1948: Ragnar Skancke, the last executed in Norway

Add comment August 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1948 at stately Akershus Fortress, a firing squad carried out the last execution in Norwegian history — that of Ragnar Skancke.

Skancke (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) was an electrical engineer in academia, and the very first posts he held in his political life were the ministries that Vidkun Quisling named him to in the wartime Third Reich client government. That doesn’t exactly mean the man was apolitical; he had joined Quisling’s Nasjonal Samling fascist movement in 1933.

As Minister for Church and Educational Affairs for most of the war years, Skancke got to do things like purge books in service of a fascist-friendly curriculum, and maneuver Norway’s reluctant Lutheran clergy into better compliance with the new order.

Since he was just an academic, and in matters of state an administrator outside the security apparatus — not a guy ordering executions or deploying the paramilitaries — Skancke wasn’t really expected to draw the severest punishment at the postwar trials of collaborators. Skancke himself shared this view, and mounted a slight and indifferent defense that he would come to regret when he heard the shock sentence.

A two-year appeals process would explore in numbing (literally so, for Skancke) detail the precise legal stature of Norway’s 1940 capitulation to the invading Germans, and whether or not that document cast the pall of treason over further collaboration with the Nazis. In fine, the government and the king fled the country and delegated a general to make the knuckling-under arrangements recognizing German victory, but simultaneously averred that Norway as a state — meaning its exiled remnants — remained at war with Germany. All well and good for the so-called “London Cabinet” strolling gardens in Buckingham Palace, but what’s that supposed to mean for the Norwegians still in Norway? As a minister, Skancke’s collaboration was considerable in degree; the question remained, was it treasonable in kind? The reader may discern the answer given by courts, but the conduct of the purge trials as a whole has remained a going controversy long after the last gavel fell.

As public distaste for the death penalty in general was also mounting, and the entire legal apparatus by which Norway conducted its postwar purges came under some scrutiny — among other things, Norway’s “capitulated” government had specifically reintroduced the already-abolished death penalty from exile with a view to these proceedings — Skancke’s increasingly frantic appeals were mirrored by a public campaign for clemency among the clergy that he had so recently pushed around.

Norway fully abolished the death penalty in 1979 and today registers consistently overwhelming public opposition to its reintroduction.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Norway,Politicians,Shot,Treason

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1947: Ding Mocun, not as hot a lay in real life

Add comment July 5th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Ding Mocun was shot for “conspiring with a foreign government to overthrow China” in Shanghai by the Kuomintang.

This former Communist turned right-wing radical may be most readily recognizable outside China as the real-life inspiration behind Ang Lee’s steamy 2007 art-house menace to undergarments Lust, Caution.

Based on a story by Eileen Chang (or Zhang Ailing), Lust, Caution fictionalizes Mocun’s real-life escape from an attempted assassination in 1939.

That incident was authored by Ding’s young plaything, who turned out to have a very serious side indeed. (Ding had her shot.)

While the attempt on the turncoat spy’s life really happened, there’s some dispute over whether Chang really had this particular woman strongly in mind over the twenty-plus years she composed her story. There’s more about the evolution of the fictional story here, but you’ll need Chinese skills to follow the links to Chang’s evolving text.

At any rate, Ding’s actual death would come by order of a more august character: Chiang Kai-shek.

Why so many people out to get him?

Despite his nationalist credentials, when Ding lost a party struggle in 1938, he found a gig with the collaborationist government of Japanese-occupied China running a nasty intelligence unit that made nationalists and Communists disappear. That’s the sort of resume anyone would be touching up come the mid-1940’s, and Ding went with a revision (not widely credited, though it has its advocates) that he was secretly passing information to the nationalist resistance all along. And as the nationalists and Communists turned on one another in the postwar power vacuum, it looked like his usefulness to the Kuomintang might get him off the hook after all.

It worked for a while, but Chiang — or so goes the story — caught a tabloid expose about Ding catching R&R at a lake when he’d used a medical pass to get out of prison, and impulsively ordered him shot.

Perhaps Ding’s status as official evildoer vis-a-vis a China whose messy birth many are old enough to remember helps account for the resonance of literary works that engage him as a human being. In a nonfiction vein, Konrad Lawson’s layered critique of the pro-Ding apologia linked above thoughtfully evokes the complexity of Ding’s era and the challenges it poses for historiography.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Treason

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