Share Button

“Why can’t we use one of the painless ways of ending human life? The problem is clearly not a technical, medical one, but a political one.”


Botched Execution

0115cover01We had hoped that our Nov|Dec cover illustration would attract attention—just not in the way it did. Multiple readers wrote and called to tell us (with varying degrees of derision) that the IV in the prisoner’s arm is pointed the wrong way. As one School of Nursing alumna noted in a voicemail, this would have “cut off circulation to the hand, but done nothing to get lethal medication to the heart.” I wish I could say that this was a visual representation of the problems that have occurred in some recent executions, as detailed in the cover story, but it was rather, as the caller added, just “a stupid, stupid mistake.” And a painfully apparent one—the instant it had been pointed out. Our apologies for the error.

The quote from alumna and death-penalty expert Deborah Denno that appeared on the cover, and the article itself, also sparked a considerable—and vehement—response. A sample appears in the print issue, and the rest is here. —Ed.

Find a Pain-Free Method

“Rewriting the Final Sentence” [Jan|Feb] is a fine article, and Deborah Denno, whose work is the subject of the article, is undoubtedly a humane and dedicated scholar and advocate. No rational person can quarrel with her basic argument: people should not be tortured to death. But I have long been astounded that there is still a problem here.

When progressives (and Professor Denno and the author of the article would no doubt qualify as progressives) want to hasten death, a pain-free way of accomplishing that goal is invariably found. Think of what we refer to as “assisted suicide,” now legal in Oregon and Washington state and with endless bills to make it legal in my home state of California, and seemingly favored by all right-thinking progressives. The drug cocktail prescribed for the patient presumably (though how can we ever know for sure?) causes no pain, but rather puts an end to it. And then there is euthanasia, a death penalty for people who have committed no crime, but who fall into some disfavored category (the terminally ill, babies born severely deformed, among others). The practice is now legal in the Netherlands and Belgium and perhaps other “advanced” Western European countries. I am sure that the drugs or other means used to end the lives of those deemed unfit to continue living in those countries cause no pain in the soon to be departed.

So, why can’t we do the same thing for those who are condemned to death for taking the life of another? Why can’t we use one of the painless ways of ending human life? The problem is clearly not a technical, medical one, but a political one. Perhaps Professor Denno could address that issue.

James Bryan L’71 Los Angeles


We Choose to Kill Them

I found the article on Deborah Denno interesting and important and am deeply grateful for her hard work on the death penalty. But I found the quote on the cover of the magazine, as well as the photo accompanying the profile, disturbing. The cover quote (“If we need to kill them, must we torture them?”) creates an erroneous assumption. We do not need to kill “them”; we choose to. Conflating necessity with choice falsely directs our thinking, focus, and decision-making, potentially preventing more creative, successful, and humane options from gaining space or traction in our minds.

The photo of Deborah Denno with a noose above her head is manipulative in a different way. Oddly posed in an outfit that epitomizes freedom, Denno stares off seemingly unaware of the threat above, when it should go without saying that she is both not in danger and all too aware of the reality faced by the death-row inmates on whose behalf she has worked for decades. The photo focuses our attention solely on her, when I suspect she would prefer us to focus on them and the work to address a system in need of change.

Zoe Weil C’83 G’83 Surry, ME


A Slap in the Face of Victims

It is with unreserved discomfort that I read “Rewriting the Final Sentence,” all about Deborah Denno’s world of criminal justice with her views opposing capital punishment as cruel and unusual, and the use of neuroscience to excuse criminal behavior. Her quote on the cover seems designed to make us feel sorry for the terrible plight society casts upon our less fortunate criminals who have endured difficult times, social injustice, and even brain pathology causing them to commit crimes. It is a combination of sympathy, understanding social science, and biological-neuroscience as well as compassion that is supposed to keep murderers off the gallows (an archaic form of capital punishment last used in Delaware on January 25,1996).

If the question was altered just a bit—to “If you need to kill them, must you torture them?” addressed to the perpetrators of capital offenses—it might pay homage to the multitude of victims and their loved ones who have truly endured a living death penalty as the consequence of a violent murder. Instead, we find an advocate, maybe even a hero, for the perpetrators of some of the vilest crimes ever committed.

The article is all about protecting the sanctity of the lives of killers and nothing more. The author describes how Denno argues that we violate the Eighth Amendment. Her efforts tell us how dreadful, how cruel and unusual we as a society are for having used electrocution, and now lethal injection, to end the lives of those living among us who can’t control their impulses and kill us. It appears that the only form of capital punishment Denno embraces is the one once described by Bucks County DA Allan Rubinstein as death by arteriosclerosis, aka old age—a slap in the face of victims and their families.

Where is the voice of the victim? Not one victim is named in this glorification of Denno’s body of work. The article not only ignores the victim, it describes Denno’s advance of her “professionally neutral” cause by carrying the torch for using neuroscience to forgive every bad actor out there.

Everything we do, all of our behavior, is about neuroscience. As a society we cannot let every criminal go free because we have the ability to investigate their very being down to the chemical mediators regulating their brains. To the contrary, we must protect civil society. We must make sure that the criminal is removed from society. We should not take care of criminals who have exceeded the bounds of humanity for the many years of their remaining existence while their victims never had such a chance.

The article claims that, “Denno is privately opposed to the death penalty, but remains professionally neutral.” Ya think?

After a few “botched” (a word used to prejudice the procedure) lethal injections, she asks, “If we need to kill them, must we torture them?” That’s almost as convoluted as referencing several “botched” heart transplants and abandoning the technique. This line of reasoning makes for great emotional plea-bargaining, but holds no substance except to advance a misguided agenda. We put hundreds of thousands of people “to sleep” every day in the course of surgical procedures, and they feel no pain. We can do this to criminals as well, followed by a lethal dose of potassium. We have explored the Moon and far reaches of space. We have seen the depths of the ocean floor. And we have to be lectured about our inability to put vile creatures to death because we can’t get it right. Please!

When our Constitution was drawn, and when great men thought up the Eighth Amendment, they knew that the best chemical to use for the death penalty was, in fact, lead from a firing squad’s bullet or rope burns from the hangman’s noose. They never would have expected that our legal scholars would so pervert the need in a society for punishment that fits the crime.

Robert M. Fleisher GD’76 Atlantic City, NJ


Logical Conclusion: Death Penalty is Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Through her painstaking and thoroughly competent legal work, Deborah Denno is gradually taking the death penalty issue to its logical conclusion. Since its inception the killing by the state of a fellow human being has produced a chain of horror stories, all very well documented through the years in US Supreme Court decisions.

I was particularly shocked to read while studying constitutional law the ruling in Louisiana v. Resweber (329 US 459—1947). In that case the Supreme Court affirmed, and therefore allowed Resweber, for all practical purposes, to be electrocuted twice by the State of Louisiana.

Civilized countries in the world today have eliminated the death penalty. In order to be a member of the European Union a country has to renounce the application of this barbaric procedure. The horror of officially putting to death a convicted felon was graphically illustrated precisely back in 1947 by Albert Camus in his influential essay, “Reflections on the Guillotine.” This led to the eventual banishment of the death penalty in France.

Some day, and we hope it will be soon, the United States Supreme Court will reach the obvious conclusion: the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Rafael A. Mirabel-Conde WG’54 Caguas, PR


Criminals Should Be Shot in the Head

“Rewriting the Final Sentence” covers a range of topics, all of which could be discussed at length, but the attention-grabbing phrase is Deborah Denno’s question: “If we need to kill them, must we torture them?” The article describes several botched executions which were not as fast and painless as planned and implies that they violate the “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibition, which the Founding Fathers wrote into our Constitution in an age when government sometimes indulged in intentional torture.

Even in our enlightened era, a number of people who are less sensitive than Denno believe that it is proper to execute certain criminals. Modern examples of death-penalty recipients in our state include a man who sodomized and strangled a 2 1/2 year-old girl and led police to a slough where he had thrown her face down in the mud, and the man who picked up a drunk woman in a bar, then killed her and cut out her vagina with a pocket knife because she rejected his sexual advances. Barbaric as it may seem to the educated mind, it is possible to assemble a jury of 12 people who actually believe such persons should be killed despite the fact that they have low IQs or neurological deficits or may themselves have been traumatized by life.

So the question is: “If you are mean enough to think that society should rid itself of such people, how should this be done?” The chemical executions described by Denno are modern attempts to eradicate criminals painlessly. Such humane deaths are not hard to accomplish, as can be attested by anyone who ever watched his veterinarian euthanize a sick pet. But since apparently some public employees sometimes have trouble executing criminals quickly and painlessly (government never does anything well, does it?) I would suggest that Denno advocate a simple solution: criminals should be shot in the head.

This form of “Final Sentence” has been utilized by both progressive and conservative peoples, such as Bolsheviks, Communist Chinese, and the hillbilly singer Red Foley, who wrote the lyrics to “Old Shep.” The state could buy a. 38 special Hydra-Shok expansive bullet for less than a dollar, and it would not fail to immediately, painlessly, and economically execute the condemned. I propose the solution to one of the several problems identified by Ms. Denno, as it is much simpler than worrying about what chemicals should be used to put our unfortunate death penalty victims to sleep. After all, if it was kind enough for Red Foley’s dog, surely it is kind enough for a child murderer.

John H. (Zeke) Downey C’63 Madison, MS


Sixty Percent in Favor is Significant

I have several reactions to “Rewriting the Final Sentence.”

I always wonder what the relationship is between an expensive car and a slim model in spike heels; the same goes for the noose above a picture of Denno.

I agree a defense attorney should use neuroscience as well as any other relevant information; however, can any researcher who measures a human brain be certain of what went on in that brain days or months after a violent event?

Considering the percentage of voters who bother to vote, 60 percent of Americans favoring the death penalty seems significant.

If 1994 was the first “chip” at a system criticized for “disproportionately targeting defendants of color,” such articles rarely relate that to the level of violence in each segment of our population, considering Martin Luther King and efforts at assimilation going back to Lincoln. Even so-called educated people have prejudices, recognized or latent.

If pentobarbital is the only sure injection, why doesn’t the government have a drug company develop a substitute or recommend an alternative; neither does Denno with all of her research provide the layman with a recommendation. If “violence is a very rare behavior” why is it that the front page of newspapers almost daily carry stories of shootings and domestic violence?

If there are so many cases of attorneys “who do a bad job” aren’t judges competent to determine as a case progresses whether either side of a case is being handled in a reasonable manner?

Ralph McCoy WG’49 Bothell, WA


Abolish Capital Punishment

There is overwhelming evidence of why the United States should abolish the death penalty, as 143 countries have done. The US is the only country in NATO and North America to execute its citizens. The only exceptions in Europe and South America are Belarus and Suriname.

The above data is a small part of a 2014 book, A Call to Action, by former President Jimmy Carter, who stated that 90 percent of executions occur in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Since 1980, there have been 1,359 executions in the US. More important, there have been 143 death-sentence reversals. Some 18 states have abolished capital punishment.

In a publication in 2011, I listed several problems with the death penalty garnered from the literature: (1) racial discrimination, (2) faulty forensic evidence, (3) jailhouse snitches to benefit themselves by lesser sentences, (4) failure to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense, (3) prosecution misconduct or ineffective defense, (6) false or coerced confessions, and (7) “eyewitness” testimony.

Examples of these problems would include the case of boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, who spent 19 years in prison. He was wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury of a New Jersey murder of three white people by two black men, mostly on the testimony of two thieves who later recanted their stories. Following his release, he fought injustice until he died in 2014 at age 76. Fortunately he had received life without parole instead of the death penalty.

Last March, Glenn Ford walked out of prison in Louisiana after spending 26 years on death row. Suppression of evidence reflecting that he was not present nor involved in the murder, coupled with an experienced counsel had led to his conviction.

In North Carolina in 1983, two mentally impaired half-brothers, aged 15 and 19, were sentenced for the murder of an 11-year-old. The 19-year-old spent 30 years on death row and the younger got life. In 2014 they were released when DNA implicated another man. Their false confessions were coerced after five hours questioning without a lawyer present.

A dozen years ago, the US Supreme Court barred the execution of anyone under 18 or mentally disabled. (An IQ of 70 was widely accepted as a marker.) In 2014, by a 5-to-4 decision, the Court said that Florida and a few other states must look beyond IQ scores when inmates test in the 70 to 75 range. A Florida man had been on death row for 35 years for the murder of a pregnant woman in 1978. His IQ was as low as 60 and as high as 80, with most scores between 69 and 74.

In Texas, The Houston Chronicle of January 2, 2011, reported that Cameron Todd Willingham from Corsicana was executed for the arson murder of his three children based upon what arson experts said was false evidence. After the governor replaced the chairman and another member, the State Forensic Commission’s investigation turned out to be inconclusive.

Excerpts of a September 26, 2014 documentary by Rick Casey of The Houston Chronicle, who gave credit to The Washington Post follows: the new chairman of the Forensic Commission was District Attorney John Bradley, who had fought against DNA testing being performed in another case which eventually exonerated a life-sentenced inmate and led to the right murderer. “Bradley’s behavior was so egregious that when he faced confirmation the Republican-controlled Senate rejected him.”

Johnny Webb, a fellow inmate, had testified that Willingham had confessed to the arson, and stated to District Attorney John Jackson that he had been promised nothing for his testimony. Incredibly, in August 2014 Webb described “how he had lied on the witness stand in return for prosecutor Jackson’s efforts to reduce Webb’s sentence and to arrange thousands of dollars in support of a wealthy Corsicana rancher, etc.” Jackson is now being investigated by the State Bar.

Eliminating capital punishment in the US would halt the ongoing legal battle about the drugs used for execution, which are said to be “cruel and unusual punishment” when death is prolonged.

Whether you are morally for or against capital punishment, and since there is no fail-safe way a jury can reach a verdict of first-degree murder, capital punishment needs to be abolished. There is an enormous danger of taking the life of an innocent person.

By necessity this means that some guilty of the most heinous crimes and serial killers will remain in prison for life. Surprisingly, when including the high cost of appeals, life in prison may be less costly than capital punishment (as much as $2.5 million).

James P. Bond M’63 Beaumont, TX


More Humane?

As a dog owner and proponent of animal rights, I feel strongly against dogs being chained to trees or confined to small cages, and society would rather put down unwanted animals than absorb the cost and allow them to suffer in captivity. By this reasoning, we might conclude that society cares more for its animals than human beings. How can a life sentence be considered more humane than the death penalty? Yet there are no other alternatives to protect society from heinous criminals and their actions other than to give out life sentence or capital punishment verdicts.

Secondly, unless the defendant can prove that drugs or alcohol were forced upon him or her, substance abuse as a defense is difficult to fathom. And, most defendants could also prove that somewhere in their life, they suffered a head injury which “caused” their criminal actions. Where is the line drawn?

Third, most of this article deals with the barbarity of lethal injections or electric chairs. Can any expert in this field explain why carbon monoxide has never been considered as a painless, relatively inexpensive, and humane way of dealing with this issue?

Heff Heffernan C’68 Norcross, GA


Were Those Chairs for the Dead Victims?

There’s the opening photograph of No-Hang-’Em Deborah Denno sitting under a hangman’s noose with 11 empty chairs fading into the distance to her right. Who are those empty chairs for? It’s obvious! They’re the chairs for the dead victims of her poor misunderstood murderers who she wants to get out of the harshness of paying the final punishment.

Hey, if Dr. Pol can put a horse out of its misery with two shots, why can’t we just turn the death penalty over to veterinarians? It could be an elective at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Robert M. Rosenthal W’60 Burbank, CA


Why Is Lethal Injection so Problematic?

Every day thousands of people go under general anesthesia in hospitals. They are told to count backward from 100. Most make to 95, and then nothing until they wake up hours later in the recovery room. Why is the process of lethal injection so problematic? I’d like to hear from an anesthesiologist.

Brian Brandt WG’76 Lansdale, PA


Brought Back for What?

I found David Casarett’s essay, “Reviving Tithonus” [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb], most pertinent and rather appropriate. The well-trained paramedic of today, with modern equipment and techniques, can often restore life to those who apparently lost theirs.

Our Florida community has a high percentage of seniors in the population. Many of the aged have medical complications and other aging problems already complicating their lives.

I volunteer in the local ER, where professional skills are apparent. On one occasion, an ambulance team rushed in a quite elderly woman who had coded. Between the efforts of the staff and doctor she was revived.

I congratulated one of the EMS rescuers about “bringing her back.”

His reply was, “Yes, but to what?” Rather thought-provoking.

William Patton D’58 Venice, Florida


More Livingstons at Penn

I really enjoyed your recent article on Alan Livingston, my grandfather [“The Man Who Knew Talent,” Jan|Feb]. I am so pleased to see him honored for his talents and contributions.

I must say I was a little disappointed in the emphasis of his second marriage to Betty Hutton, which was an insignificant period in his life, and then a lack of mention of his first marriage, which led to his first two children, Peter and Laurie. His daughter, Laurie Livingston CW’73 (now Laura Gibson) is also an alumna. Given that you mention quite a bit about Alan’s personal life, and his son Christopher, it would only seem proper to mention his two other children.

Otherwise it was a great piece and it’s wonderful to see our alum honored.

Jenna Gibson Skinner C’07 Somerville, MA

Our apologies for leaving out the rest of the family.—Ed.


du Pont’s Good Deed?

I enjoyed reading the article about Tom Heller C’95 and the making of Foxcatcher [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb]. I may be able to add a little bit to the article as I knew John du Pont slightly in the mid-1960s. In his short time at Penn, he did perform at least one noteworthy service for the school. He pledged a fraternity that still branded pledges with the fraternity’s initials. I can’t remember which fraternity, but I do remember it was one of the preppy fraternities. He stole the branding iron and absolutely refused to give it back. Apparently, that ended that particular custom. One could only imagine how the modern Penn administration would react if they found out about this type of activity in the Greek system.

He and his mother also introduced this middle-class kid to finger bowls. I ate with them at their home in the Philadelphia suburbs a few times, and they used finger bowls after both lunch and dinner, even when it was just the three of us. Ah, how the other one percent lives, indeed.

Wendell Schollander W’66 WG’68 Winston-Salem, NC


Don’t Blame the Crusades

Your coverage of the November conference on Islam and Judaism is fascinating [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb]. Presenters at the conference claim that Islam was originally delightful—and hospitable to Jews—until the Crusaders forced Muslims to become defensive and violent. Now this is admittedly hard to square with history. The Koran, written in the first half of the seventh century, calls for Jews (and other non-Muslims) to be killed, converted to Islam, or permitted to live as dhimmis (inferior subjects who pay a special poll tax levied on non-Muslims) under Islamic law. That was more than 300 years before the earliest crusade. In 627, Muhammad himself wiped out the remaining tribe of Jews in Medina, beheading the men and enslaving the women and young children. Again, this was long before the earliest crusade. Many other Muslims energetically followed suit, slaughtering hundreds of Jews in Cordoba in 1010, thousands of Jews in Morocco in 1033, and the entire Jewish community of Granada in 1066. Again, this was before the earliest crusade.

In short, violence against Jews (and other non-Muslims) has been a key part of the Islamic faith since its earliest days. It is not a reaction to the Crusades, nor a response to the founding of the State of Israel.

Michael Steinberg L’77 Bethesda, MD


Everyone Needs “Unmolested Acre”

Penn grads are a sophisticated lot and not likely to let the misrepresentations of Jonathan Lipsky, Sheldon Waxman, and Dov Daniel [“Letters,” Jan|Feb commenting on “The Good Neighbor” in Nov|Dec] pass without seeing the ironies of their bias. And since answering their points would amount to making a list of everything, my recommendation to those who would like to study the situation in greater depth is to read Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, and Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Council and the Synagogue Council of America. You can also see hundreds of documentaries and related videos on YouTube—particularly interesting and telling being the debates between Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, and Norman Finkelstein.

I keep portraits of Generals Lee and Grant on my bookshelf to remind me not of the blood they spilled but of the peace they made. Their deep sense of our common humanity and their insight that everyone needs to have his own unmolested acre seems to be what these three letter writers lack.

Gene Burshuliak G’74 Orange, CT


Middle East Fears Israel’s Democracy

After reading the set of letters about the Israeli-Palestinian problem in the Jan|Feb Gazette, I decided to resort to Occam’s razor to contribute: non sunt multipicanda entia praeter necessitantem.

In my estimation, the Israeli-Palestinian problem is fueled by fear—not fear of a military conflict, but fear that the Israeli democracy might spread. Note that most, if not all, countries surrounding Israel, including also Palestinians, are either theocratic or dictatorial, countries to which democracy is anathema.

Another point that might be brought to attention of the readers is that Palestine as a political entity originated after World War I. Before that, it was only a geographic region, whereas Israelite tribes came to the region some 1300 years BCE.

Leon W. Zelby EE’56 PhD’61 Norman, OK


Stop Pointing at Each Other

Matthew Nielsen’s letter seems to assume that harmful misconceptions about the world come (or came) mostly from Europeans, and perhaps also that most European ideas are misconceptions. He points especially to “any expectation of superiority based on anything but the force of arms, which continues with European Americans today.” European “expectations of superiority” arose from a lot more than that, such as a long tradition of written culture and history going back thousands of years through Rome, Greece, and Egypt, compared to the prevailing absence of written language or records among the peoples they found here in the Americas. Superior “force of arms” was only one aspect of superior technology in general, again resulting from the written preservation and transmittal of learning. (While it is probably true that mathematics was enhanced by Arabic contributions like the zero, such contributions still got preserved and handed down.)

His reference to “genocide at the hands of the Europeans” does not recognize that while abuses certainly occurred, the attitude and actions of us of European descent were not entirely monolithic and certainly not uniformly genocidal. Are we supposed to believe that the indigenous inhabitants of these continents were so divorced from human nature in Europe, Africa, and Asia that there were no wars, no genocidal attempts by one tribe against another, and that these evils arose only when Europeans arrived? I strongly suspect that just as the Nazis etched their own ugly record in history by their own compulsory documentation of minutiae—a compulsion conveniently not shared by the Soviets, for example, making their misdeeds less often chronicled in film and literature—the European Americans’ own literacy led to a much more detailed awareness of our own misdeeds and a hazy ignorance of anyone else’s.

True, Christopher Columbus goofed, calling the indigenous peoples “Indians.” True, his error has endured a long, long time. I am not against finding a more indigenous collective way to refer to them. There’s the rub, however. We just can’t completely escape some European tint to the picture—even “Native American” brings in the fact that “America” is a European name honoring Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian. (It’s still better than the completely wrong “Indian,” though.)

The peoples inhabiting these continents appear to have lacked any single, or even largely prevalent, collective term to refer to themselves or their land of residence. (If Mr. Nielsen or anyone else is aware of peer-reviewed scholarship to the contrary, I am eager to find out about it.) The very awareness that these were continents came more easily to the exploring, map-making Europeans. Understandable, perhaps, but unavoidable nonetheless.

As in other parts of the world, the choice eventually comes down to whether one wants to live quietly with one’s neighbors, wherever they came from, or to be constantly raising issues. Someone cogently pointed out that while the verbal battle raged about the name of the “Washington Redskins,” assumed to be a white man’s condescending moniker, the entire state of Oklahoma was peacefully living with a name that means “Red People” in Choctaw. At some point we all need to realize that all of us have some grisly skeletons in our ethnic closets—as a Swedish-Norwegian-German-American, I have Germanic barbarians at some point as forebears. The Vikings were equally as dreaded in their day as ISIS is in ours. Perhaps more so. We have to stop pointing at each other, sometime.

Kenneth A. Rumbarger C’78 Trooper, PA


Israel Held to Different Standard

Mazan Badra and Hillel Bardin seem to have tried to do the wonderful thing in getting the two peoples that live in Israel and the West Bank to join forces [“The Good Neighbor,” Nov|Dec 2014]. However, Bardin doesn’t seem to know the history of the area.

Until the First World War the Ottoman Turks occupied the whole area, including what is now Jordan, Syria, and Israel and the West Bank. The Turkish state owned three quarters of the land in what is now the West Bank and Israel and 100 percent of the land of the Golan Heights. Only 25 percent of the land was held in private hands.

In 1970 Israel passed a law that nationalized the lands that had been owned by the Turkish state. Obviously the village of Sur Bahir was settled by squatters on Turkish national lands. They probably didn’t inform their descendants that they were living on state-owned land and were squatters. That is why the Israeli government was able to take the land and make use of it by re-foresting the area to replace trees used by the Turks to run their railroad in the area. (Jordan is now doing the same.) And it’s a shame the Jewish National Fund and the villagers tore out the olive trees, because the villagers would have made a better living from then than from growing wheat.

Now let us compare: the Arabs lost the war in 1967. Mexico lost a war against the US in 1848. The US annexed Texas, part of New Mexico, California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, and part of Colorado. The Mexicans living in the area lost their lands even though the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed their rights. The courts of the US ruled in favor of US settlers. Germany lost the war in 1945. Silesia—a large part of Germany—was given to Poland. The entire German population of Silesia was moved to Germany. The Germans were never compensated for the loss of their property (I have personal knowledge of that).

Israel only nationalized Turkish state-owned land. The US allowed settlers to take away Mexican and Indian lands. The Allies took away private lands in Silesia and gave it to the communist Polish government. Looks like some people are holding the Israelis to a different standard than other nations. At least the Arabs are still living in their village—can’t say that for the Germans.

Ruth Rider D’57 Basking Ridge, NJ


Complex Story, Well Handled

The article by Christopher Allen, “With the Donbas Battalion” [Nov|Dec 2014], illustrates the value of liberal-arts education as it is practiced at Pennsylvania. Allen presents a difficult story clearly and with feeling. Most importantly, he is concise without simplifying his subject.

I appreciated this article greatly, since I know firsthand how difficult it is to write about the complexities that confront contemporary Ukraine. I got to know the country well, both as a scholar and as a director of the Fulbright Exchange Program there.

It is gratifying to see one’s fellow alumni—albeit separated by half a century—covering critical events a hemisphere away. And all the more gratifying to read about these events in The Pennsylvania Gazette. Benjamin Franklin would be pleased by the Gazette’s groundbreaking frontline reporting

Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak CW’60 Washington


Address Concussions, But Keep Football

Football and concussions need to be addressed by coaches, players, and physicians. I am not convinced that a resolution as radical as dropping the sport is in order; it certainly is not without more study. I question the view of Lawler Kang [“Letters,” July|August] that Penn should be “a leader in what could be a natural progression of events” to drop the football program. I note that Kang thinks the “football program … appears to be on the decline anyway.” That observation suggests that he has paid little attention to the football program over the last 25 years and likely does not much like the sport in any event.

I would hope that those who love the sport would take a serious look at ways to address the question without dropping it altogether.

David A. Norcross L’61 Alexandria, VA



In the story, “Jews and Muslims: Enemies Via Ancient Editing?” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb], we misconstrued the content of Penn Associate Professor Joseph Lowry’s presentation and gave the impression that he was expressing his own views rather than describing the work of other scholars. The article had Lowry claiming that early Islamic texts had been stripped of their Old Testament influences to construct a “myth of Islam” that became more extremist and violent over time.

“In fact,” as Lowry wrote, “my talk consisted of a critical examination of three controversial (and fairly obscure) works of modern scholarship on the emergence of the religion of Islam. These works, as I explained in my talk, urge us to consider much early Islamic literature as myth rather than history. This can be a valuable interpretive approach; it is an approach that these works all expressly borrowed from the modern academic study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity and which, as I argued in my talk, they employed with widely varying degrees of success.” We apologize for the error.

Share Button

    1 Response

    1. Hesham Bazaraa

      Steinberg in his letter “Don’t Blame the Crusades” says, ” The Koran … calls for Jews (and other non-Muslims) to be killed, converted to Islam, or permitted to live as dhimmis (inferior subjects who pay a special poll tax levied on non-Muslims) under Islamic law”, and “violence against Jews (and other non-Muslims) has been a key part of the Islamic faith …”. These are gross misrepresentations of Islam and the Quran. Jews had peacefully coexisted with Prophet Muhammad in the city of Madina. While Muslims were required to pay a poor tax, the Zakat, to the community, the Dhimmis, literally “protected people”, paid only a lesser tax called Jizya. It afforded them protection of the army of the frequently attacked Muslim community and the rights to complete safety from any Muslim harm by the Prophet’s own words, ” who has harmed a Dhimmi has harmed me”. The prophet’s companion and second Caliph Umar also allowed a Christian Arab tribe who so chose to pay the Zakat instead of the Jizya showing it was not intended as an insult or humiliation to non Muslims, rather allowed them to avoid getting involved in a Muslim army that may be called to protect Muslims in different countries.

      The story of the Jews of Madina being slaughtered is a report mostly relying on Jewish transmitters but transmitted non the less by Muslim historians of a single tribe that broke their covenant of protection with the Muslims of Madina and conspired to have them exterminated at a time they were being attacked by multiple Arab pagan tribes. The Muslims survived the attempt to be exterminated by the Pagan Arabs and that Jewish tribe and the conspiring tribe may have been punished. It is a reported story and its authenticity may be debated but it does not change the protection that the Prophet and hundreds of years of Muslims afterwards afforded Jews and Christians. As for other historical situations Islam, the Prophet and the Quran were not responsible then nor are they now for the actions of criminals who call themselves Muslims. A careful review of history will show that the Jews lived in peace with Muslims more so than any other group and that Islam from the very beginning afforded Jews full rights at a time that human rights were barely recognized nor respected.

    Leave a Reply