The final chapter of Bel Canto was surprising, and, in many ways, cruel. The characters that I had come to view as innocents over the course of this story were punished brutally by an outside force which lacked the knowledge and understanding that those in the situation had come to realize. These people, especially Carmen and Hosokawa, had become a beacon of independence and innocence in a scheme. Carmen redeeming herself through her love for Gen, and Hosokawa who had no idea of what would happen at the party that, so long ago, started all of the chaos. What is the appeal of killing and capital punishment?
According to Gregg Sangillo in his article, “Death and Innocence,” the death penalty in the U.S. has been used less and less in the past decade. In this case, what I find particularly interesting is the idea that is stated later in the article. According to Daniel Givelber, “in the early days, it was assumed that we just didn’t make mistakes with any regularity in serious felony convictions” (Givelber qtd. In Sangillo). This is interesting, and begins to explain the willingness to kill when it seems justified. In Bel Canto, the “rescuers” shoot to kill without hesitation. I think that it is reasonable to assume that this lack of hesitation stems from their strong belief that they are in the right. However, they lack the insight to make a fully formed decision. In many ways, the scene that played out at the end of the novel could be compared to a jury, which is also noted in Sangillo’s article: “When it gets down to appeal, they’re talking about, ‘Were the jury instructions appropriate? Was the jury seated correctly?’” (Givelber qtd. In Sangillo). This is particularly poignant – the implication that the jury have become judge and, albeit indirectly, the executioner, is a terrifying prospect that the legal system was formed to avoid.
Similarly, the number of false accusations should draw great skepticism. The judicial system was formed to eliminate false convictions and offer fair trial to everyone involved, however, as of 2007, one organization claims that there have been 123 individuals released from death row upon finding their innocence (Sangillo). After reading this article, it seems to me that there is a great deal of pressure to pursue the death penalty, simply because it removes the perceived threat of the “criminal” from the public mind. However, in many cases and in personal experience, the instances when a convicted inmate or executed inmate is found innocent draws more attention to the death penalty than when it is not employed. Additionally, in current events we have seen the issues that arise from possibly botched lethal injections.
The “rescuers” in Bel Canto become a force with no mercy – though Beatriz raises her hands, and others try to surrender, they are shot. According to Ned Dobos, “targeted killing has become a staple tactic in the ‘war in terror’” (671). Dopos states that there have been over two thousand deaths in Pakistan since 2004, including lives of innocent bystanders (671). This is a staggering and frankly terrifying statistic, which is heavily emphasized by the deaths we saw in Bel Canto. As Dopos reviews the book, Killing Terrorists: A Moral and Legal Analysis, he expresses Anna Goppel’s conclusion very succinctly: “Killing is compatible with the right to life in international law only where it is strictly necessary to neutralize some threat.” (672) He then adds that there should, at every chance, be an attempt to negotiate peacefully, and that targeted killing should only be used as a last resort. In a poignant note, Dobos explains that Goppel argues that the killing of terrorists “is more appropriately evaluated using the descriptive and normative tools of ‘peacetime reasoning’” (672). These ethical issues are part of the cause of tensions in the current international environment. With the recent attacks on all parts of the world and the Islamic State claiming responsibility for many, targeted killing has come to light as a useful method of combat in terrorism settings. However, we constantly hear of the innocent lives lost in such maneuvers. I would be interested to look more deeply into the psychology of hostage rescue situations, especially how the justification of killing is made. In many ways, it seemed that the closing scene in chapter ten was not about rescue, but cold-blooded murder. I have to wonder if that was an artifact of Patchett’s portrayal of the government figures, or if it is an attitude of targeted killing and the lack of consideration of innocence.
Sangillo, Gregg. “Death and Innocence.” National Journal. 39.17 (2007). Print.
Dobos, Ned. “Anna Goppel: Killing Terrorists: a Legal and Moral Analysis.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 18.3 (2015): 671-672. Print.