Reader Mail

Death penalty pros and cons

Tokyo

Regarding the July 31 Kyodo article: “Sugiura: End death penalty in name of democracy“: Former Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura’s comment that abolishing the death penalty in Japan would represent a step toward becoming a “mature democratic nation” is an unusual take for a Japanese on this difficult topic.

So, reading it was a welcome deviation from the usual dull and obtuse government excuses of how the death penalty “can’t be helped” or that it enjoys majority support in Japanese public opinion polls that are regularly paraded before us. Sugiura’s comments introduce an exciting avenue of speculation and debate.

I am not a death penalty opponent. I know that capital punishment has nothing at all to do with deterrence of heinous crime, but I am sensitive to the barbarity of judicial killing. I am even more sensitive to a potentially greater barbarity that threatens to replace judicial execution. That is, the horror of handing down life sentences with no chance of parole. Imagine: To the convict, judicial execution might be preferable to such a fate.

On the one hand, we might call it pure and immoral selfishness on our part to end capital punishment so that we can feel better about ourselves and boast of the enhanced humanity of our society. It allows us more easily to ignore other barbarities carried out by the state — of which the public is culpable as an accomplice — on our behalf. On the other hand, we might call it gratuitously sadistic on our part to sentence criminals to an inhumane lifetime of supervised incarceration.

On the other hand, we might call such gratuitous sadism not ill deserved by the convicted and simultaneously an acceptable substitute to slake the anger and fear of the public.

On the other hand we might call it immorally irresponsible of us not to remove from the gene pool those elements that threaten civilization. On the other hand … wait, there are too many hands!

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

grant piper