Time and Chance …

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.—Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version

Death for Some

Anders Behring Breivik

Now that Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik has been ruled sane and sentenced to twenty-one years in prison, I keep thinking about the death penalty. Norway, like most of Europe, has no death penalty. In fact, Breivik will spend as little as ten years in a fairly luxurious prison.

Call me bloodthirsty, but I think Breivik should have been hauled out of the courtroom and executed at once without the possibility of appeal. In a Europe that is reeling into recession, a long prison sentence in a facility with a private gym, laundry service, flat-screen TV, and access to computers and the Internet. Sounds to me as if killing Norwegians is an excellent career choice. And, when Breivik will be freed at some point between the ages of 43 and 54, he can do it all over again—probably with even more conviction.

The idea of rehabilitation, I fear, is a mere ignis fatuus, mere swamp gas. A cold-blooded murderer is not likely to come out of stir smelling as sweet as a petunia. (Certain young offenders who are in for minor crimes, on the other hand, can benefit a small percentage of the time.)

In the United States, much is made of the high cost of execution compared to a lifetime prison sentence. That’s because we allow them to clog our legal system filing endless appeals: We even encourage them to do it. People like Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City) and James Holmes (Aurora) are definitely guilty of the crimes with which they have been charged. I believe that it is irrelevant whether they are sane or insane. When there is no question of identifying the guilty party of a particularly heinous crime, the result should be summary execution within twenty-four hours without the possibility of appeal.

Most people on death row in the United States, on the other hand, probably shouldn’t be there. Mostly, these consist of poor black or Hispanic males who impulsively murdered someone. Or, more likely, they committed the unpardonable felony of “messing with Texas.” (Over 1,235 men and women have been executed in the Lone Star State, which prides itself on this statistic.)

I hold with former Minnesota Governor Jesse L. Ventura, who wrote in Ain’t Got Time to Bleed:

How come life in prison doesn’t mean life? Until it does, we’re not ready to do away with the death penalty. Stop thinking in terms of “punishment” for a minute and think in terms of safeguarding innocent people from incorrigible murderers.

If I were a Norwegian, I think the only advantage of a prison sentence for Breivik is that it allows me some time to file papers for emigrating to a “less civilized” country.