By chance I watched a TV program the other night which cut me cold as I found it not only distasteful, admittedly not unusual these days, but it was also a warning from the past that we ignore at our peril, although I am sure it was not intended to be so. The former right-wing Tory politician and now Media luvvie Michael Portillo, fronted a program in the Horizon series entitled How To kill a Human Being. * However this was not to be any human being, but those unfortunate souls who make up the populations of the Death Rows that shamefully exist in those countries that still carry out capital punishment.
Mr Portillo supports capital punishment, so it was hardly surprising that the film totally ignored the morality of the State taking the lives of its citizens when it is pretty obvious to most thinking beings that the criminal justice system, by its very nature is far from infallible, thus if capital punishment exists, amongst the guilty innocent people will also be executed.
Although Portillo never said it, I could not help thinking the search he was engaged in had been partially motivated by the fact that a number of US States who previously favored Capital punishment, have halted it because their judiciary regarded the current methods of execution as being unconstitutionally cruel and unusual barbarous, thus against the US Constitution.
Thus if Capital Punishment is to continue in the USA a more ‘humane’ [Portillo’s word not mine] and less painful method of killing people must be found which will be acceptable to those Supreme Court Justices who interpret the US Constitution. In the program we saw Portillo trooping around various research establishments in which scientists were engaged in scientific endeavors to find a painless and humane’ [that word again] way to kill living beings. Of course in reality none can exist where capital punishment is concerned as the individual about to be executed is well aware of the fate that awaits them.
Even animals when facing death seem to instinctively know their fate, as I learnt when a child living in a small village in which there was a slaughter house situated, from which cattle regularly used to bolt for freedom and rampage up the main street.
Watching the scientists in these research establishments discussing their work coldly whilst Portillo showed clips of them experimenting with poison gas on helpless animals, it suddenly hit me that the scientists who worked for I.G. Farben must have behaved in a similar manner when the German chemical industry was asked to provide a gas which could be used to kill people in the extermination chambers of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. I.G. Farben’s Scientists eventual produced Zyklon B which the company sold to the German State at a hefty profit.
At the end of the war none of I.G. Farben’s scientists where brought before the Nuremberg war crimes court and tried for producing Zyklon B and whilst the companies senior directors were brought before the Court it was not for selling Zyklon B to the Nazi State. ’They were only doing their jobs’ I presume was used as a justification for allowing these scientists to get away with conspiring to mass murder. Looking back it seems to me that this was a grave mistake on the part of the Allies, for if these people had been prosecuted, todays generation of scientists might be much more reluctant to be engaged in research which amounts to much the same thing, but on a lesser scale.
As to Portillo and his new career as a TV personality, if this film is any thing to go by, I can only presume it is a version of the brown envelope that these days all loyal gofers of Capital are awarded on retiring from their day job as a tool of big business; and Portillo’s new career should be looked at in the same manner as most of us view Tony Blair’s recent employment by J P Morgan, i.e. with absolute contempt for both the individual concerned and the Corporation that offers them the back hander.
*BBC 2 Horizon 15.01.08]