The reason for death penalty is justiceA. Robert Kaufman's...

The Forum

May 11, 1995

The reason for death penalty is justice

A. Robert Kaufman's letter regarding capital punishment (May 3) misses the point.

He poses a false dilemma by suggesting that capital punishment is practiced either as a deterrent to crime or as an expression of personal vengeance.

Mr. Kaufman ignores a third option, which is that capital punishment is an expression of justice.

Such an oversight is not surprising. In our relativistic age, the concept that justice is an eternal verity has not fared well.

We are skeptical of absolute standards above us all, and so we re-define such things as expressions of personal or corporate opinion.

One can hardly be blamed for confusing justice with personal vengeance in this age of the opinion poll.

Still, the ideas must be distinguished. I agree that capital punishment should not be practiced as a means to personal vengeance. That would reduce the punishment of the Oklahoma terrorist(s) to the level as the act of terror itself.

Deep within our cultural memories echo the words, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We at least vaguely recognize that the court of human opinion is not supreme and does not have the inherent authority to deprive others of their lives.

But let us not be too sparing in our biblical allusions. After stating the above, St. Paul explains that human governments are ordained by God to maintain justice. To this end, the ruler "beareth not the sword in vain."

Here we find the age-old idea of justice as an absolute standard which governments are bound to uphold and enforce even to the extent of executing capital offenders.

Does this mean that the death of a single terrorist, for instance, is somehow equal to the deaths of hundreds of victims? No.

The wisdom of an earlier age saw the necessity of such a proximate expression of justice, all the while recognizing the ultimate justice would be enforced only beyond the grave.

But the certainty of the latter did not negate the importance of the former in a well-ordered society.

In short, capital crimes are deserving of capital punishment because it is right that it be so.

Any deterrent effect is a byproduct and not a reason for such action.

A nation which abandons this high view of justice compromises the very notion of absolute right and wrong. It does so at its own peril.

Steven C. Wright


Museums moving

The Evening Sun April 26 included a column titled "Reflections on the Holocaust Museum." The author, Donald Elliott, said, "No one, I think, can fail to be moved by the great number of exhibits that remind us of a depth of human degradation that is a fact of history. It is real, it is poignant and it is anguishing."

Mr. Elliott, however, then leads us into a blind alley, saying that St. Augustine held that evil doesn't exist, that all that exists is merely different degrees of good.

He then urges us not to fight evil as an existing entity. Rather one should concentrate on the good and on the doing of good. According to Mr. Elliott, "There is nothing in the Holocaust Museum that even remotely suggests that idea."

Having toured the Holocaust Museum, I must take issue with Mr. Elliott. Evidently, he did not see the extensive section of the museum devoted to a detailed account of the many non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jewish people.

That human goodness escaped Mr. Elliott. He may have bypassed that portion of the museum that focused on the Nuremberg Trials, whereby a horrified world attempted to bring to justice the Nazi leaders responsible for the Holocaust. That human good is clearly documented for all to see.

Any perspective observer could not but note the museum's painstaking attempt to reconstruct carefully the detailed attempt of Nazi Germany to condition its population and world opinion to look upon Jews as Untermenschen -- subhumans.

With Jews so classified in the public mind, Germany could then take the next step, referred to as the "final solution."

What moved me most deeply was entering a long rectangular room whose walls were filled from floor to ceiling with photos of ordinary Jews at weddings, relaxing with their families or simply enjoying life. It is an overwhelming shock to realize that those thousands of Jews were exterminated.

Could Elliott admit that evil destroyed good? In his view, would Elliott justify the museum's existence, if only to record what happened to good people whose only crime was that they were Jewish?

The question often raised is how could the German culture of Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe be so completely subverted by the Nazi leaders. The question is not even noted by the author.

The "good" sought in vain by Mr. Elliott is possibly in the realization that what happened in Germany must not be duplicated here in the land of the free and home of the brave.

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