Capital Punishment Essay Part IV - History
The lesson for modern times of the historical example of the effect of the death penalty.
He was sentenced to be crucified by the Roman Power – Pontius Pilate its emissary and representative in Palestine. The actual procedure including the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the casting of lots for his garments, the carrying of the Cross by Christ and his final death on the Cross after being nailed to the Cross were all carried out by the Roman Soldiers under their officer’s orders – the Centurion. Pilate even put the epitaph on the Cross of Jesus and he gave permission for the dead body of Jesus to be taken down from the Cross. What does this account teach us? The power of Caesar and the humility of Christ. Yes. You cannot be charitable when dying on the Cross yet Christ said “Forgive them Father” they know not what they do.” Did he forgive the crowd and those baying for his life? Yes . His real meaning was not to exonerate the Romans but to forgive the crucial actors namely the Roman Apparatus themselves for putting Him to death as they did not realise His truly human and truly divine nature. Indeed He had only come to appreciate this dual nature when nailed to the Cross on the verge of death as this truthful message demonstrates. Yet the full dogma was not spoken – or at any rate not recorded.
Christ did not speak in riddles but as with all great orators and speakers his words could have more than one reasonable interpretation. For the modern age the political message of Christ’s Crucifixion as opposed to the theological meaning lies in his verbal submissions to Pilate in Pilate’s chambers. From those submissions flow His acquiescence in the Roman terrestrial de facto authority and His example to us of obedience to those who have power over us in modern society. Even nowadays the buck has to stop somewhere and I argue that should be with the Judges in the Highest Criminal Trial Courts in our jurisdiction in the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of murder in some instances. We need to relearn the verbal interactions between Pilate and Christ and their sequel then and over history and above all else now.
2. THE GREAT WAR
Clearly the death penalty for murder has persisted right up to the modern age in the U.K. It has vanished in Europe with the post WWII 1940’s Convention on Human Rights which has now been accepted by all members of the EU including Britain. The Great War saw the firing squads for desertion (British Army) and mutiny (French Army) after Court Martials for British combatants confirmed by the High Command. (Field Marshall Douglas Haig). The imposition of this penalty by the British Court Martials was designed to reinforce good order and discipline vital to any Army and at a time when the result was in the balance for Haig’s troops. The same went for the French Army mutiny in 1917 when the War may have been lost by French Soldiers in effect disobeying orders and taking the law into their own hands and forming local councils of armed insurrection. General Petain adopted a two pronged approach: some mutineers were shot and mercy was shown to others. He introduced Le Moulin and Congé (the Mill and leave from the Front) to save the day on the Western Front through his conciliatory line. The French front held firm in 1917 at Verdun.
3. WORLD WAR II
In the Second World War the post war Nuremberg trials saw a number of leading Nazis put to death but by no means all. Essentially I believe these perpetrators were put to death for waging aggressive war and belligerence with genocide (the concentration Camps and deportations) and atrocities against civilians in occupied zones. Essentially Keitel and Jodl (very Senior Army Generals) were executed for waging aggressive war on a world wide scale as Hitler’s Chiefs of Staff . Here we had the new phenomenon of exterminating the whole race of European Jews and worldwide denomination by military force. The wartime enemy in Europe had been magnified atrociously and that enemy had taken on grotesque proportions. Justice demanded the restoration of international comity and respect for the sake of the peace and security of Europe. The lives of these warmongers had to be taken at Nuremberg 1945-46. The plan of extermination demanded anyone connected to that policy pay with their life, such was the dreadful inhumanity, torture and genocide motivating that policy and its implementation. The enormous scale of the killings in the gas chambers meant there could be no doubt in the minds of the Judges of the International Courts of Trail at Nuremberg. Nothing like this had been heard of before not even in the Roman decimation measures in their Army and Stalin’s purges and Gulags. Even the Polish Jews could escape through Russia and Central Asia in the 1940’s to the West to fight Nazi Germany in Italy and Northern France. As Churchill said National Socialism was worse than Communism in Russia in the Second World War.
The conclusion I draw is that the penalty of death has a good, effective and proper pedigree. Has the World become a better place? Don’t kid yourself. Murder is going on under your very eyes and yes some people are getting away with murder as they say. You will not read about it in the paper. The impetus for the return of the death sentence comes from our illustrious forebears since the time of Christ. If they were up to it so are we. Let us not be unworthy heirs and successors. The fact is human nature does not change but attitudes do. The death sentence is not an attitude or a policy – it is a judicially imposed punishment for the worst crime of all: Thou shall not kill is the commandment of Moses to the Jews and us Christians. Some people may go soft on the death sentence and murder – God will not. The current status quo in our country on the death sentence is weak willed. It will not last and it breeds trouble like a brood of vipers. Let us take a grip on reality and show ourselves to be in charge not the lobbyists and pamphleteers and activists. History is on the side of justice. It always is and justice is powered forward by history. Let us relearn the message written in our history books. Wrong men must not succeed. If good men do nothing evil will prevail.