Saturday, February 13, 2016

Not a Eulogy - a Reminder

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
From Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, by John Donne
When Osama bin Laden was killed, I quoted Kathleen Parker from the Washington Post.
Ten years of waiting and wondering where in the world was Osama bin Laden, the question nagged: Was he even alive? Then, voila. He was hiding in plain sight in a compound in Pakistan. We had been observing him for months. And now he was dead, said the president.
Whereupon the strangest thing happened. People began congregating outside the White House and cheering, celebrating the death of bin Laden. Young people, mostly, chanted “USA” and waved the flag. I wanted very much to share their joy and to feel, ah yes, solidarity in this magnificent moment, but the sentiment escaped me. Curiosity was the most I could summon. How curious that people would cheer another’s death.
Not since Dorothy landed her house on the Wicked Witch of the East have so many munchkins been so happy. My 20-something son explained ever so patiently that OBL was his generation’s Hitler and that of course he was happy. Why wasn’t I?
I don’t know. To me, the execution of bin Laden was more punctuation than poetry — a period at the end of a Faulknerian sentence. That is, too long and rather late-ish. To the 9/11 generation, if we may call it that, OBL wasn’t only the mastermind of a dastardly act; he was evil incarnate and the world wouldn’t be safe until he was eliminated.
Would that justice were so neat and evil so conveniently disposed of.
Perhaps it is a function of age, but I find no solace in revenge. What I do experience at such times is overwhelming sadness about the human condition, our bloodlust and attraction to spectacle.
When Muammar Qaddafi was killed, I wrote again about the cheers.
And there was, again, rejoicing - though in this country nothing on the scale of the cheers that greeted the murder of Osama bin Laden. But in Libya the cheers and the gawkers.
And I added:
How do you measure?
Who do you kill?
Not who do you want to kill. Who do you? And are you better for it?
Are any of us?
Muammar Qaddafi is dead.
I'm sorry. That's not a cause for rejoicing. Not ever.
I've noted several times that  
When Ted Bundy was killed, Time reported that
some 200 bloodthirsty revelers gathered outside the penitentiary in Starke, Fla., for a ghoulish celebration. They lit sparklers, cheered and waved signs reading BURN, BUNDY, BURN and ROAST IN PEACE.
It is said* that when John Kennedy was killed Fidel Castro responded,
Only a fool would rejoice, for systems, not men, are the enemy.
Antonin Scalia died this morning.  Apparently of natural causes.  One imagines in his sleep.  
He was, of course, a polarizing figure with a distinct view of the Constitution and how it ought to be understood and interpreted.  He was a force among the Supreme Court's so-called conservatives, a major player driving the wins in cases reviled by so-called liberals, including probably the two most recent ones: District of Columbia v. Heller in which he wrote the majority opinion and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission  in which he simply joined the majority.  

And he believed, deeply, in the power of the state to kill its citizens, in the power of the state to prohibit its citizens from having abortions, and in the power of the state to prevent same sex couples from doing pretty much anything - most especially getting married.

At the same time, he was the voice on the Court leading the call for juries, not judges, to make the decisions that controlled how long people could be incarcerated for their crimes and whether they should be executed.  And he led a not particularly enthusiastic Court to acknowledge that the Confrontation Clause actually required confrontation.  (Yes, the Court's been backing away from that, but he even when he thought it didn't apply he argued that it should count.)

He was, as I said, a polarizing figure.  And it was clear that he relished the role.  To liberals, he was often viewed as something close to pure evil.  Hell, I've done my share of savaging his jurisprudence. (See here, for instance.)  But he got stuff right, too.

In any event, he's dead now.

As soon as I heard the news, I sent word around to some criminal defense listservs.  A friend wrote back.
Great News.
Of course, it's not.

Whatever one thinks of his jurisprudence, he left behind a widow, children, grandchildren who loved him.  He had friends who will mourn him.

If he were your client, if he were to be executed, you'd fight like hell to save his life.  Because it was his life.

Want a change in the Court?  Hope that Obama will or won't succeed in appointing a replacement? Fear or fantasize about how the court will be different in the coming years?  Sure.

But hey, he was one of us. 

No rejoicing in his passing.

*By Phil Ochs in his notes on the back of one of his albums.  I've never had occasion (and I'm not taking it now) to confirm what Ochs wrote.


  1. Truly a great man. I fear what is to come.

  2. Very nice tribute, Jeff, if I can call it that. You're such a class act.