Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die
--The Charge of the Light Brigade,
Alfred Lord Tennnyson
Son, you are a walking violation
of the laws of nature,
but we don't enforce them laws
any which way
--Any Which Way You Can (1980)
I just wanna say I think killin' is wrong,
no matter who does it,
whether it's me or y'all or your government
--Dead Men Walking (1995)
But Justice held up in a shotgun shack
And she wouldn't let nobdoy in
So a Nation cried
--Justice and Independence '85,
John Cougar Mellencamp
This is prompted by the killing of former Libyan leader Moammer Qadhafi and the general reaction of glee to that event. (An interesting side note to the glee is the removal of all but one Qadhafi political cartoon from the popular site "Cagle's Cartoons", which had featured a menagerie of renderings of the slain leader the day of the news of his death.)
Such a lot of fun for a minute, and then, so quickly after Secretary of State Clinton all smiley and warrior-like declared, We came, we say, he died, the furore seems to have past. Did it hit us that we were celebrating something grotesque, and that the participant celebrants were a variant of human which we would do well not to fraternize with? Are our attention spans merely so shortened that we are now fishing about for the next best thing? Or are we simply enervated by all of the recent murdering?
It's nigh on embarrassing to discuss the sanctity of life, especially in a God-fearing country like America. Yet we kill our fellows with such rapidity that our guns seldom have time to cool.
Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out is Cistercian monk Amalric's 11th century Crusader wisdom, which is alive and well in many's attitude toward those we are fighting in the Middle East. The Lord knows them what's his. It is a great motto for those in the killing business, but hardly the motto for a democratic Christian nation.
The basis of all democratic thought is the sanctity of life and the value of each individual, to include that of murderers, rapists and other bad people, including terrorists, who fall under the rubric criminals. All life is equally valuable. From this tenet flows the rule of law, which we equate to the concept of justice. "Liberty and justice for all" includes terrorists, or more specifically, accused terrorists. (Even women terrorists are equal, if we can take the 19th Amendment enfranchisement of woman as recognition of their inherent equality.)
In the U.S. one is not guilty until the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one committed the crime. (Ranger has an astounding grasp of the obvious.) Moreover, this precept applies to all crimes; there are no exempted categories in the Constitution or Federal Code which derives from that foundational document.
Today's legal ambivalence stems from our growing lackadaisical attitude toward our core beliefs and values. We make so many exceptions to our freedoms that we begin loosening our conception of the sanctity of and rights accorded to life.
As well, the immense slaughter that wartime killings in the 20th century alone have wrought has rendered the crossing of the line between sacred and profane more porous. The recent WTC bombings elicited such shock -- whether due to insulation or hubris -- that many presumed some people were to be denied the conception of equality under law.
Now, the Bill of Rights can be macerated and abridged any way we choose; laws are made to be broken. But how do we reckon that with the moral and religious imperative, "Thou Shalt Not Kill"? What if the alleged perpetrator of a crime has killed? Are his human rights revoked? Repellant as the proposed scenario is, it is a common enough situation that a society must determine the answer.
While states in our Union may vary in their sentencing, all adhere to the presumption of innocence and habeas corpus; that agreement allows us consistency and coherence, necessities in order for a system of jurisprudence to function. The sanctity of life is not Ranger's personal construct but has always been official U.S. policy in both civilian and military environments, whether it be in hostage negotiations or war.
The sanctity of life used to be the tenet of all law enforcement, and was taught in Department of Defense classrooms, as well. Even in warfare this holds, for why else would we not kill Prisoners of War? The U.S. is neither Nazi nor Communist, nor are their fighters Imperial Japanese troopers.
If we apply the Enlightenment principle of the sanctity of life, one must then accept an elevation of our threat level. But it is a choice; either we believe it, or not.