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Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2002 / 15 Kislev 5763

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Americans for Death. Yours. |
What is it that makes murder so damned attractive to the most conscientious among us? There's a church in my neighborhood which proclaims that it rings its bells every time someone is executed. The pastor never rings the bells when someone is murdered - which happened last year over 242 times for every execution. And every last one of those 15,980 people who died at the hands of murderers last year was innocent! The bells never peal when a boy who is afraid of doing jail time for robbery calculates the odds - and coolly executes his victims as the lesser of two evils, as seemed to have happened in two multiple murders in New York City recently.

The pastor of this church regards himself as a good person - as do Bob Balaban, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh, Mia Farrow, Debra Winger, John Turturro, and Marlo Thomas, who are supporting the elimination of the death penalty. But these good people are members of what should be called Americans for Death. They hope that thousands of Americans will die preventable - and horrible - deaths, in order that their own consciences might be buff and toned. .

But they are only some of those who want more Americans to be killed. Their particular target is the death penalty, which, since its reinstatement, has saved the lives of thousands of Americans, most of them from the weakest and most defenseless sections of our society - women, children, and the poorest of the poor - and through its obvious and now measurable deterrent effect, spared thousands of others from becoming murderers. The sheer quantity of good that is done when someone stops himself from killing another is incalculable. So our friends in Americans for Death don't bother to do the math.

There are so many now in love with easeful death - as long as it is yours and mine, or those of thousands of Iraqis, other Arabs and Muslims, and Israelis - and not theirs. As members of AFD one ought to enroll those two relics of pre-Beatles America, Norman Mailer and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. They are in favor of the deaths of Americans from terrorism - indeed, they believe that we in this country have a duty to suffer a certain level of terrorism - lest we become a country that is not worthy of the consciences of messrs. Mailer and Schlesinger. Mailer and Schlesinger would accept, in fact, the deaths of many people - because if we were to take action to fight terrorists, we might raise the frequency with which people are said to sneer at us in Europe. As Mailer argued in London's Sunday Times, "Let's suppose ten people are killed by a small bomb . . . . The first thing to understand is that there are 280 million Americans. So, there's one chance in 28 million you're going to be one of those people. By such heartless means of calculation, the 3,000 deaths in the Twin Towers came approximately to one mortality for every 90,000 Americans. Your chances of dying if you drive a car are one in 7,000 each year. . I fear I am ready to say there is a tolerable level to terror..."

In the same vein, Schlesinger said "we Americans can learn to live with minor terrorism, as the people of Britain, Spain, India, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Sri Lanka and most of the world have already learned to do. By doing so, we will ensure that Sept. 11 will not lead to a Third World War and will not change our world forever."

Mailer criticized our country's citizens for our indisposition to die. We are, he told the Sunday Times, "so big, so powerful and so vain" - and now, he thinks, "every American has to ask himself, 'Am I ready to die for my ideas?" Well, we hope we shouldn't have to die for our ideals - or simply because we are Jews, Christians or freethinkers instead of Muslims - but it suits Mailer that we - you and I and our children - should be ready to die for his.

I wish Mailer or Schlesinger would care to choose which of us - or rather, which of our children - ought to die, in order to ensure what the British Home Secretary for Northern Ireland Reginald Maudling once called "an acceptable level of terrorism."

Then there are others, Americans for Death - but they are in favor of the deaths of Iraqis and those who are being murdered under the current Iraqi regime. Saddam has killed Iraqis and its subject peoples by the thousands and scores of thousands - a whole society of the cleverest and best-educated people in the middle east, who are under the sway of a dictator just as cruel and murderous as Hitler and Stalin - certainly more murderous than Hitler had been at the point that he declared war on the United States. Saddam has plans to destroy every nation within his reach if he is not destroyed - certainly beginning with Turkey and Israel. And in the face of the ongoing death of thousands, and the certain death of hundreds to thousands, there is the testimony of - Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

These folks wish nothing more then to permit mildly dissenting Iraqis, Shi'ites, Kurds, anyone who mutters a word against Saddam's rule, anyone - certainly - who would dare to cast a ballot against them - ought to be murdered and their children placed in prisons so horrible that even Scott Ritter doesn't dare describe them to us - though he could. This is the burden of their consciences - a heavy one, not for Streisand, Robbins and Sarandon, but for the people who must live under Saddam's rule and soon, under the range of his missiles.

Barbra Streisand has given generously to holocaust museums and other such institutions. But honestly - I can't see why she has. If Saddam ought to be spared - to honor Streisand's curious scruples - what really did Hitler do wrong? First he brutalized and then killed thousands, then millions of political opponents. By what possible set of principles can Ms. Streisand condemn poor Hitler and at the same time agitate to keep Saddam in power? By what standard was it right that the Jews should be rescued then - and not the Iraqis now?

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman