Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The October 10 Japan Times story “Death by hanging not quick: data show” pursues an entirely different direction than the theme of speed of death by hanging that the title implies. Instead of reporting the actual time it takes to die by hanging the story instead appears to describe the average 14 minutes it takes to march the condemned into the death chamber, pinion them, and drop them. The thing that people don’t want to hear about is that breaking the neck by hanging does not, by itself, kill a person. Death comes by strangulation at the end of the rope. When pronouncing death sentences judges tell the convicted that they will be taken to such-and-such a place where they will be “hanged by the neck until dead” precisely because the hanging itself does not kill them. The broken neck certainly rushes it along, but death itself can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. reaking the neck paralyzes the victim making it impossible for them to struggle and therefore easier for witnesses to watch. After all, who wants to watch the condemned wriggle, wet themselves and slowly strangle to death over many tens of minutes?
In addition, the broken neck and paralysis imposes a stillness in the body that misleads people into thinking that the condemned are instantaneously killed, when in fact they are not.
Opinion polls report that the majority of the Japanese public want the death penalty. But no one wants to know the nitty gritty, so we invent fantasies and twist language to fit the fantasies. We want death to be clinical, but I think the reality is that it is always unavoidably messy. Life is messy. Death is messy. Everything we think we know about judicial execution by the state is probably a lie.
Published on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as `Death is uavoidably messy.`
On the same day The Japan Times printed another letter in response to the same October 10thstory titled “What happens in death chambers” by Paul Gaysford of Tokyo. I know Paul Gaysford’s name because we have both written in response to the same news articles before.
But in “What happens in death chambers” Gaysford’s comments seem so close to mine in, “Death is unavoidably messy” that one might take us as two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth. But Gaysford identifies himself as a Death Penalty opponent and in this we differ. We both talk about the gruesome and inhumane details of executions that the public wants to remain ignorant of. But I do not oppose the Death Penalty. I don’t particularly care if execution is cruel. I don’t tolerate rebuttals that the Death Penalty does not prevent heinous crime because I endorse execution as punishment, not prevention. I don’t entertain arguments about the innocence of the wrongly executed because, as a Christian, I do not believe in human innocence. One thing I do advocate is the propriety of society ridding itself of those elements that would destroy it.
I do not actively oppose much in this life. But I do oppose the entertainment of illusions about what we do. In other words, having illusions about some of the things we do is worse than the things themselves. Dispelling illusions is a full time, life time job because life is a drama in which we are all playing parts. Does that make me a Platonist because I advocate a metaphysical world of perfectin that is masked by worldly illusion and shadows?
What happens in death chambers
I was confused by the information provide in the Oct. 10 front-page article “Death by hanging not quick: data show.” Do the times stated refer to the commencement of the execution procedure, i.e., from the condemned cell to the moment of death, or from the moment the noose is tightened around the prisoner’s neck to his/her death?
As an opponent of the death penalty, I want those Japanese who support this barbarous act to be fully cognizant of what it is they actually support. That is, the actual details of an execution. At the moment, the Ministry of Justice provides very little information, save a small insight by allowing the publication of photographs of the death chamber, without the rope. Why no rope?
Well-known cases, such as the infamous botched executions by the U.S. Army’s executioner of high-ranking Nazis in Nuremberg, were a result of the “American method.” Indeed, official reports from witnesses at the time (Donald E. Wilkes Jr., professor of law at the University of Georgia law school and Kingsbury Smith of the Intentional stated (inter alia) “al News Service) stated many were reported to have fallen from the gallows with insufficient fore to snap their necks, resulting in a macabre suffocating death struggle that in some cases lasted many, many minutes.”
If the peace-loving, kind, considerate citizens of Japan really knew what happens in their country’s death chambers, an inefficient cruel and inhumane action carried out by the state on their behalf, would they continue to support it? I hope and pray they would not and that eventually Japan would join the other civilized nations who have either abolished or suspended the death penalty.