November 21, 2004

Private Tandey's Regrets

Michael Ledeen presents an important morality tale.

On September 28, 1918, Tandey participated in an attack against enemy trenches near the small French town of Marcoing. The British carried the day, and as they advanced, Tandey Cautiously peered into a trench. He saw an enemy soldier, a corporal, lying bleeding on the ground. It would have been easy for Tandey to finish off his enemy, as he had killed many that day; Tandey had played an heroic role in the battle and later was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest wartime decoration, for his great courage. But he felt it was wrong to shoot an injured man, and he spared the corporal's life.

In 1940, during the Nazi bombardment of Coventry, when Tandey worked as a security guard at the Triumph automobile factory, he gnashed his teeth. "Had I known what that corporal was going to become! God knows how sad I am that I spared him." The corporal was Adolf Hitler. Tandey's human gesture had led to the deaths of millions of people and, in a bitter irony of military destiny, had placed his own life at the mercy of the monster whose life he could have taken.

While Tandey gnashed his teeth, was he wrong to spare Hitler? If he was wrong, what moral responsibility does that place on those of us who oppose capital punishment for killers who end up killing again?

Hitler is, of course, an extreme case but his case is by no means unique. The killer who kills again in prison, who escapes and kills again, or who is released and repeats his crime, all of these are circumstances that confront us in reality, not only theory. Unfortunately, the anti-capital punishment side often does not seem to take responsibility for the consequences of their mercy.

The future is unclear, however. How many lives are spared and who reform themselves, contributing instead of further taking from us all? It's a difficult question which is why capital punishment is, rightly, not condemned by Catholics in the same terms that abortion is. Guilt, innocence, and the consequences of choosing humble even the most decisive of theologians and moral judges from making entirely hard and fast rules.

Posted by TMLutas at November 21, 2004 09:22 AM