The first hints that I might turn out to be a liberal came when I was no more than a sophomore in high school. I ran with some guys—Grove, Jim, Sam and Chuck ... nerds all—who spent more time arguing with each other about stuff than talking to girls. It was like both our hobby and our hormonal release to argue about stuff. We'd pack into Jim's '55 Chevy and go to the old Meridian Drive-In for a night of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, then end up arguing all the way through back-to-back beach party movies. I remember thinking how nifty Annette looked in those two-piece bathing suits they called bikinis back then, but don't ask me what the hell the movie was about.
There wasn't much to argue about then, not compared to now. We weren't prescient enough to see ahead to the full horror of Vietnam, and Richard Nixon was no more than the sour grape who'd lost to JFK. Abortion wasn't legal and as far as we Meridian boys knew, nobody was thinking about making it legal. None of us had ever met a homosexual that we knew of, Hollywood was still making movies like Pillow Talk and The Shaggy Dog, the Beatles hadn't even shown up on Ed Sullivan's show yet, women's lib and the environmental movement were little more than a gleam in the eyes of distant people, so the Culture War was a long way off.
Really, about the only thing to separate the liberals from the conservatives—at least among those of us in Jim's Chevy—was the death penalty and the civil rights movement. Not a one of us had ever met a black person, not a one of us personally knew what we were talking about, so we were arguing strictly on the basis of what we felt to be true.
Same with the death penalty arguments. I always took the anti-death penalty side. At the time, I didn't know enough about classical morality, spiritual traditions or the statistical realities to base my position on anything other than it didn't seem right to me. I didn't know why, but it just didn't seem right. So to hold up my end of the arguments, I made up any excuse I could think of for why the death penalty was wrong.
In the ensuing years, I never gave up on the anti-death penalty position, and reasons came along that made it easier to support:
We are missing an invaluable opportunity to study and understand the criminal mind if we execute the worst criminals.
Nobody comes to be evil naturally. They are twisted into it by the environment they come from, and the death penalty is unjustified punishment for something beyond their control.
The death penalty is stacked against people of color.
Statistics prove the death penalty does not prevent heinous crimes from happening and never has.
Anyone who murders another must be insane, and it is inhumane to execute the insane.
America is the only free, industrialized nation that still practices this barbarous practice.
No justice system can be perfect, and to execute an innocent person is so offensive and immoral that it is unthinkable to even take the chance.
Still, beyond the litany of rationales against the death penalty that have cropped up over the years, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that most opponents started out thinking something just plain didn't feel right about the state killing people. One could argue that something as fundamental as putting a man to death, or not, should not be based on mere feelings. But then, I'm not convinced anyone's position on anything didn't start out as a mere feeling.
Eventually, though, with so many Dahmers and Bundys and Gacys making news, it became clear even to me that some people truly deserve to be wiped from the Earth for what they've done. It's not that I'm for the death penalty now, no. I'm still against it, yes. Not only do I still believe those reasons listed earlier, but it still feels wrong. And I'm relatively certain that having a government agency kill people with our blessings, our compliance and our tax dollars will never feel right to me.
But when it comes to certain criminals and certain crimes, I can't help but, on occasion, think, "Man, would I love to get my hands on that son-of-a-bitch!" Know what I mean? Take Joseph Duncan ... how many of you have thought about what you would do to him if given the opportunity?
I won't tell you all the details (at this time), but what I see as fitting for Duncan involves fire. Lots of it ... or at least, a long time of it. And with no accompanying anaesthetics, either. A fellow wrote a letter to the Idaho Statesman suggesting Duncan be chained to a wall and pummeled with rotten cabbages by the general public until he's dead. I think my idea is better.
And that's the thing about a beast like Duncan, isn't it? He went way beyond the simple need to eliminate his presence from society. He is in that realm where only the most terrible revenge would either match his crimes or satisfy our passions. Lethal injection? The hell with that! This creep has earned himself something far more horrid a punishment than lying on a gurney with a needle in his vein. This creep should scream as he dies. Do we agree?
In that spirit, I am inviting my readers to send me descriptions of how they would execute Joseph Duncan if it were up to them. Either submit them by mail to BW (the address is on page 3) or leave them in the comment section of the online version of my column. I would ask that you make it explicit and leave nothing to the imagination. When I've received enough to fill a page or even half of a page, I will publish those scenarios in this column—no matter how gruesome or grotesque they are—along with the details of how I, personally, would deal with this devil.
Another thing: I must be able to print your real names along with your ideas on how to kill him. If you aren't willing to have your identity known, don't bother to submit an execution plan. If you have no shame in the methods you would use to end Duncan's miserable life, you should have no shame in people knowing it was you who thought those methods up.
Lastly, you should tell me (and my readers) if you would be willing to carry out your particular execution with your own hands. Whether your tools be white-hot pokers or baseball bats, vises or chainsaws, skinning scalpels or ravenous rats, a hangman's noose, an electric chair, or even a simple needle in the vein—would you do it yourself? Would you want your children to know you could do such a thing? Would you be proud to say you have done such a thing?
And if not, how can you expect someone else to do it for you?