The death penalty.  The execution of a person by another person.  The act of taking a life.

The day before yesterday saw the execution of 8 people in Indonesia.  It was very high profile here in Australia since two of our own, who had been caught smuggling drugs, were among those who died.  They had been on death row since 2006.  Also among those men was a Brazilian who had a mental illness that allegedly did not know he was about to die.

In that time, the Australian men, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, had by all accounts become totally rehabilitated.  They had completely accepted responsibility for their crime and were happy to live out the rest of their lives in jail.  They had become Christians and were a source of strength and support to other inmates.  People, from the inmates themselves, to their families, to our government, to the lawyers that fought on behalf of these men, begged the Indonesian government to change the sentence from the death penalty to one of life imprisonment.

It was denied.

And so they were shot.

And so the question remains.  Why?

Why is it that, in light of all the overwhelming evidence of their rehabilitation, of the good that they were doing in prison, of their self confessed accountability, was another man ordered to take the life of these men – especially since it is a known fact that Indonesia fights tooth and nail very effectively to have its own citizens removed from Death Row in other countries.  To what end did this take place?

Some have argued that it is because President Widodo bowed to political pressure, feared for his tenure as President, couldn’t be seen to be weak.

I argue that it is something much more primitive.

Humans kill.

We always have and we always will.  The death penalty is just another excuse to kill.  A “legitimate” justification.

Last year over 1620 people (that we know of) were executed under the laws of governments.  Of those, interestingly, 35 were in the United States – the only westernised country to still have the death penalty.  China tops the polls at over 1000.

Yep, that government, the one that has managed to become an economic super power off the back of its extremely poorly paid, and largely displaced people, executes over 3 people every single day.  Something to think about when we buy something labelled “Made in China”.

But let’s expand that.  What about wars?

In World War I, 16 million people died.  In World War II it was 60 million over a six year period.  For the sake of simplicity (because, you know death statistics should be simplified), let’s say during World War II 10 million people were killed each year.

So horrible was this fact that we swore that as a species we would never do that again.

Oh really?

In my living memory, the news has been filled with conflict.  In fact in my lifetime there have been 59 wars/conflicts (more than the years I have been alive) with around 13,500,000 deaths.  That is 287,234 people dying each year since I was born due to man made conflicts – nearly 1000 people every single day.  Or 42 people every hour.

42 deaths every hour, caused at the hand of another human being.  Certainly not in the realm of WWII but also not to be ignored, surely.

Do you remember that advert about poverty where they clicked their fingers and each time they did it signified another person dying from hunger?  I feel like this warrants that kind of exposure.

This does not even take into consideration deaths caused by domestic violence, or mad gunmen, or murder (which is classed, ironically, as a heinous crime punishable by death in those countries that carry the death penalty – the very same countries that prance around the world killing others in the name of terror prevention).

My point is that we are a species that likes to kill.

In his book “The better nature of our angels” Steven Pinker points out that things have improved.  At face value, if you are a believer in the bible (which I am not), God created Adam, then Eve, and then along came Cain and Abel.  Then Cain killed Abel.  Pinker points out

With a world population of exactly four, that works out to be a homicide rate of 25 percent, which is about 1000 times higher than the equivalent rates today.


Yes, our death by murder situation has definitely improved since then – World War 2 wiped out “just” 3% of the population – but that doesn’t really negate our continuing propensity for it does it.  Yes, we might be being popped off with less abandon, but violence, and killing, on an extreme level still exists.

Most of us, of course, don’t want to kill.  I wouldn’t kill someone who has upset me, no matter how much I might dream of it (yes, I know that is wrong!) and thank goodness for that,  otherwise there would be carnage and the species almost certainly wouldn’t survive.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that an inordinate amount of humans die at the hands of other humans every single day.

I want to be simplistic here and say, “Here’s an idea, let’s just globally abolish guns and weapons of destruction.”  All the guns in the world taken to a live volcano and chucked in.   I want to imagine a world where no death by murder occurs (because no matter how you justify it, no matter what smooth veneer you plaster on it, death at the hand of another person, is murder).  I want to imagine a world where people aren’t compelled to kill each other, but value each and every life for the very gift it is.

Do you reckon I’m aiming too high?  You bet I am.

We still have not lost that genetic coding that instinctively forces us to protect our tribe; the one that ensures survival of the fittest; the one that helps us justify killing; the one that helps us set aside the fact that we are killing another human being; the one that enables to look at another human and convince ourselves they are less than us (racism anyone!).

There is no denying it is there and, for the next few millennia or so at least, is likely to continue.

We are pack animals.  Driven by the need to belong to a pack or tribe, as the buzz word keeps reminding us.  Seminal studies such as the ones conducted by Zimbardo and Asch clearly demonstrate that our need to belong and fear of authority will supersede any individual morals or values we might have.  That is how we justify our actions, and why despite having the power to make a difference, we don’t.

So whilst I was saddened and enraged by the execution of the 8 people in Indonesia, I was not surprised.  Not one little bit.

Until next time,

SHW Signature






  1. I think the sadness also is the executors. How must they feel and live with what they done. It’s not just a job, it would have to play on their minds killing people in such a barbaric way. Even with a lethal injection, someone has to make it, someone has to push the button. That should not be put on anyone as I don’t believe anyone could be mentally prepared ever to look into the eyes of someone and do this. The whole world has sadness in this way with punishments of all sorts I’d rather not think about. I cannot understand how this hasn’t evolved. Great post and very sad indeed.


    1. Thanks Tamzen. I would like to think that the executors feel some remorse, but sometimes I do wonder. I think as humans we are so adept and otherisation, making another human apart from us. I wonder why people just don’t say “No I’m not doing that” and I guess that boils down, again, to tribal influence and fear of authority. It is so sad.


  2. IF ONLY we could have a world with no killing……. it seems so barbaric doesn’t it? I personally could not be the one to “Press the button” for a death row inmate. But on the other hand, there are some very scary, uncontrollable, vile humans walking among us.

    And people feeling rage can so easily get out of control……. Just watching the riots in Baltimore, MD, USA has me thankful that we have police (with guns) who are willing to protect the nearby innocent citizens. What’s the answer?

    Thank you for having the courage to share your thoughts on this troubling issue Sarah.


    1. I agree that law and order has to prevail, but not the Death Penalty. For those that are truly evil, personally, I believe death is too easy anyway. It’s economical though to execute someone, so it continues. Still, I do believe though that no matter how we justify it, killing is killing.


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