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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/4/18

Crime and Capital Punishment

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Message Harold Novikoff
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With all the smoke and confusion of the Trump administration, the topic of capital punishment, which previously had taken some space in the headlines, seems to have been pushed aside. Senator Diane Feinstein did recently announce her opposition to it. Nevertheless, questions about the basic morality of CP go to the very roots of justice in our society and the world. In our country, there is the question of uniformity of practice among the various states. Nineteen states have abandoned CP. A few states conduct CP with a fury, Texas leading the way.

Who deserves to die? Generals think of infantry as lead soldiers. They value life by the numbers. There is little distinction between military and civilian losses, the latter separated by the phrase "collateral damage". Standards for criminal culpability go out the window when politicians and generals are the instigators of death.

Compare criminal justice and political justice. A political leader can cause thousands of deaths, directly or indirectly, without punishment, covering up the crime with false platitudes of heroism and patriotism. The crime of murdering one person in an act of passion may result in a penalty of death. The standards for individual justice and collective justice are completely different. Political leaders can get away with murder every time.

Politicians place strategic interests above human life. Compare the value of one's life to himself against the value of that life to society. Who is to decide if that life is to be sacrificed? Religious traditions of society grant a sacred soul to every individual starting at (or before) birth. The universally-shared moral code would justify sacrificing that life only in the most extreme circumstances - not at the whim of the politician or general.

The belief in an afterlife, common to most religions, is part of the justification for sacrificing lives in war. The soldier or casualty is not entirely sacrificed. He may have his name inscribed on a monument. He will have a better alternative life in heaven. Thus some religions may indirectly perpetuate war by sanctifying death, while others - not so innocently - encourage the sacrifice of one's own life to uphold its principles by assuring endless bliss in a rapturous afterlife.

The highest responsibility in life rests with those who are charged with the public trust and welfare, whether they realize it or not, whether from government or other positions of power. Crimes against the public trust have the greatest moral weight, The ultimate crime is to provoke wars and genocides that result in mass deaths, and similar crimes that cause great suffering of many people. With consideration for the unique preciousness of human life, I would reserve the death penalty for perpetrators of such crimes.

No court or world government exists that could enforce capital punishment against the culprit rulers. Although we see no progress towards universal peace, that aspiration exists as a possibility for the future. A world justice system, empowered to hold all leaders to account for their actions, could eliminate the source of wars and other curses of mankind. Then, instead of being a pawn to fickle politics, each individual life will have a greater and hypothetically equal value as a human being. Until that time, the world remains in a state of stagnation and decline.

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Veteran, retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member

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