Death of a Monster

Beowulf was in the monster-slaying business so a comment or two about the execution of Saddam Hussein is appropriate here. No doubt, Saddam Hussein was a monster but not a monster on the loose like Gendel or Grendel’s mother or the dragon. Saddam Hussein had been rendered impotent, so what is gained by his execution?

I’ve been listening to the radio off and on today and watching the evening news. The execution has been presented as a matter of interest but I have heard no suggestion that anyone questions it. Go on line, however, and you find that the rest of the world does, indeed, have another perspective. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Vatican, and a wide array of European officials all have weighed in with negative comments:

“ … the death penalty effectively says there is no room for change and repentance.” said Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury,

Saddam’s execution punishes “a crime with another crime. … The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the state,” said Cardinal Renato Martino speaking for the pope.

“I don’t believe that Saddam’s execution would remotely help bring peace to the country. … Even politically I think it would carry … more negative consequences than positive ones,” said Italian Premier Romano Prodi.

“Every dictator must answer for his actions, every dictator. This does not always happen in history. … (But) I will never defend the death penalty, not even for the worst politician,” said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

I found only one comment by an American: “It will not increase our moral authority in the world. … Saddam’s heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it. … Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth will make us blind and disfigured. … Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Right. Not only do we raise no moral issue, we are to some degree implicated in his crimes.

But be that as it may, how can we hope to bring peace to a violent country by means of violence?

I am a member of a church whose history includes a king and a bishop who were executed by government warrant, a government that thought it could establish peace by the death of its opponents. Their victory was brief. King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud died with dignity and with forgiveness on their lips. Their deaths stand as a vivid reminder of the fact that however convinced we may be of the righteousness of our cause, we lose whatever moral authority we might claim when we arrogate to ourselves the right to take human life.

All human beings are made in the image of God and all human life is sacred. “Every man’s death diminishes me,” said John Donne. We are all diminished even by this death.

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