Jun 11, 2001
With the execution of Timothy McVeigh at the federal prison at Terre Haute, Indiana, at least 706 human beings have been put to death by the state since the Supreme Court re-instituted the death penalty in 1976.
Some of them, like McVeigh, committed particularly heinous crimes. Many more killed someone in the passion of the moment. And at least several dozen were not guilty of the crime for which they were executed, or even of any crime at all.
But all 706 of them were put to death in the name of retribution and vengeance.
Look at the hue and cry which have been whipped up for the execution of McVeigh. The media hang on every moment of the affair, giving us a complete picture of this man's last waking hours and a minute-by-minute account of his death. He might as well have been brought down into the town square and had his head chopped off in front of the assembled population. We are asked to join in the bloodthirst for vengeance like a pack of ghouls.
In fact, the execution of Timothy McVeigh is being used to drum up support for the death penalty.
Society has to protect itself against violent crime. It is intolerable that one person would kill another person, whether as McVeigh did to make a political point, or in pursuit of a few dollars, or simply in a drunken rage. This is behavior appropriate to a barbaric past.
But it is not by coldly murdering a murderer that we can get rid of barbarism. The death penalty, far from discouraging violent crime, simply reinforces criminality and violence. An execution is simply one more crime, one more murder –and all the more horrible because it is legal and coldly premeditated.
Crime is a social problem. In this capitalist society in which we live, the relations between individuals are not free and equal. We are hemmed in by laws which defend capitalist property, which give to the wealthy the right to exploit the labor of the rest of the population and, in so doing, impoverish an important part of the population. This is what breeds crime and violence. To get rid of violent crime, we have to fight against capitalist exploitation which breeds it.
And the leaders of this capitalist society have never opposed the right of the capitalists to exploit the rest of society. It is why they have no answer to the problem of crime.
The leaders of this capitalist society themselves have more blood on their hands than McVeigh or any other criminal could begin to imagine. They use violence to impose exploitation at home. They carry out massacres of other people in wars to impose their domination –as they did in Iraq.
Where did McVeigh learn this term he used to describe the children he killed –"collateral damage"? In the Gulf War where he served, a war which has already led to the deaths of more than a million civilians. "Collateral damage" – this is what the U.S. armed forces call the Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. bombs.
The leaders of this capitalist society today impose the death penalty on people in our name, just as they killed, and continue to kill, Iraqi civilians in our name.
We have no reason to accept their bloodthirsty view of the world, whether in Iraq, Terra Haute or anywhere else in the world.