I don't want to be accused here of misepresenting his position, so here's exactly what he wrote in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
It is simply impossible for a normal person to contemplate the bombers' state of mind -- to contemplate their savagery, their relishing death, their glee at the lifelong mutilation of their victims, and their indifference to whether and how many of the corpses would be children -- and believe that a prison sentence, no matter what its length, is "justice."Abolitionists' usual (and by now tiresome) lectures about cost, race, the preferences of Europeans, and all the rest of it, now show up for what they've been all along: The talking points for a moral holiday.
Now, I don't know if the bomber (or bombers, Bill makes it plural, but unless he knows more than I do, that's just an assumption) actually "relish[es] death" or feels "glee at the lifelong mutilation of their victims." I can as readily (more readily, really) imagine that the killer or killers feels nothing but perhaps the satisfaction of a messy, unpleasant, but necessary task done. Not necessary from my point of view or yours or Bill's, but necessary for the actor. Just as the Phelps family thinks it necessary to cheer the deaths of American soldiers because it's God's punishment on us for not hating gays more than we do.
Terrorist's don't necessarily chortle over their acts. Tim McVeigh apparently thought what he did appropriate, necessary, honorable. I don't think I've ever seen any indication that it gave him pleasure to kill kids. But again, maybe Bill knows something about whoever set the bombs off in Boston that I don't.
All of which is beside the point.
Mirriam Seddiq put up a brief post yesterday, reflecting on the carnage while marveling at a moving story of compassion and love. She cries when she reads that story, she says.
I dare you to read this and not feel it.
And she implores us all to remember, to honor, to feel and share the power of love.
One of my favorite lines and moments in Shakespeare comes in Act III of The Winters Tale. Walking along the shore in Bohemia (which in real-world geography is landlocked, but we allow the Bard some license in these things), an old shepherd has come upon a baby which he takes up in his arms and will raise. He shortly meets with a young clown (no, not a circus clown - it's a foolish rustic) who walking along another part of the shore has come upon the body of an old man. The youth reports his finding. The old shepherd responds:I wish I could write like that. I wish I could bludgeon people over the head with nothing more than a dandelion. In the wake of this day, the blood on the streets of Boston, I look at this and am reminded that each of us is capable of so much love.
[T]hou mettest with thingsMy friend Joachim Kübler sent me the link to that post by Bill Otis that started this off. How, he wondered, to respond to Bill. Of course, he knew the answer, which was Mirriam's response, and mine.
dying, I with things newborn.
Mercy trumps justice. Generosity of spirit beats retribution. We do not show condemnation of killing by more killing. Ghandi was right.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.As I wrote in a comment to Mirriam's post,
Along with the horror and chaos and ugliness of the world, there are moments of simple beauty. They don’t make up for the horror and chaos and ugliness. They can’t balance it out because it doesn’t work that way. But they have a force and power of their own.I've represented people who've done unspeakably horrible things. In some absolute sense, I can imagine that some of them might deserve killing. But we shouldn't. Not because of some technocratic explanation about cost and public policy and potential error and the Eighth Amendment or the offensiveness of elevating procedural minefields over fundamental fairness and conscience and testing the fucking DNA. Those are all good reasons not to kill, but they're not the nub, not the heart of it.
The answer to the Michael Dukakis question that Bernard Shaw asked and Dukakis blew and that went a long way toward getting the Shrub's father elected President is that
Of course I'd want to kill the bastard who raped and murdered my wife, who killed my kids. I'd want to rip out his lungs with my bare hands. Slow and painstaking torture. Damn right. At least in the first instance.But that's no way to honor their their memory.
Three people were killed by the bombs in Boston. Three innocent people. Random victims of a vicious act. I don't pretend to know how to value a human life. Actuarial tables and the law's calculations of things like future earning potential and the value of consortium don't really help. We're really talking about he ineffable. But if I don't know how to value those lives, I know that killing in their names doesn't do it.
Here's what I know: Jean Valjean's decency really is worth more than Inspector Javert's righteousness.
And as I keep writing here, mercy and grace aren't about what they deserve but about who we are. So, of course, is the commitment to retribution.