Hypocrisy in the Colosseum

July 10, 2011
/ Author: Rick

I haven’t written much about the criminal law case that’s been scintillating — and then enraging — others around the country, the Casey Anthony case.

In the beginning, it was a combination of being too busy for that, and recognizing that whatever I saw on the news was likely to be sensationalized and full of erroneous and perhaps even deliberately misleading information.

As time went on, it became clear to me that there was another reason not to watch: ancient Rome was never one of my favorite “civilizations” and the Colosseum most likely would have disgusted me.

 Unfortunately, there are not so many people as I would hope, who feel the same as I do.  Gladiatorial combat involving potentially innocent human beings is still a great piece of bloodsport to thrill the ignorant masses today. This is true whether the crowd staging the show is itself composed of criminals, or whether convicted criminals — who nevertheless do not deserve to die — serve as the gladiators to entertain their jailers.

The courtroom is about the closest that I think any civilized people should ever come to gladiatorial combat.

There, the “gladiators” share one thing — and, I hope, pretty much only one thing — in common with those of ancient Rome: they are professionally trained.

Our adversarial system of justice depends upon this idea. As one of my favorite quotes — favored by me because it expressly recognizes that though our system is adversarial, it is not merciless barbarism — specifically talks about the role of gladiators in our justice system:

[I]f the process loses its character as a confrontation between adversaries, the constitutional guarantee [to the effective assistance of counsel] is violated. As Judge Wyzanski has written: “While a criminal trial is not a game in which the participants are expected to enter the ring with a near match in skills, neither is it a sacrifice of unarmed prisoners to gladiators.” United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 656, 104 S.Ct. 2039, 80 L.Ed.2d 657 (1984).

Our criminal justice system depends — particularly for the right to be called a “justice” system — upon this fundamental principle that neither Truth, nor unarmed prisoners, will be sacrificed to the State’s trained gladiators.

In no other way is our justice system intended to resemble the Colosseum!

Increasingly, however, it appears that Americans are no more concerned with justice and no less bloodthirsty than those who flocked to the amphitheaters of Rome to watch the munera.

Many of those same Americans vociferously cling to the idea that this country is a Christian country. This is ironic when you look what happened to Rome’s gladiator games after Christianity was declared the official religion there. According to one website,

[T]he tides turned when Theodosius I declared that Christianity was to become the sole religion of the Roman Empire in 380CE. Under the guise of Christianity Theodosius ruled that feeding humans to wild animals was un-Christian and no longer allowed. The news was received badly by spectators and there are reports of mobs retaliating against the Christians who tried to invoke the new laws.

One such angry mob, reportedly, murdered a Christian who interfered with a Gladiatorial Show and so the Emperor stepped in and banned all Gladiator contests. In 476CE a mere 96 years after Christianity was declared the sole religion the Roman Empire fell and with it any ideas of bringing back the Gladiator.

Well, maybe.

Unfortunately, some things don’t seem to have changed much. I mean, sure, the amphitheaters are smaller. And in the truest recreation of gladiatorial combat, the fight is no longer normally “to the death,” although the risk may be there.  In the still smaller amphitheater of the courtroom, depending upon the State and the case, death is still a real possibility.

And when those watching the drama in this “great Christian nation” — which obviously has never been any such thing, nor, if the Christian god existed, would he, she, or it allow such a claim to stand — are deprived of their blood?

Like the savage mobs in ancient Rome, they’ll go after those they believe prevented the satisfaction of their bloodlust.

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