Ink Soup: 170 AND COUNTING
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- In two weeks from today, on May 16, we are going to k= ill Timothy J. McVeigh as a punishment for his having killed 169 people in = the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I say "we," fo= r whether you are opposed to capital punishment, as I am, or for it, it is = we together who are going to take his life, sincethe executioner will be ou= r own federal government.
McVeigh will die by lethal injection at 7 o'clock in the morning. For t= he first time, the execution will be televised by closed circuit, sothat th= ose who wish at least to see, if not to hear and smell the death,will be ab= le to do so.
In a room in the Federal Execution Center in Terre Haute, Ind., hewill b= e strapped down on a table that, because of the two extensions oneither sid= e to hold the arms out straight, has a cruciform shape whichwill cause McVe= igh's body to be splayed in an attitude that must, tosome, be reminiscent o= f a much earlier state execution on a hill inPalestine 2000 years ago.
If= hating the person to be executed makes it easier for you to condone his ki= lling, McVeigh seems made to order. He is one of the least lovable of men.= He seems never to have felt a moment of remorse for having taken the live= s of 169 innocent people. That he shattered the lives of some three times = that number, those who loved and survived the victims, is to him a matter o= f indifference.
He would appear to be that rare person, a complete moral idiot, devoid o= f conscience or guilt. If, however, he had been capable in the first place= of remorse, how could he in the second place have planned andcarried out s= o monstrous an act?
But, if his inability to regret his terrible crime ma= kes him even more detestable to those who will applaud his last agony, thin= k how completely it also robs them of their favorite argument in favor of t= he death penalty: that it deters others from committing similar acts.
Try to imagine the moment of actual deterrence, when McVeigh, loadingthe= explosives into the vehicle with which he plans to carry them to thesite, = pauses and says to himself: "But wait. They execute people whokill even on= e person, and here am I about to blow up a whole buildingfull of people? N= o. Better not."
McVeigh is that worst of enemies -- the one whose own personal deathmean= s as little to him as the deaths of any number of victims. Though wewill k= ill him, he is in no sense really vulnerable.
Against the normal pilots o= f Japanese fighters in the Pacific War, you could always hope to defend you= r ship by making a bombing run tooexpensive -- by using, in other words, th= e pilot's wish to go on living. Against the Kamikaze, however, who sought o= nly to die for his Emperor bybeing blown to pieces along with his plane and= your ship, there was nodefense.
To destroy McVeigh will do nothing at al= l to deter the others like him who, though few, are as incapable as he is o= f remorse or, it goes without saying, of being deterred. Vigilance may det= ect such men, but nothing short of detection will ever deter them.
A 56-page protocol published by the Bureau of Prisons contains advicefor= the sanitary removal from the Execution Facility of unspecifiedfilth. Her= e is a better idea. Instead of pointlessly raising the deathtoll to 170 pe= ople, keep McVeigh for the balance of his unnatural life ina cell never cle= ansed of the moral filth that is his element.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofCompara= tive Literature at Princeton University.