Humans have imposed the death penalty for unwanted behavior for at least as long as human history has been recorded. It is a primitive and barbaric act that does not accomplish its intended purpose.
The ancient Romans kept their armies in the field conquering and exploiting all the territory and people they could reach. On one occasion when most of the armies were away, there was a slave revolt led by gladiators. The slave army swelled to substantial size, and they fought their way to freedom. But then they succumbed to human frailty. They overestimated their capability and decided that ruling Rome would be more fun than being free; they returned. They made the additional mistake of dividing their slave army.
Two of the Roman field armies rushed home to deal with the rebellious slaves. One commander, Crassus, captured a segment of the escaped slaves. Another commander, Pompey, overcame another segment of five thousand and killed every slave. That gave Pompey a lot of glory. Military success was a prerequisite for high political office in Rome. Crassus, not to be outdone, executed his captives. He crucified them along the Appian Way, the main road leading into Rome. He erected a cross with a slave attached every 120 feet for a distance of 100 miles! Crucifixion is a slow and excruciatingly painful death. It is execution by torture.
Consider Jesus of Nazareth. The government crucified him because his behavior displeased the government. They could have dispatched him quickly with a sword, but they chose crucifixion. Crucifixion sent a political message. But the government-ordered execution by crucifixion did not accomplish its purpose. Jesus’ followers continued their efforts; their message spread and is still vibrant two thousand years later.
Or, consider the Holocaust. Whatever the purpose, those executions failed. The Jewish people survive and thrive, and we have all gained awareness of the frequent discrimination Jewish people suffered in many places for many centuries.
Modern science has provided proof, e.g., DNA evidence, that a considerable number of people who had been sentenced to death in the United States were actually innocent. A truly civilized society would not run the risk of executing an innocent person.
Imposition of the death penalty does not prevent murder. It does not restore the victim. It does not alleviate the sorrow of the victim’s relatives and friends. Revenge? We love it, but it is not worthy of a great nation.
There are about 12,000 murders each year in the United States. It would surely be wise to attempt to reduce that number. Twenty-three European nations and England, Canada, Australia, and Israel have considerably lower murder rates than the United States. Low murder rates are achievable. Americans are high achievers. We can do it.
Jack Stevenson is now retired. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).