Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
On April 15, 2012 both Paul Gaysford (“The hunt for Japan’s civilization”) and Jose Llompart (“Death penalty still lives. Why?”) ask the right, hard questions about Japan’s practice of capital punishment. Why does Japanexecute people when studies confirm that it does not deter heinous crime? Why does Japan execute people contrary to international trends? Why do Justice Ministers smother debate, hide behind the shield of “unavoidability,” and use public opinion surveys to validate preserving the practice?
There are easy answers and hard answers, but not mysterious answers. First, Japanese culture, which is highly sophisticated, ancient and beautiful, is nevertheless morally obtuse. (It’s not the only one.) What a terrible, awful, rude thing for me to say!! But there it is. Second, in a democracy people deserve what they want, even if what they want is wrong, counter-productive or downright stupid. Third, the fact that capital punishment does not deter heinous crime is totally beside the point. Abolitionist arguments that repeatedly rely on or prominently feature that accurate observation - and we can depend on them for that - are off track. Way off. Capital punishment is for punishment. That is why it’s called that. Is punishment contrary to civility? Judicial, proper and fair punishment means the imposition of suffering or loss in proportion to the wrongdoing. In that sense it certainly is revenge-taking, but revenge on a leash. By itself punishment is not barbaric. To take revenge in this way is not “unforgiving”as Gaysford says. Forgiveness does not mean erasure of guilt so much as it means erasure of malice. Guilt remains, and it demands responsibility. Responsibility calls for an accounting which comes in the form of punishment, but without malice. Our ability to bear responsibility makes us human. It makes us citizens. So people ought to be incarcerated or sent to the gallows in the spirit of propriety and fairness - and forgiveness - not in the spirit of malice.