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had recently gathered at an outdoor stadium in North Korea and my first impression was that Van Halen had gone Communist on us. Then I realized the spectators had not gathered to rock out but to witness the miracle of life being extinguished. It seems some factory chief had the nerve to make international phone calls from the basement of his factory and had to be executed as a result of it. Remembering how dangerous it is to allow the public to speak with foreigners got me to thinking that the Stalinists have all the fun, especially when it comes to inflicting death on its citizenry. I hit the old Google button and learned that throughout history nearly all societies had at one time or another played the execution game – both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. Historically, capital punishments were often cruel and inhumane (but creative), and they included such indignant swan songs as disembowelment, boiling to death, flaying, crucifixion, impalement, crushing, stoning, sawing, and my personal favorite, scaphism. In early modern Europe, before the development of the modern prison system, capital punishment was used as a general form of social control. In 1700s Britain, one could receive death for committing any number of over 200 different offences that included cutting down a tree or stealing an animal. European settlers soon imported their version of capital entertainment to the US where executions were held publicly for such crimes as denying a true God or striking one’s mother. In early New England, executions were solemn events often attended by large crowds, who were serenaded with Gospel messages and remarks by local preachers and politicians. In the 1800s, many states turned away from public executions in favor of what they termed more humane private executions. But hangings remained public spectacles throughout the nineteenth century. The last public execution to take place in America happened on August 14, 1936. That’s when the good ol’ boys gathered around poor Rainey Bethea in Owensboro, Kentucky, and hanged him before an estimated crowd of 20,000, 130,000 less than North Korea would have attracted. For Bethea, it was sort of a good news-bad news scenario. The good news was that there was such a huge public outcry following his execution that it resulted in the complete abolition of public executions in the US. The bad news was that it didn’t help Bethea any. In 2006, the US ranked a mere sixth in the world death penalty race, trailing such notable citizenkillers as Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and China, where unofficial estimates put the death penalty toll at around 8,000. Of course China has the competitive advantage in murdering its subjects by utilizing a fleet of mobile execution vans to award their lethal injections. Michael Mehas is a writer and attorney who was associate producer of the 2007 film Alpha Dog. His extensive research for the film became the book Stolen Boy, a fictionalized account of the youngest person on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, Jesse James Hollywood. Learn more at www.michaelmehas.com