Before the war, public execution was a thing of the past in nearly every civilized country.
Now it seems to be returning, at least for political crimes,
and though we ourselves have not actually reintroduced it as yet,
we participate at second hand by watching the news films.
ORWEL SAY NUREMBERG HANGINGS UNCIVILIZED
The newspaper accounts of the Nuremberg hangings were ambiguous.
There was talk of the condemned men taking ten or twenty minutes to die.
AS I PLEASE, by George Orwell
Tribune, November 15, 1946
"...There is one question which at first sight looks both petty and disgusting but which I should like to see answered. It is this: In the innumerable hangings of war criminals which have taken place all over Europe during the past few years, which method has been followed — the old method of strangulation, or the modern, comparatively humane method which is supposed to break the victim's neck at one snap?
A hundred years ago or more, people were hanged by simply hauling them up and letting them kick and struggle until they died, which might take a quarter of an hour or so. Later the drop was introduced, theoretically making death instantaneous, though it does not always work very well.
In recent years, however, there seems to have been a tendency to revert to strangulation. I did not see the news film of the hanging of the German war criminals at Kharkov, but the descriptions in the British press appeared to show that the older method was used. So also with various executions in the Balkan countries.
The newspaper accounts of the Nuremberg hangings were ambiguous. There was talk of a drop, but there was also talk of the condemned men taking ten or twenty minutes to die. Perhaps, by a typically Anglo-Saxon piece of compromise, it was decided to use a drop but to make it too short to be effective.
It is not a good symptom that hanging should still be the accepted form of capital punishment in this country. Hanging is a barbarous, inefficient way of killing anybody, and at least one fact about it — quite widely known, I believe — is so obscene as to be almost unprintable.
Still, until recently we did feel rather uneasy on the subject, and we did have our hangings in private. Indeed, before the war, public execution was a thing of the past in nearly every civilized country. Now it seems to be returning, at least for political crimes, and though we ourselves have not actually reintroduced it as yet, we participate at second hand by watching the news films.
It is queer to look back and think that only a dozen years ago the abolition of the death penalty was one of those things that every enlightened person advocated as a matter of course, like divorce reform or the independence of India. Now, on the other hand, it is a mark of enlightenment not merely to approve of executions but to raise an outcry because there are not more of them.
Therefore it seems to me of some importance to know whether strangulation is now coming to be the normal practice. For if people are being taught to gloat not only over death but over a peculiarly horrible form of torture, it marks another turn on the downward spiral that we have been following ever since 1933....
WAR ATROCITY SPECTACLES and ORWELL'S TRIBUNE WAR WRITINGS
7.Sytems of Thought
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