I’m generally opposed to the death penalty, for what I think are pretty good reasons. But in my heart, I’m not completely opposed to it. That’s because there are people I really want killed — people like Osama bin Laden.
Ordinary criminals don’t have that effect on me. Oh, If I read about someone who committed a horrible home invasion murder, at some point I’ll probably wish him dead, but that’s just a passing reaction. And when death penalty proponents ask me what I’d want to happen to someone who killed my wife, I have no problem answering that I’d want blood vengeance. But I also have no problem understanding why I’m not the right person to make that decision.
When it comes to tyrants, however, I really want them to die. Osama bin Laden (a minor tyrant, but still a tyrant) got what he deserved. So did Saddam Hussein. And so did Nicolae Ceaușescu, Benito Mussolini, and every other executed tyrant going back to Caligula. That Josef Stalin died in bed at the age of 74 is a damned shame.
I’m not claiming that killing tyrants should be part of U.S. foreign policy. I’m not even claiming that I have a clear reason for making an exception for tyrants in my opposition to the death penalty. The best I can come up with is that the death penalty debate is about the appropriate policy for governments to follow when dealing with evil people, whereas “Death to Tyrants” is about what to do when the governments themselves are evil.
I can’t pretend to have a good defense for this reaction. If serial killers and wife beaters and gangbangers aren’t deterred by the possibility of execution, it’s hard to imagine that the threat of death would deter people who run their own government.
Yet, in my heart, I still say “Death to Tyrants.”