Bring back the Guillotine…Why not?

French GuillotineThe Supreme Court listened to a lawsuit yesterday regarding the use of an alternate drug presently used in the cocktail-of-poisons injected into a condemned man’s arm in putting them to death.  The issue before the court was if this particular drug created ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ which is unconstitutional.  The original and effective drug used by the state can no longer be purchased because the  European manufacturers will not sell it for purposes of lethal injection.

We are in a not-so-flattering list of countries executing convicted murderers.  Most, if not all of the civilized world has abolished this practice for its inhumanity, cruelty, and it proclivity to an unfair justice system with biases and mistakes. However, the majority U.S. citizens have looked past those issues and determined that the punishment fits the crime.

Good people from both sides have valid arguments.  I have my thoughts on it, but rather than spouting the pros and cons of either side, I’d rather bring out an issue that has not been part of our public discourse.

It seems to be that we Americans want to “have our cake and eat it too” with regards to the death penalty.  We want their ‘heads chopped off’ for the cruel and vicious crime they perpetrated on another fellow person.  We have this primal reaction that an “eye for an eye” is appropriate, dating back to the bible’s decree of justice.  However, that was not meant in a literal way.  We often feel justified in the concept of ‘just revenge,’ despite all the moral, ethical and inherently unjust reasons why the anti-death penalty crowd thinks otherwise.

Our quintessential American answer to the death penalty is to make it as sanitized as possible.  It almost looks appealing to the condemned.  The prisoner gets a wonderful five course meal consisting of anything they would want (within reason) prior to the execution.  They get a religious figure to pray with them to protect their soul in the afterlife.  Finally, they get to walk into a pleasant looking room with a padded bed (straps notwithstanding) and an IV bag hanging from a metal stand.

The people gather around a glass window to watch the proceedings.  It is all calm and relaxed.  It is so non-jarring that they turn to their iPhones to catch up on some Facebook postings, not noticing anything out of the norm.  The condemned person now gets a very relaxing anesthetic of sodium thiopental, which puts them into a dreamy state of mind, and eventually puts them into a sound sleep.

How lovely!  Where can I sign up for this?  I have been having trouble sleeping lately and would just relish all the medical care involved in a hastened sleep.

The condemned person is now sound asleep, drifting into a pleasant dream.  However, not soon after, the death drug will be administered.

Oh!  This must be the revenge we were waiting for!  The condemned person will squirm and plead for their life as they wake up and pull from the straps tied around their arms and legs.  Finally, this “piece of human trash” is getting what they deserve. All the brave witnesses get to watch this spectacle.

Wait!  I got the last part all wrong.  Nothing else happens after the condemned person goes to sleep.  The transition from sleep to death is as feeble as two snails racing on a tree root.  The excitement and satisfaction is akin to sitting in a school’s principal’s office, waiting to hear about their punishment of spending extra time in boring school room for bad behavior.  Oh the pain!

So this brings me to my broader point.  To truly have the death penalty, one must get to experience it in the way they seem they want it.  If there was a ballot they could fill out with a menu of death penalty options, and if it was their loved one who were the victims, what would they choose?

Hanging is a time honored tradition.  It seems to work well and definitely gives the satisfaction we Americans want – the struggle for the condemned person to catch a breath just like the victim might have experienced.  Sometimes the head snaps back, some times it don’t.  It kinda sounds like the this familiar commercial jingle.  Maybe it should be played during the execution for fun and frolic:

We also have ‘quartered and boiled’ the criminal by the civilized folks in early England.  That method was brutally harsh, and I am surprised that the ancestors of such a classy and sublime people such as the British would resort to such barbarism.  It’s one thing to see it on Showtime’s The Tutors, it’s another to still use this method.  Thank god this was stopped hundreds of years ago by the Queen.  I say, “God save the Queen!” Perhaps it’s discontinuance was because there was such a mess with blood getting into the cobblestone grout? Remember, Clorox was not incorporated back in the 1500’s, so the British lacked bleach to clean the blood.  I think we can all agree that this form of execution would even horrify United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia!

In the early 1900’s we started getting more creative with advancements in science.  We conceived of the gas chamber.  A person would sit in a sealed chamber and the executioner would release a toxic gas for them to choke on.  Now that must give pleasure to society in favor of the death penalty.  Having them cough, choke, and vomit all at the same time does wonders to one’s emotional satisfaction for vengeance.

With the advent of electricity, it would have been a shame to use it simply for the telephone, radio, television, cars and lighting.  There is more desired and sinister usage that the brainchildren of capital punishment were brewing in their judicious minds. Let’s put thousands of volts of electrical current through their skull and see them fry in front of our eyes.  If lucky, they will start to ignite a flame on themselves and the witnesses can toast marshmallows as a bonus.  Call it a two for one…extreme pain coupled with a bygone delicacy pleasure for the fans.  Maybe that is where S&M had its roots?

The firing squad was a more civil and direct method of execution.  The death would almost happen immediately, unless the executioners had too much bourbon an hour before the big event.  No guarantees, but heck, who cares?  This ‘unworthy sperm’ that grew up to be a person does not deserve the benefit of a slight miss to the carotid artery.  It’s sought of like playing Blackjack in Vegas and hitting on 12.  The odds are that you won’t go over, but if you do, that’s just the breaks.

So here we are you capital punishment embracers.  I just got the perfect solution for you!  What if I can tell you that you can get all the satisfaction of an execution, the visceral feelings of justice bestowed on the perpetrator, the immediacy of the death, the visual imagery of the gory punishment and all passing constitutional muster?  Well, do I have a device for you! Bring back the Guillotine!

French Guillotine in town square

French Guillotine in town square

That’s right!  If you act now, executions can continue unabated by the legal entanglements due to the scarcity of death drugs.  In fact, I hear the French will throw in the bucket for the head to the first callers.  Now that is a deal that is hard to pass up!  It also comes with a money back guarantee.  If for any reason whatsoever the head does not come off instantaneously, or causes undue pain, they will replace it free of charge with an even sharper blade.  However, because they use a Ginsu Blade, it is likely to last a lifetime; all the while passing constitutional hurdles to execute without inducing cruel and unusual punishment.  It sounds to good to be true!

And we thought we had no further use of the French.  Think again!  Not only did they support us in the Revolutionary War, but they were way ahead of their time in developing the perfect execution device.  Look at the carnival atmosphere at their public executions.  The trio of joy, excitement, and terror made for a great Sunday afternoon activity after Church services.

If Americans want the death penalty so badly, then they should want it done the correct way.  We need to witness the horrors of death, not hide behind the shroud of a curtain and a gurney as if we were putting our dogs to sleep.  Let’s face it, the pro death penalty people ‘claim’ they want the visual of a true death. We want to let the condemned be frightened at the spectacle of the execution, not the familiar look of going to sleep.  What kind of closure does that give anyone?   We should not want anything less.  Lethal injections do not quite cut it (no pun intended).

So lets brings back the guillotine.  It is time proven, gives us the satisfaction we presume we want, and does not cause cruel and unusual pain.

It’s perfect! Or is it?

After a number of these executions, let’s see how many Americans still favor the death penalty.  Stop hiding behind phony methods that shield us from the brutality of vengeance.  See it and experience it for yourself.

After a couple of months, my bet is that we won’t favor it as much anymore.  It might take our non-lying eyes to understand it.

Categories: Justice

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2 replies »

  1. I found this very entertaining and thought provoking. I noticed that You did use a cliche. It is easy to be passionate in ones thinking when one has not been the victim of an injustice. While I agree that revenge may be sweet for the moment, it is only momentary. Forgiveness is the true path. And yes that is extremely difficult but cleansing. Thank you, Scott. I enjoy reading your commentaries


    • Thank you Marsha for your kind words.

      I agree with your analysis of the cathartic nature of the death penalty. Does it really create closure? Is this something a higher and morally superior society should be doing? Is death more punishment than be locked up in a a tiny prison cell for 23 hours a day for life to reflect on the crime one committed?

      Finally, it is indeed factual that the cost of carrying out the death penalty is much more expensive than to keep someone in prison for life. I think when Americans really reflect on these points, the death penalty may fall out of favor.

      In theory, the victim would want the death penalty laws changed so it can be carried out upon sentencing. Since that is not how our constitution works, (appeals, pardons, etc), the length of time never gives the family their true justice they “claim” they want, thus having the worst outcome of all. At least when someone is sentenced to life, there is no more waiting for justice to be carried out. The victim’s family actually can move on quicker.


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