Chapter

Clouds of Abolition

Scott Christianson

in The Last Gasp

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780520255623
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945616 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520255623.003.0010
Clouds of Abolition

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The traumas of World War II had sensitized many nations to the need for international standards of human rights and the treatment of prisoners. Millions of prisoners of war and civilians had died or been murdered in captivity, both during the war and after. Britain's Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, appointed in May 1949, undertook what was to that point the most exhaustive study of capital punishment. Although its 500-page public report, issued in 1953, did not directly argue for abolition of the death penalty, it did question its underlying rationales, including the principle of deterrence, which was becoming so crucial in the nuclear arms race. Based on scientific review, the panel further concluded that executions by lethal gas, electrocution, or lethal injection were no more “humane” than killing by hanging. In the United States, serious consideration of abolition was slower in coming, for political reasons. Litanies involving gas chamber executions were not so readily invoked in cold war America.

Keywords: Britain; capital punishment; death penalty; abolition; executions; lethal gas; gas chamber; United States

Chapter.  7759 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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