A. M. Stroud III
On June 6, 1944, American forces landed on Omaha and Utah beaches as part of the Normandy invasion that had as its objective the liberation of occupied Europe from the tyranny of the Nazi Occupation. This was America at its finest hour. This was not a professional army, but an army consisting of young men who had been drafted or had enlisted after Pearl Harbor. The young men came from all walks of life: farmers, teachers, family members, mechanics, truck drivers and the rest, with the sole objective to make the world safe again from the atrocities of the Axis Powers. They were part of America’s Greatest Generation. Ten months later the war was over; Germany had been defeated. Europe owed America a debt of gratitude. American blood had been spilled to drive the Hun into submission. This author has been to the American Cemetery on the cliffs of Normandy overlooking the English Channel. There, in neat rows, are hundreds of small crosses and Stars of David marking the graves of those who died in this cause for freedom. It was a very emotional experience. Indeed, if one goes there and does not shed a tear of emotion, that person should check his pulse for signs of life. On June 16, 1944, ten days after the invasion, as American troops were slowly advancing along the hedge rows of Normandy, fourteen-year-old George Stinney, Jr. was executed for the killing of two white girls. He was tried in the Jim Crow South. After a two-hour trial and a ten-minute deliberation, the young boy was convicted of murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to die by electrocution. His lawyer elected not to appeal. The main evidence against Stinney was his alleged confession that was reportedly made without the presence of his lawyer or parents. There was no written record of the confession. Many young Americans died on June 16, 1944, in defense of the ideals for which this country supposedly stands. On the same date, as these unsung heroes were battling the Nazi war machine, Stinney, who was barely five feet tall and weighed just more than 90 pounds, was led to the electric chair. “The electric chair’s straps were too big for his frail body. Newspapers at the time reported he had to sit on books to reach the headpiece. And when the switch was flipped, the convulsions knocked down the large mask, exposing his tearful face to the crowd.” It would take seven decades after this brutal execution to exonerate him. For George Stinney, the American ideal had no meaning. He died solely as a result of the color of his skin and the prejudices of the time. Unspeakable horrors occurred on the battle fields of France and in the court house in Alcolu, South Carolina on that date in June 1944, only ten days after the invasion. This is but one example of the great American Paradox. We kill in the name of justice, while portraying ourselves as a leader of the civilized world in the effort to protect basic human rights. It is time for this masquerade to stop. We should finally accept what most of the civilized world has long ago acknowledged: capital punishment is an anathema to any country that purports to call itself civilized. It is time to separate ourselves from the totalitarian regimes of our world. We should not walk in lockstep with those nations who view executions as justice.