Look at the picture above. Not the caption, just the picture.
What do you think these people are watching? A thrilling, come-from-behind victory by their favorite baseball team? A new episode of Touched By an Angel? A video of E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or It's A Wonderful Life?
Okay. Now read the caption. It says "Closed Circuit Event. The Execution of Timothy McVeigh. Monday June 11."
That's right, the members of this sweet, wholesome-looking, all-American family are watching a close-circuit telecast of Timothy McVeigh's departure from the realm of mortality. It looks like their favorite show. It's a wonderful death.
The picture is an ad that claims to be sponsored by a group called Citizens for Capital Punishment, about whom, as I write this column, little is known. The ad was rejected by both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal not long ago, but ran in the Terre Haute (Indiana) Tribune-Star.
According to Tom Ungar of the Ungar Group, a Chicago advertising agency, the ad is serious.
"It's provocative to the point of getting people to discuss the issue," Ungar says.
What I say is this: It's stupid to the point of getting people to adopt the opposing point of view. In fact, the ad is so stupid that I think it's a hoax. I think there is no such group as Citizens for Capital Punishment, and that the real sponsors of the ad are foes of capital punishment, not supporters.
I am among the latter. I am in particular a supporter of Timothy McVeigh's having been executed.
Several years ago, in the most brutal act of its kind in our nation's history, McVeigh reduced the population of Oklahoma City by 168. Those people who think that McVeigh should have been sentenced to life in prison for the offense, which is to say, that he should have been provided free room and board for the rest of his life at a cost of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars, are in my view misguided, weak-willed and antagonistic to the memory of the victims and the feelings of those who survive them.
Even so, I would not have wanted to watch McVeigh die. And, more to the point, if I had watched him die, I would not have done so with a look of rapture on my face. I know a great many people who favor capital punishment. I know none, not a single one, who responds to it rapturously.
This is what makes the ad so insidious. In fact, this is what is so insidious about many of those who oppose capital punishment.
They think that we who favor it do so with glee; the truth is, we do it with resignation. They think that we who favor it are disdainful of life; the truth is, we respect it far more than they do, willing as we are to exact so severe a penalty when life is taken without cause. They think that we who favor it stand for cruelty; the truth is, we stand for justice, and realize that justice must be harsh when it is a response to a deed that is also harsh.
So I will watch the papers in the days and weeks ahead, eager to see whether the Citizens for Capital Punishment are unmasked. If they are not, I will continue to be suspicious. If they are, I will try to get their address and send them an ad of my own.
It will show a sweet, wholesome, all-American type of family sitting in front of a TV screen, looking at it rapturously, watching the Murrah Building blow up and the first shift of rescue workers carry out the mangled bodies of the victims.
Sounds fair to me.