grave. In Part 2, I examined McVeigh’s own words and came to the painful conclusion that while there is absolutely no excuse for what his crime, McVeigh is right when he says the United States often acts as he did.

Today I want to examine whether McVeigh’s execution should be public and televised. This is a difficult issue for me, as I can see both sides of this argument. In addition, even talking about televising executions presupposes we should have the Death Penalty, and I am not tackling that issue until Monday. Nevertheless, let us press ahead.

First of all, I understand the argument that televising McVeigh’s execution, or any execution, will be sensationalized by the media, and many feel our society already celebrates violence too much as it is. Second, putting McVeigh on TV will make him more of a martyr and a hero than he already is to those who think McVeigh is a courageous patriot. Both of these arguments are valid, but they must fall by the wayside to the most important points.

Society is a lot like a one-year-old child. At that age, out of sight equals out of mind-which is why Peek-A-Boo is so effective a game for them-because every time you reappear, you are a brand new person. Society is much the same way. If we do not see something, it is not as real to us. The government can kill McVeigh in private, and Peter Jennings can dutifully report it, but it is not the same. Understand what I am saying: we can intellectually know something, but unless we can connect with it emotionally, it does not register with all parts of the brain.

The last reason is paramount. At the outset, I quoted Camus, who said if we kill in secret, we are admitting the wrongness of our actions. Camus was making a plea for the abolition of Capital Punishment, but it works the other way as well. Our government operates with access to the public, as does the court system, with a few exceptions. The beauty of our system is that for all our faults, we hold ourselves up to the light, asking everyone and anyone to look for imperfections. Even if we never achieve perfection, we strive for candor. If we are going to execute criminals, we must do so in public so our actions are in total candor-despite the fact that some will try to misuse it. People can screw up anything-we cannot be held hostage to them. If we have the will to take life as punishment for a crime against society, we must have the will, or the stomach even, to do what we do in the light of day for all to see. Maybe you do not want to see it- I don’t- but we should be able to see our government in action. If not, no matter all the excuses, aren’t we saying that deep down, we are ashamed of what we are doing?

Well, there you have it. My Email is open, so fire away. Monday we will examine the Death Penalty itself, and ask whether a society should uphold the value of life by killing.

Until then,

June 8, 2001


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