What Osama bin Laden, Troy Davis, and You Have in Common

So, the United States invaded Mexico, lied about it, killed, raped, pillaged, and stole half the country for the cause of expanding slavery in our growing continental empire. Then a devastated rump Mexico was invaded by the French who wanted their debts repaid, but the Mexicans won a big battle against the French on the Fifth of May, leading Americans to buy several tons of tacos and thousands of gallons of beer every Cinco de Mayo. Viva international solidarity in the land of Might-Makes-Right!

Secularists and Congressman Pete Stark have declared May 5th the Day of Reason, but how many people know that, how many television stations will stand for it, and how many Americans are even pretending to be reasonable?

I’ve been reflecting during this Cinco de Mayo on exactly how pervasive in my country is the idea that violence can solve all problems. I just watched a powerful documentary called American Holocaust about the war on Vietnam. Great footage and great narration by Martin Sheen. The mission of the U.S. military in Vietnam was to kill as many people as possible, and the currency became sliced-off ears. Bring back the ears and get your pay from the U.S. government. That’s how it worked. Watch an officer admit to it in this film. Nowadays we minimize death-counts instead of celebrating them, but in Afghanistan fingers seem to have become the most common trophy among those continuing the national tradition.

Almost every movie playing at any theater near me right now is heavily violent. And the front page story in the local newspaper is a nearby triple homicide. A Swedish movie that was recently a big hit here and around the United States called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” involved a scene remarkably similar to a sick and sadistic crime reported today from Oklahoma. And then there’s Troy Davis.

Here’s a good summary of the case of Troy Davis, an almost certainly innocent black man likely to be killed soon by the state of Georgia. Most of the world has abolished the death penalty, including Canada, Mexico, all of Central America, half of South America, all of Europe, Australia, and much of Africa and Asia. The big users of the death penalty are the United States, China, and the nations we call the Middle East.

What does Troy Davis have to do with Osama bin Laden? Davis is widely believed to be innocent. Bin Laden was widely believed to be guilty. Davis is an African American. Bin Laden was a foreigner, a Muslim, and a terrorist. Davis is poor. Bin Laden was rich. Democratic Party loyalists tolerate opposition to killing Davis but condemn as treasonous and racist those who object to the killing of bin Laden. Surely these cases have nothing in common.

An even more significant difference between the two cases would exist if the initial lies coming out of the White House had not been so swiftly retracted. That is, had bin Laden been killed in a fire fight with people attempting to arrest him, his killing might be legal and regretted. It appears, however, that he was killed unarmed in a swift action aimed at killing him. And one can understand why that was probably the plan.

Had bin Laden been given a trial as unfair as Troy Davis’s treatment by our judicial system, there would have been a huge uproar. Those who believe in the rule of law would have objected to the unfairness. Those who believe in the rule of violence would have objected to giving him any trial at all. Those obsessed with the symbolism of closing Guantanamo would have objected to holding him there. Holding him in another illegal prison would have called attention (and possible violence) to it. Holding him in the United States would have resulted in impeachment proceedings and any number of Americans dying of heart attacks. Instead bin Laden was killed.

Overturning Davis’ conviction would similarly expose a very flawed process. Proceeding with killing Davis, as with bin Laden, is viewed by those in power as a cleaner, less messy, solution. Put the matter behind us, they say, by murdering a human being. Caring for Davis comes easily to us; it involves the sort of effort that Jesus of Nazareth dismissed as unworthy of praise. Caring for bin Laden is not just difficult but almost universally condemned as malicious and disloyal. Yet that is what Jesus told us needed to be done.

Now, I oppose caring for anyone at the expense of others. Letting bin Laden off the hook would send the wrong message to potential future criminals. Prosecuting him in court would send the right one. But what about executing him in his Pakistani home? What message does that send? Primarily, the same one that killing Davis in a Georgia prison sends: might makes right. Murder makes justice. War is peace. Life is a superhero cartoon and your government is the superhero.

And what does this have to do with you and me? Well, we have to live in the most violent wealthy nation on earth. We have to live in close proximity to heavily armed people thrown out of work and out of house and home, people trained to believe that violence can solve their problems, people conditioned to use violence in our foreign wars and then never reconditioned afterwards. This puts us all at risk.

We will not solve this by picking which acts of violence to protest.

We will solve it by opposing violence.

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