Archive for December, 2008

1900: En Hai, the murderer of von Ketteler

8 comments December 31st, 2008 Headsman

On the last day of the 19th century, a Chinese officer was beheaded on the public street where he had precipitated western* military intervention in the Boxer Rebellion by killing a German diplomat.

Foreign commercial penetration — and domination — was generating domestic turmoil in China. As liberal reforms foundered in the late 1890′s, a more radical anti-foreigner movement blending spiritualism and martial arts launched the Boxer Rebellion (or Yihetuan Qiyi, in the local coinage).

In addition to massacring hated missionaries, the Boxers besieged foreign diplomatic missions in Peking … and veteran German ambassador Klemens von Ketteler was killed in a firefight on a crowded street. (The particular circumstances of the killing seem highly confused, and were immediately colored by the various interested parties’ axe-grinding; it’s sometimes called an “assassination,” but there’s no proof von Ketteler was specifically targeted, and the ambassador himself managed to get a shot off in the fray.)

Given the financial interests at stake, it would be far too much to say that von Ketteler’s death caused the military intervention that ensued, but it certainly catalyzed the conflict. The next day, China’s Dowager Empress declared war against the Eight-Nation Alliance. Within two months, Peking (Beijing) was under foreign occupation.

The man detained as von Ketteler’s murderer — En Hai, or Enhai, or Su-Hai — was proud to claim the act himself, and intimations of the Chinese government’s official blessing for anti-foreigner activities were carefully massaged since the Eight-Nation powers would have need of the Qing dynasty to keep order locally.


On the afternoon of this day in 1900, En Hai was brought out from German custody to the street where von Ketteler had met his end and handed over to the Chinese for beheading. Notice the substantial foreign attendance in both the photograph and the drawing. A German officer’s diary entry cited in The Origins of the Boxer War: A Multinational Study recounted the scene.

Ketteler’s murderer was executed at last — for months past the unfortunate wretch has been begging for his execution. It took place in one of the busiest thoroughfares but there were only a few curious onlookers. Scarcely fifty yards away the usual business was being quietly transacted in the streets, people who were eating did not suffer themselves to be interrupted, and a teller of fairy-tales who was recounting his absurd stories had interested his numerous audience much more than the execution.

And to see that the lesson would not be lost on future generations of Chinese, the humiliating peace imposed upon China that December (and formally signed the following year) required China to expiate its guilt by

erect[ing] on the spot of the assassination of his Excellency the late Baron von Ketteler, commemorative monument worthy of the rank of the deceased, and bearing an inscription in the Latin, German, and Chinese languages which shall express the regrets of His Majesty the Emperor of China for the murder committed

Having been made an offer it couldn’t refuse, China honored the intersection (German link) where both the victim and his killer had died in their turns with a massive pailou archway, inscribed

This monument has been erected by order of His Majesty the Emperor of China for the Imperial German Minister Baron von Ketteler, who fell on this spot by heinous murder on the 20th of June, 1900, in everlasting commemoration of his name, as an eternal token of the Emperor’s wrath about this crime, as a warning to all.


A historical postcard of Ketteler monument.

“Everlasting commemoration,” in this case, lasted 15 years.

The national aspirations that had fired the Boxers reared up again in 1911-12 to topple the Qing. Days after Germany’s surrender in World War I, the Chinese Republic began removing the von Ketteler monument.

Visitors will need to look sharp to catch it now, in Zhongshan Park (aka Sun Yat-Sen Park or Central Park), where it has been rededicated to abstractions that age a little better than our German civil servant.

But this was still not quite the last the name von Ketteler was heard in the consular world. A relative (German link) of the man slain in Peking was a conservative diplomat of the Weimar and early Nazi period who opposed the national socialist government. Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler was abducted by the Gestapo in 1938 and murdered thereafter in unclear circumstances, possibly for involvement in a very early plot to kill Hitler.

* “Western” in this case includes Japan, the regional industrial power that also flanked the Russian Empire to the east — very much a player on the European balance-of-power chessboard. Germany (obviously), France, Italy, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.A. were the other nations involved in the intervention, along with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose naval deployment to China included future Sound of Music character Georg Ritter von Trapp.

A fair amount of detail on China’s foreign relations during this period is available free in the (dry, and sometimes dated) public-domain 1918 work The International Relations of the Chinese Empire.

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1896: Dr. Jose Rizal, father of the independent Philippines

8 comments December 30th, 2008 Headsman

December 30 is Rizal Day (Araw ng Kabayanihan ni Dr. Jose Rizal in Tagalog) in the Philippines, for the execution that date in 1896 of the great martyr of Philippine independence.

Also available free at gutenberg.org (the HTML version is very well-illustrated).

At Jose Rizal’s birth in 1861, it had been 340 years since Magellan had reached (and died at) the Philippines under the Spanish flag.

In Rizal’s century of romantic nationalism, independence movements stirred abroad in the Spanish Empire … too weak yet in the Philippines and elsewhere during the mid-1800s, but unmistakably prefiguring those national destinies that this day’s victim would come to embody.

Oddly, Jose Rizal was not even the most “revolutionary” of his farming family’s 11 children. That distinction went to older brother Paciano, who was under an official cloud before Jose hit adolescence for his relationship with the Gomburza priests, and would later serve as a brigadier general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo.

Jose was less strident — and more brilliant.

Though reputedly an adept fencer and crack shot with a pistol, the renaissance man’s gifts ran more to the life of the mind.

At the Universidad Central de Madrid, the University of Paris, and the University of Heidelberg, Jose Rizal studied ophthalmology and anthropology, and pursued the variegated artistic interests of his youth.

His two novels published from Europe, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo*, both criticized colonial authorities and their Vatican adjutants and struck nationalist chords that put him on the Spanish government’s watch list.

“I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land! You, who have it to see, welcome it — and forget not those who have fallen during the night!” -From Noli Me Tangere

Rizal also penned essays and editorials in a less symbolic vein, like this one skewering the stereotype of the lazy native by turning the mirror upon colonial agents who were waiting to prey on the fruit of native labor:

How is it strange, then, that discouragement may have been infused into the spirit of the inhabitants of the Philippines, when … they did not know whether they would see sprout the seed they were planting, whether their field was going to be their grave or their crop would go to feed their executioner? What is there strange in it, when we see the pious but impotent friars of that time trying to free their poor parishioners from the tyranny of the encomenderos by advising them to stop work in the mines, to abandon their commerce, to break up their looms, pointing out to them heaven for their whole hope, preparing them for death as their only consolation?

Man works for an object. Remove the object and you reduce him to inaction The most active man in the world will fold his arms from the instant he understands that it is madness to bestir himself, that this work will be the cause of his trouble, that for him it will be the cause of vexations at home and of the pirate’s greed abroad. It seems that these thoughts have never entered the minds of those who cry out against the indolence of the Filipinos.

(This essay and both novels are available in the original Spanish and in English at gutenberg.org, along with various translations of Rizal’s various fiction and non-fiction work.)

Fire-eating stuff in the eyes of the Spanish crown, but Rizal wasn’t the bomb-throwing type himself.

As the Philippine Revolution that would break the Spanish yoke on the islands took shape in the summer of 1896, Rizal applied to go to Spanish Cuba to treat victims of the yellow fever, and even explicitly disavowed the revolution.

Countrymen: I have given proofs, as well as the best of you, of desiring liberty for our country, and I continue to desire it. But I place as a premise the education of the people, so that by means of instruction and work they may have a personality of their own and that they may make themselves worthy of that same liberty. In my writings I have recommended the study of the civic virtues, without which there can be no redemption. I have also written (and my words have been repeated) that reforms, to be fruitful, must come from _above_, that those which spring from _below_ are uncertain and insecure movements. Imbued with these ideas, I cannot do less than condemn, and I do condemn, this absurd, savage rebellion, planned behind my back, which dishonors the Filipinos and discredits those who can speak for us. I abominate all criminal actions and refuse any kind of participation in them, pitying with all my heart the dupes who have allowed themselves to be deceived. Go back, then, to your homes, and may God forgive those who have acted in bad faith.

This stance on the revolution — the fact that he thought and wrote but never struck a blow — has engendered some controversy over the rightfulness of Rizal’s place in the national pantheon, as has his anti-clericalism and a disputed Vatican claim that Rizal retracted his criticisms of the Church before his death. One Spanish contemporary called Rizal “the Tagalog Hamlet.”

But mostly he is seen as the Spanish government at the time saw him, and as many revolutionaries did as well: as the lodestar of the Philippines’ national aspirations.

Rizal was arrested en route to his humanitarian assignment in Cuba and returned to Manila to face trial for sedition, rebellion and conspiracy, by which point, of course, the verdict was quite preordained. He was shot in the back by a firing squad, uttering the Christ-like last words “consummatum est” — “it is finished.”

Rizal’s execution, and the events preceding it, are depicted in this long excerpt of a 1998 film:


Jose Rizal’s execution.


Near the spot Rizal was actually executed, his martyrdom depicted in statuary.

There are any number of Jose Rizal tribute sites online. JoseRizal.ph and JoseRizal.info are two good places to delve deeper.

* A filibuster is a private military expedition, and more typically associated with Anglo American campaigns against the Spanish-speaking lands to the south, like those of William Walker.

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1903: Emily Swann and John Gallagher, the Wombwell murderers

Add comment December 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1903, a 42-year-old mother of 11 was hanged side by side with her 30-year-old lover for murdering an abusive husband in the small South Yorkshire town of Wombwell.

That June, Emily Swann had shown her outgoing boarder and lover John Gallagher (together with some neighbors) the results of William Swann’s latest beating. John returned to the house and repaid the injuries in kind — and with interest.

After some minutes of fighting audible to the neighbors, Bill had been beaten to death.

Emily’s battered-wife situation might cut a lot more ice today, but by the jurisprudence of the day it was a fairly straightforward case, especially since all kinds of incriminating remarks were attributed by the neighbors to both Emily and John — “Give it to him, Johnnie, punch him to death,” for instance, and Gallagher’s own mid-bout respite at a neighbor’s house where he reported having broken four ribs with plans to break more. Both illustrated a level of intent among both parties beyond the heat of passion.

And you wouldn’t say the authorities were disposed to sympathize with Emily’s situation in general. They rather viewed her immorality — with John and otherwise — as the cause of the thrashings William gave her.

the wonder is that he has not killed her. He has frequently gone home after leaving work and found his wife drunk in the house and nothing prepared for him in the way of food. (case file comment, quoted here)

Fortified by a stiff drink of brandy, Emily Swann glided onto the platform at Leeds’ Armley Prison beside her already-trussed defender and delivered the somewhat famous greeting, “Good morning John.” Gallagher managed to return the salutation, and a few seconds before both were launched into eternity, she replied, “Good-bye. God bless you.”

It was an unusual exchange because the English execution protocol did not solicit remarks from the doomed prisoner, and in the occasional double hangings,* most participants were too frightened, awed or preoccupied to make small talk with their fellow-sufferers in the few seconds available.

* England would soon do away with double hangings altogether. Subsequent convicts to be hanged “together,” like Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, were in fact executed simultaneously but at different prisons.

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1894: Chief Two Sticks, Ghost Dancer

1 comment December 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1894, Sioux Chief Cha Nopa Uhah (“Two Sticks”) was hanged in Deadwood, S.D., for instigating the murder of white ranchers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The story begins little more than two years after one of the most tragic and emblematic events in the white conquest of North America — Wounded Knee:

By early 1893, the “Ghost Dance” religious movement that had animated the Lakota people had not disappeared … nor had the futile dream of armed resistance to white domination.

A band under Chief Two Sticks, a leader described as resistant to settled white civilization and inclined towards retaining the traditional nomadic life, raided a white cattle ranch. The raid was not deadly, but its consequences were.

Indian police dispatched to arrest the raiders were killed in a shootout, after which the raiders again attacked the ranch — looking this time for men, not cattle. Four white cowboys were killed.

A number of additional Indians died when tribal authorities deployed in force to stop Two Sticks’ followers, perhaps narrowly averting much worse — as it’s a given that federal authorities would not have countenanced Two Sticks’ continued liberty.

The chief himself was severely wounded in the process, and only after a lengthy recovery was he well enough to stand trial in the white men’s courts in Deadwood.

His last words, according to an impressive HistoryNet retelling of Chief Two Sticks’ tale with a great deal of detail about his last hours (including an attempted suicide, so that he could die by Indian hands), denied responsibility for the violence.

My heart is not bad. I did not kill the cowboys; the Indian boys [meaning White Faced Horse, Fights With, Two Two and First Eagle] killed them. I have killed many Indians, but never killed a white man; I never pulled a gun on a white man. The great father* and the men under him should talk to me and I would show them I am innocent. The white men are going to kill me for something I haven’t done. I am a great chief myself. I have always been a friend of the white man. The white men will find out sometime that I am innocent and then they will be sorry they killed me. The great father will be sorry, too, and he will be ashamed. My people will be ashamed, too. My heart is straight and I like everybody. God made all hearts the same. My heart is the same as the white man’s. If I had not been innocent I would not have come up here so good when they wanted me. They know I am innocent or they would not let me go around here. My heart knows I am not guilty and I am happy. I am not afraid to die. I was taught that if I raised my hands to God and told a lie that God would kill me that day. I never told a lie in my life.

The killing and execution are related (from the white settlers’ point of view) in The Black Hills trails : a history of the struggles of the pioneers in the winning of the Black Hills by Jesse Brown and A.M. Willard.

* Earlier that day, Two Sticks had received word that President (and former hangman) Grover Cleveland had denied him clemency.

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1979: Hafizullah Amin

7 comments December 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1979, the 104-day term of Afghan president Hafizullah Amin met a violent end as a Soviet-engineered coup raised the curtain on a war destined to bring misery to both Cold War combatants.

The Soviet Union’s ongoing intervention in Afghan politics had through the 1970′s steadily mired it deeper into an unstable political situation.

Now, it was running out of patience with the country’s president, Hafizullah Amin.

He’d got the best of rival Nur Mohammad Taraki in a power struggle that September, but to the political chaos and the blossoming Islamic insurgency roiling his country, Amin added a level of brutality that was all his own, and a streak of diplomatic independence that was distinctly unwelcome in Moscow.

Amin was a Communist himself, and both he and the predecessor he’d murdered had wanted ever-increasing Soviet aid to keep the country stable.

But that proved to be a Faustian bargain.

Though Kabul radio would announce that Amin had been tried and summarily executed for “crimes against the state,” the short-lived dictator’s fate had been decided two weeks before when the Soviet Politburo passed a secret resolution for his ouster — having lost whatever confidence it had once held in him as a dependable satellite governor.

“The Soviet Union,” said the New York Times in a more innocent time,

has seemed deeply troubled by the inability of either the Taraki or Amin governments to put down the rebellions in Afghanistan, which have been largely tribal but also militantly anti-Communist.

Amin survived a KGB poisoning, so the Red Army dispensed with subtlety by raiding the palace, plucking their preferred satrap out of exile in eastern Europe to take Amin’s place.

It would not see the last of Afghanistan until 10 years, 15,000 Soviet dead, and hundreds of thousands of Afghan casualties later.


A memorial in Ekaterinburg, Russia, to the Soviet dead in the Afghan war. Image courtesy of beatdrifter (Andy Holmes).

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1862: Asa Lewis, Confederate deserter

2 comments December 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1862, a 19-year-old Confederate infantryman became the tragic victim at Murfreesboro, Tenn., of his army’s need to shore up military discipline.

Kentuckian Asa Lewis was shot for desertion, for having returned home after his enlistment expired in order to help his family plant the season’s crops.

“French leave”,* it’s sometimes called — an illicit but temporary and often unpunished absence from the unit.

According to Mark Weitz’s More Damning Than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army, it was a pervasive phenomenon — as were more permanent desertions which menaced the small Confederate army, fighting amid the soldiers’ own farms, whose languishing from the conscription of able-bodied men presented a constant temptation to depart.**

[The South's] white population combined with its preferred form of agriculture to create a potential pool of men who could hardly be called disposable … To find the Southern soldier one must go down the food chain into that vast sea of men referred to as yeomen and poor whites. These men and their sons would form the backbone of the Southern army, an army of farmers, men whose lives were as governed by the seasons as the lives of their fathers and grandfathers before them. These men could not be spared in the same way as their Northern counterparts without affecting the quality of their families’ lives — and often those families’ very survival.

Under less urgent circumstances, Lewis would be the poster child for the guy who would sort of deserve to slide for the odd spell of French leave.

He’d fought with distinction, earning decorations and promotions, and his mother and sisters were reportedly starving without his help. He was only being kept in the army after his term of engagement by the 19th-century equivalent of a stop-loss policy.

But Lewis had the bad fortune to go AWOL — it seems he did intend to return — right when the urgency of the army-wide desertion situation was becoming apparent to Confederate brass … and while serving under the general who Weitz says took it most seriously.

Gen. Braxton Bragg had issued an amnesty earlier that fall to clear the decks, and then declared pitiless treatment of desertion going forward.

Bragg understood something that his superiors, peers, and colleagues did not: the Confederacy had an army of farmers … Bragg knew that these men were fighting at home, that they would [sic] were being drawn back there, and that he had to take immediate steps to close off the avenues of departure.

Bragg tightened the screws on soldiers who straggled on the march (a common strategy to slink away), on grunts seeking medical furloughs (already establishing themselves as a halfway house towards a discharge), and on Confederate prisoners obtained by exchange for Union POWs (who were no longer paroled back home, but kept with the army).

Asa Lewis was hardly the only man shot under the policy. But construing mere French leave as capitally punishable “desertion” gave the general a chance to put the fear of a Confederate firing squad into other potential stragglers and malingerers — and the Kentuckian campaign to obtain clemency for the poor kid probably only helped Bragg’s purpose.

The next day’s Rebel Banner (cited in this free Google books offering) ran this item:

[A]midst a drenching rain-storm, Asa Lewis, member of Captain Page’s company, Sixth Kentucky regiment, was shot by a file of men. He was executed upon a charge of desertion, which was fully proven against him. The scene was one of great impressiveness and solemnity. The several regiments of Hanson’s brigade were drawn up in a hollow square, while Generals Breckinridge and Hanson, with their staffs, were present to witness the execution. The prisoner was conveyed from jail to the brigade drill-ground on an open wagon, under the escort of a file of ten men, commanded by Major Morse and Lieut. George B. Brumley. Lewis’s hands were tied behind him, a few words were said to him by Generals Brekinridge and Hanson, and word fire was given, and all was over. The unfortunate man conducted himself with great coolness and composure. He was said to have been a brave soldier, and distinguished himself at the battle of Shiloh.

Official journos may have been approving — Weitz says a contemporary newspaper report approvingly claimed that “when Bragg saw his army melting away from desertion he began shooting every man convicted by a court-martial, and that as a result his army had become ‘well disciplined’” — but less charitable interpretations of Bragg would hew more to the line that the man was simply being a petty, vindictive tyrant.

The aforementioned execution witness Breckinridge, for instance, was a Kentuckian himself and hated Bragg’s guts. (A week later, Bragg would waste 10,000 Confederate lives at the Battle of Stones River, and the rift became irreparable.)

* The French call it “English leave”.

** Other able-bodied farm laborers in the South, of course, were better inclined to back the Union.

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2006: Three old men and a taxi driver

Add comment December 25th, 2008 Headsman

Two years ago today, Japan resumed executions after a break of more than a year with four hangings.

Septuagenarians Yoshio Fujinami (wheelchair-bound) and Yoshimitsu Akiyama (partially blind) both needed the guards’ assistance to reach the trap at Tokyo Detention Center, a mere hour after they were informed of their imminent demise.

Two other prisoners, 64-year-old Michio Fukuoka and 44-year-old Hiroaki Hidaka, were simultaneously hanged in Osaka and Hiroshima, respectively.

Hidaka, a serial killer, had dropped his appeals and thus died a mere 12 years after his crimes. Fukouka died maintaining his innocence of three murders from 1978-81 he said police torture had forced him to confess. The oldest men were on the hook for killings dating to 1975 and 1981. (Much more from The Japan Times.)

Talk about justice delayed.

In Japan’s strange death penalty system, the condemned might await death for decades only to be hanged, as these were, with next to no warning. Their families and supporters did not hear about it until after the deed was done.

These hangings, though protested, were not altogether unexpected, for a break in the Japanese Diet around the end of the year often heralds an appearance on the public stage by the gallows. (Look for them in 2008 as the Diet goes out of session starting today.) And a turnover at the top of the Justice Ministry had replaced a pol disinclined to authorize any hangings, the source of the long break between executions during a decade when Japan’s use of the death penalty has generally been intensifying.

Although at least one particularly pressing motivation for this date’s hanging will not be present this year. After the long hiatus, an anonymous official told a newspaper,

We absolutely wanted to avoid ending the year with zero executions.

But in 2008, Japan has already carried out more hangings than in any year since 1975.


A panel from former prison guard Toshio Sakamato’s “How the death penalty is carried out”. More here.

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1705: John “Half-Hanged” Smith Half-Hanged

5 comments December 24th, 2008 Headsman

Because we executioners are not bereft of sentiment, it is with glad season’s tidings that we remember the veritable rebirth on Christmas Eve of housebreaker John Smith, who was cut down from the Tyburn tree this day in 1705 and revived.

“Though the crimes committed by this man were not marked with particular atrocity, nor his life sufficiently remarkable for a place in these volumes, yet the circumstances attending his fate at the place of execution are perhaps more singular than any we may have to record,” begins the Newgate Calendar, and one can all but see our Marlow setting light to his tobacco as he makes ready to unspool a particularly satisfying yarn.

After John Smith dangled 15 minutes this day at Tyburn, the crowd at his hanging began calling for a reprieve. One gets the impression our narrator may be eliding in a sentence quite an unruly affair; that “the malefactor was cut down” we may well guess, but after a mere 15 minutes? Did the crowd overpower the sentries, or were the officers of the law simply in a Christmas spirit?

There is, too, allusion to his friends’ working to obtain clemency and failing. Family and supporters of the accused intervened at Tyburn in all sorts of meddlesome ways, when they could — pulling the condemned prisoner’s legs to shorten his suffering, or holding his legs up to give him a chance at survival; fighting with anatomists for possession of the corpse, and obviously agitating for mercy at the slightest opportunity. Was it these friends who instigated the crowd’s appeal?

Whether or not Smith’s luck was as dumb as William Duell‘s, they did cut him down, and did revive him “in consequence of bleeding and other proper applications.”

So, what’s it like to be hanged?

When he had perfectly recovered his senses he was asked what were his feelings at the time of execution; to which he repeatedly replied, in substance, as follows. When he was turned off, he for some time was sensible of very great pain, occasioned by the weight of his body, and felt his spirits in a strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. That having forced their way to his head, he as it were saw a great blaze, or glaring light, which seemed to go out at his eyes with a flash, and then he lost all sense of pain. That after he was cut down, and began to come to himself, the blood and spirits, forcing themselves into their former channels, put him, by a sort of pricking or shooting, to such intolerable pain that he could have wished those hanged who had cut him down.

All this violent commotion of the spirit was enough to score a pardon, but not quite equal to the task of reforming the man now known as “Half-Hanged Smith”.

Our narrator relates that he went twice more to the Old Bailey in some danger of his neck, escaping once on a technicality and then again upon the uncommonly timely death of the prosecutor.

Nothing more is henceforth heard of the man, and it is unknown whether he decided to stop tempting fate, or whether officers of the law were in no further mood to tempt the hand of a Providence evidently determined to protect him, or whether some still more mysterious purpose thereafter summoned him away from the worldly cares of the justices.


And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Update: Courtesy of Anthony Vaver’s captivating Early American Crime, it looks like Smith was eventually sentenced to penal transportation to the Virginia colony.

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1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals

18 comments December 23rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1948, seven “Class A” war criminals, including Japan’s wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, were hanged at Sugamo Prison by the American occupation authorities.

Like other Axis heads of state, Tojo was in for a bad end: he shot himself in the chest before American troops could arrest him, but missed his heart even though a doctor had helpfully marked the spot on his chest for him.


Fail.

However inevitable Tojo’s postwar fate, however, he was not exactly of a kind with the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. Indeed, he’d been cashiered from his Prime Ministerial gig in 1944 by the real power behind the throne — the Japanese military.

Unlike the “Fuhrer” and “Il Duce,” Tojo was a reflector, not a creator, of national thought. His word was not law. It was not his command or dictate. He was one among many and not even the first among equals. He was a militarist — misguided, naive, and narrow in outlook; he regarded war as a legitimate instrument of national policy; he apparently believed what he told the court, and failed to recognize the patent contradictions between his contentions and the facts. This had been his undoing.

That’s Robert Butow in Tojo and the Coming of War. Butow argues that the titular authority in Japan (he became Prime Minister shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor), a dedicated, patriotic officer of adequate talents but limited vision, came much too late and controlled much too little to be seen as the equal of the European theater’s villains.

The Japan of which General Hideki Tojo became premier was operated by remote control. It was a country in which puppet politics had reached a high state of development, to the detriment of the national welfare. The ranking members of the military services were the robots of their subordinates — the so-called chuken shoko, the nucleus group, which was active “at the center” and which was composed largely of field-grade officers. They, in turn, were influenced by younger elements within the services at large and by ultranationalists outside military ranks. The civilian members of the cabinet were the robots of the military — especially of the nucleus group, working through the service ministers and the chiefs of the army and navy general staffs. The Emperor himself, through no fault of his own, was the robot of the government — of the cabinet and the supreme command, a prisoner of the circumstances into which he was born … Finally, the nation — the one hundred million dedicated souls, the sum and substance of Japan, from whom the blood and toil and tears and sweat of Churchill’s phrase were wrung — the nation was the robot of the throne.

He was the man for his time and place. He fit right in.

Even when being fitted for a noose.

Once Tojo had recovered from his errant self-inflicted wound,* and even though he had been among those opposing surrender even after the atomic bombings, he played ball with the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (whose trial transcripts run to 50,000 pages).

The former premier embraced responsibility, diligently shielding the Emperor from any intimation of guilt (some argue this was the procedure’s entire raison d’etre, from the perspective of both the prosecution and the defense), and walked a dignified and honorable last mile in the courtrooms of the victor’s justice, presenting his perspective as he knew it in the context of a wish for peace between the late antagonists.

1. I deny that Japan “declared war on civilization.”

2. To advocate a New Order was to seek freedom and respect for peoples without prejudice, and to seek a stable basis for the existence all peoples, equally, and free of threats. Thus, it was to seek true civilization and true justice for all the peoples of the world, and to view this as the destruction of personal freedom and respect is to be assailed by the hatred and emotion of war, and to make hasty judgments.

3. I would like to point out their [my accusers'] inhumane and uncivilized actions in East Asia ever since the Middle Ages.

4. In the shadow of the prosperity of Europe and America, the colored peoples of East Asia and Africa have been sacrificed and forced into a state of semi-colonization. I would point out that the cultural advance of these people has been suppressed in the past and continues to be suppressed in the present by policies designed to keep them in ignorance.

5. I would point out that Japan’s proposal at the Versailles Peace Conference on the principle of racial equality was rejected by delegates such as those from Britain and the United States.

6. Of two through five above, which is civilization? Which is international justice? Justice has nothing to do with victor nations and vanquished nations, but must be a moral standard that all the world’s peoples can agree to. To seek this and to achieve it — that is true civilization.

7. In order to understand this, all nations must hate war, forsake emotion, reflect upon their pasts, and think calmly.

The “Class A” convicts not executed along with Tojo were freed afterwards.

Tojo has enjoyed a bit of a latter-day resurgence in the public regard, product of the nationalist right’s resurgence in Japan. The hanged man’s granddaughter Yuko Tojo has waged a tireless campaign to clear him.

Further to that end, his ashes — and those of the other Class A convicts — were covertly added to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, and remain there to this day. That public tribute to principals of Japan’s bloody foreign occupations has become a hot political football between Japan and other nations, especially China.

But after all, Tojo the man was never a leper, but part and parcel of his times. Small wonder that we moderns hear an echo of the general’s postwar justification for the War in the Pacific from the country that hanged him.

Japan … faced considerable military threats as well.

Japan attempted to circumvent these dangerous circumstances by diplomatic negotiation, and though Japan heaped concession upon concession, in the hope of finding a solution through mutual compromise, there was no progress because the United States would not retreat from its original position. …

Since events had progressed as they had, it became clear that to continue in this manner was to lead the nation to disaster. With options thus foreclosed, in order to protect and defend the nation and clear the obstacles that stood in its path, a decisive appeal to arms was made.

The problematic nature of the war crimes proceedings in postwar Japan (especially vis-a-vis those in Germany) is examined in Yuma Totani’s The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II. The author discussed her research on the New Books In History podcast.

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* According to John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, the suicide scenario angered some nationalists because Tojo only “belatedly summoned the will to die,” and “chose the foreigner’s way of the bullet rather than the samurai’s way of the sword, and then botched even this.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Soldiers,USA,War Crimes

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2003: Liu Yong, for corruption

2 comments December 22nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Liu Yong’s situation took a very abrupt turn for the worse.

The wealthy Communist Party member and Shenyang city legislator had been sentenced to death 20 months before in a corruption case for ordering the murder of a tobacco vendor as part of a mafioso racket of graft, extortion, black marketeering, and kindred mayhem.

When that sentence was reduced on retrial on a showing that Liu’s confession was extracted by torture, public outcry at the appearance of a well-connected insider getting off scot-free led the Supreme Court to take the unprecedented step of yet again re-trying a criminal case itself.

“According to China’s legal system, a criminal case can usually be tried only twice,” as China Daily lightly put it.

Amnesty International is less measured, and alleges that the irregular Supreme Court hearing was ordered by political insiders to buttress the credibility of the country’s anti-corruption drive — and to avoid setting any precedent that evidence of torture should mitigate criminal sentencing. (China certainly found defenders for the trial (the link is to an ugly layout of raw HTML).)

The high court handed down its sentence this very day, after which Liu was immediately hailed to one of China’s mobile execution vans, given a lethal injection, and cremated.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Infamous,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Organized Crime,Political Expedience,Politicians,Scandal,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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