Hiding Behind Paid Executioners
“‘Do you understand why I had to do it?’
‘He was a wildling,’ Bran said. ‘They carry off women and sell them to the Others.’
His lord father smiled. ‘Old Nan has been telling you stories again. . . . The question was not why the man had to die, but why I must do it.’
‘He does,’ his father admitted. ‘. . . Yet our way is the older way . . . and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.
‘. . . A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.'”
~ George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones (pg. 16)
In Game of Thrones, Lord Stark had to execute a deserter of the Night’s Watch. He explained to his son, Bran, why he was the one to do it. What Lord Stark says is true. Rulers tend to forget what death is when they hide behind paid executioners.
In the U.S., we have judges who order the execution of criminals, depending on the state and crime. When the execution order is given, it is up to someone else, or a group of people, to do the deed. Most of these judges have probably never seen someone die in front of them (not on television). Even more likely, they have probably never killed anyone.
When things are run this way, the judges lose touch with death. They decide to order the execution of certain criminals. Not only do the judges not participate in the actual execution, they probably don’t even watch the execution. How are they to realize the reality of what death is? Isn’t it possible for them to do the minimum of at least watching the execution?
Anyone can order the death of another for some crime. It takes real strength and honor to be able to “swing the sword” yourself. If you can’t bear to do it yourself (being the one who ordered the execution), then maybe that person doesn’t deserve to die.
Martin, George R. R. Game of Thrones. Mass Market Movie Tie-in ed. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print. A Song of Ice and Fire.