|Sing Sing’s “Old Sparky"|
It’s not to demean the suffering of those who have been POW’s on either side of the fence. But when you read about the latest ISIS beheading, the infamous Hanoi Hilton really seems like the Hilton. Those who have traveled to Poland to see Auschwitz, to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, those remembering Katyn may have thought they have seen the limits of depravity, but human innovation seems to know no bounds where the infliction of pain and suffering are concerned. Of course if you go to Italy and visit one of the Museo della Torturas you will find some pretty inventive contraptions like the Judas cradle, the rack, head and testicle crushers. Let’s not forget burning at the stake, boiling in oil, bastinado and crucifixion. What is often remarked about pornography can also be iterated about torture: if it’s been said it’s been done and if it’s been done it’s been said. And then there is the infamous torture scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Waterboarding and sleep deprivation might seem mild what’s compared to the failed death by lethal injection inflicted on a death row inmate in Oklahoma named Clayton Lockett? And then there's mental torture of the kind that was deployed on Lawrence Harvey in Manchurian Candidate and Dostoevsky, who was put up in front of a firing squad for his revolutionary activities and told he was going to die. Is there a limit to human torment, a point beyond which even the most depraved executioner refuses to go? Too bad Tomas de Torquemada, one of the stars of the Inquisition, is not here to answer the question? Does agency lessen pain? Do Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire or people who jump out of windows have something going for them. Would that Jan Masaryk were here to testify about the downside of unwilling defenestration. A scientist until the end Lavoisier reputedly performed an experiment involving his own death at the guillotine, by attempting to blink his eyes after his head was severed from his neck. However, while he may have been successful, he wasn’t able to talk about it. What if the ISIS executioner with the English accent beheaded himself as a way of expressing his anger at the West? Would the pain he felt be less than that which he inflicted on his victims, by virtue of the fact that relief was in his grasp?