I was watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yesterday for the second or third time, and was impressed with how Harry stops Sirius and his friend from killing Pettigrew, not because he doesn't deserve it, but because he doesn't think his dad would like his two best friends becoming murderers. This resonated, because I had recently clipped a New Yorker blurb about the trial of Massaoui. The author, Hendrik Hertzberg, argued that the jury did right in not giving him the death penalty, not because Massaoui doesn't deserve it, but because "any execution, whatever the crime it is intedned to punish, degrades the society that decrees it and demoralizes the particular governement employees who are assigned to carry it out." He goes on to say "no civil servant deserves to be made to participate in the premeditated killing of a person who, however wicked, is on the day of execution a helpless and frightened human being." I like this reason. He turns the focus not to the accused, but to the executioner. (The New Yorker, May 15, 2006, "Sentenced".)And isn't it interesting that executioners, throughout history, have been hidden and anonymous? The authorities know it's too much of a burden for someone to bear out in the open.
And of course, this is reason not to go to war as well. War turns men and women (and sometimes children) into killers, even if they are state, or authority sanctioned killers. Cindy Sheehan's comments to the atrocities that soldiers have committed in Iraq is that war is driving them to those actions. In the same interview, in YES! magazine, Fall 2006, she talks about matriotism, which is "the love of all human beings, no matter where they live. And a matriot would never send her own children or anybody else's children to kill other people's children and die in needless wars." The point is, a matriot is guided by love and concern for all people, not just her or his own country.