The debate surrounding death sentences awarded to infamous drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan of the Bali Nine proved one of the biggest and most divisive controversies addressed by the Australian media in 2015. After spending the best part of a decade behind bars for attempting to smuggle 8.3 kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia, the two men were executed on 29th of April 2015, following several unsuccessful appeals and even pleas for clemency from the Australian government. In the lead up to their execution, we saw the rekindling a debate that has raged on for decades.
This debate of course, was the divisive question of whether capital punishment is indeed a fitting penalty for any crime, regardless of how severe the crime may be, and whether in fact anyone should have the right to enforce such a severe punishment in the first place. Though outlawed in most parts of Australia since the mid twentieth century, Australia’s strong opinions against the punishment were solidified decades later in 2010, with the passing of legislation prohibiting the re-establishment of capital punishment by any state or territory in Australia. One article expressing similar sentiment to such an opinion is ‘Bali nine duo executions: Two wrongs don’t make a right’ by Madonna King of the Sydney Morning Herald (March 5 2015). The article, published one month before the execution, claims the duo ‘do not deserve to die for their actions’ because of the overly severe and ‘immoral’ nature of the penalty. Though a large proportion of Australians might agree with King, there is an alternate, less popular argument suggesting the duo ‘do deserve to die for their actions’. One such article in favour of the latter view is ‘OPINION: ‘Bali Nine ringleaders deserve to die’ by Adam Davies of the Sunshine Coast Daily (28th Apr 2015). Published only a day prior to the executions, Davies’ article is interesting as though the author disagrees with capital punishment he argues the right of a country to have it’s laws respected.
Both articles maintain a largely ‘flag waving’ mode of addressing readers, with each article assuming the average reader is sympathetic to Chan and Sukumaran, and accepting they disagree, on some level, with the Indonesian government’s choice to enforce the death penalty. King assumes this view is shared between herself and her readers, and as such she works not to persuade, but rather to solidify the reader’s ‘existing opinion’. On the other hand, Davies, who also assumes readers align themselves with King’s outlook, attempts to persuade readers away from their existing opinions, and instead to consider, by way of much counter argumentation, why the men may deserve the punishment.
Firstly, on examining King’s article we are able to establish almost immediately the author’s vigorous disagreement with the forthcoming execution, and indeed her disapproval for the death sentence as a form of punishment. The title of King’s piece ‘Bali nine duo executions: Two wrongs don’t make a right’, makes use of a familiar adage that is loaded with connotations of morality. The phrase is a cue that sees readers who are familiar with the Bali Duo piecing together the author’s view that capital punishment is ‘wrong’, before even reading the first sentence.
It is obvious from early on that the article is of a largely evaluative nature, with the use of evaluative terms such as ‘crude’, ‘immoral’, ‘inhumane’ and ‘murder’ serving to assist in delivering assertions based largely on opinion from the outset. Thus, we are able to discern that King’s article is dependant more on her personal conclusions than actual argumentation.
King’s central claim is that Andrew Chan and Myuran should not be executed because capital punishment is wrong and ‘immoral’ which she denotes reasonably explicitly throughout the article:
‘The execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has so many flaws it’s hard to know where to begin. Should it be with the crude and immoral legal rule of a state to sanction a killing?’
King begins by claiming that the execution of the duo has ‘so many flaws’ she doesn’t know where to begin, justifying by way of ethical appeal that the ability of a government to carry out capital punishment is crude and ‘immoral’. Without explicitly defining this contentious term, it is evident that King feels her readers are already in agreement with her as to what is or is not ‘immoral’. In reality, the boundaries of morality are subject to much debate, and are usually dependent on personal values and religious beliefs. King does not justify her labelling of capital punishment as ‘immoral’, and thus it is evident that she assumes her readers share the worldview that it is unquestionably ‘wrong’.
King’s anecdotal opening sentence also helps to establish her sense of morality:
‘Forty years ago, as a young child, my mother warned me that two wrongs never made a right. My elder brother had lashed out and hit me, and I was quick to gift him a return biff.
This weekend I’ll pass on the same counsel to my own daughters, now aged 10 and 11, but it won’t be a backyard scrap that the advice will be based on.
It will be the egregious, stomach-turning decision by a neighbouring government to murder two young Australians.’
This analogy likens the Indonesian sentencing of the Duo to her childhood-self returning a ‘biff’ to her brother. In doing this, King implies that the adage ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’ applies to both scenarios, which can be considered a false analogy. The analogy is false in the sense that it is perhaps disproportionate to suggest that the advice given to two small siblings in a tiff should apply to the sentencing of grown men who have committed a felony.
Making her views on the immorality of the death penalty clearer still, King utilises the word ‘murder’, a term loaded with strong negative moral connotations, rather than the word ‘execute’. Factually, the latter term is the correct way to reference the killing and by adopting criminal terminology, King implies the penalty is less of a punishment and more of a crime itself.
I feel sick writing this; sick to the core that Indonesia, a country I have both donated to, and visited, would carry out an injustice so grievous as the slaughter of two men who have shown the world the value of rehabilitation.
Here King portrays the men as shining examples of ‘men who have shown the world the value of rehabilitation,’ and in an appeal to consequences, she insinuates the men could have served as positive examples to others, had they been granted clemency. This paragraph also contains the fallacy of distraction, where King unnecessarily states Indonesia is ‘a country I have both donated to, and visited’; an inclusion that only serves to detract from the issue at hand. This inclusion may also be considered non sequitur, because counter to what the author implies, Australia’s humanitarian efforts should not have any bearing on the sentencing of criminals in Indonesia.
King goes on to claim that the executions will have no impact on the drug smuggling trade, and shifts blame for the crime onto a third party. Exasperated by the many ‘flaws’ associated with the executions, she asks rhetorically:
‘Should it be the ignorance attached to the view that Chan and Sukumaran’s death might save some other teenager from making the same mistake?’
It won’t. Drug smuggling will continue and those who roped Chan and Sukumaran into their drug ring are still free to watch someone place a sticker over their hearts, in the dead of night, before a line-up of Indonesian police officers take aim, and shoot them dead.’
King infers here that there will be no result positive enough achieved by execution, to justify the killing in the first place; an appeal to consequences that refutes the idea that the executions will deter others from acting in a similar manner to the duo. This of course is not necessarily the case, and one would assume the threat of execution would certainly act as a deterrent to teens considering smuggling drugs. Furthermore, the use of terminology such as ‘ignorant’, the depersonalisation of the fictional teen as just ‘some other teen’, and the blunt conclusion that ‘It won’t [save anyone]’, conveys sarcasm and suggests that King believes ‘others’ who don’t agree with her (and by association her readers) are plain ignorant.
King shifts blame from the duo onto those who ‘roped’ the pair into their drug ring; despite the fact Chan and Sukumaran were the ringleaders of the Bali Nine. She uses an appeal to emotion, attempting to anger readers by suggesting the unfairness of the fact the ‘ropers’ are ‘still free to watch someone place a sticker over their (Chan & Sukumaran’s) hearts, in the dead of night, before a line-up of Indonesian police officers take aim, and shoot them dead’. The evocative and detailed way in which she describes the forthcoming executions serves to further intensify the emotion evoked by the scenario. King continues:
‘Perhaps they’ll also watch the television news, and see the tormented look in the eyes of Chan and Sukumaran’s parents who will be told when their children have just 72 hours to live.
Either way, I hope those drug lords rot in hell – of natural causes.’
Here, King uses appeal to emotion in an attempt to evoke sympathy for the ‘tormented’ parents of the ‘children’ that the ‘drug lords’ roped into the drug ring. By establishing characters (the villainous ‘drug lords’, the vulnerable ‘children’ and the helpless ‘tormented’ parents) the narrative is more relatable to the average person. King then reiterates her disapproval for the death penalty, asserting that not even the real ‘drug lords’ should be subject to such a harsh penalty: ‘I hope those drug lords rot in hell – of natural causes.’
In his article, Adam Davies also expresses his aversion to capital punishment. However, unlike King, Davies separates his personal opinion from the majority of his argument, arguing that ‘Despite our personal beliefs, Indonesia has a right to enforce it’s own laws, and as such Andrew Chan and Myuram Sukumaran should be executed’. His article functions in a largely evaluative manner, offering personal opinions on the controversy and refuting many of the arguments voiced by opposition. He still however, uses negative language to emphasise his subjective views on the matter, resulting in an article is divided between opinion and genuine argumentation.
Upon introducing the topic, Davies makes immediately clear that he is speaking to those of an opposing view:
‘You would do well to steer clear of watching any breakfast television given the lather we have worked ourselves up over the execution of two drug smugglers.’
Despite using the term ‘we’, which usually implies the author considers himself part of a collective, the way in which Davies employs the word actually serves to distance himself from a wider group of Australians. His use of ‘we’ addresses Australians on a whole, but his recommendation to steer clear of ‘breakfast television’, a purveyor of popular opinion, suggests from the outset that he is addressing the reader with an ‘outsider’ perspective.
Davies then begins addressing why the men should be punished in accordance with Indonesia’s strict rules:
‘Opinion is split whether Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran deserve to die.
They knew the law and the consequences that came with breaking those laws.
But they decided to carry out their crime with a blatant disregard of those laws none-the-less and they got caught.’
Here Davies emphases the fact the men were aware of the illegal nature of their actions and the consequences their actions may have brought about. He appeals to people’s concern for legality, stressing the fact they acted criminally, and were aware of the illegal nature of their actions – inferring they should thus be held accountable with the designated punishment.
He goes on to claim people are unreasonably worked up by the situation; suggesting that by the public’s reaction, one would think they might prefer a scenario in which the men were never caught and the penalties never issued.
‘What if they managed to get their eight odd kilos of smack into Australia?
Would we have cared as much as for the thousands of families their drugs would have ruined?
I am guessing not.’
Outlining the alternative to the duo being caught, Davies counters the idea that ‘everything may have been better off’ had the pair had not been apprehended, by issuing an appeal to consequences. In his appeal he claims that the apprehension of the smugglers was indeed serving a greater good, by stopping the drugs from ‘ruining’ thousands of families. Given the dramatic nature of the claim, one might understand this particular claim as a potential example of the slippery slope; that is, to claim that if these two men had not been apprehended that thousands of families would have been ruined seems somewhat a stretch.
Davies soon after addresses rather explicitly his central claim, that though we may not agree with the punishment, the country in which the crime was committed have a right to penalise the men in accordance with their laws.
‘There are many Australians banged up in jails across the world but we do not hear much about them.
Granted, the majority are not facing being hauled out in the middle of the night, lined up and shot dead for their crimes.
But at the end of the day that is the law in Indonesia and it has every right to carry out punishment as it sees fit.’
Davies acknowledges that the men are in an exceptional circumstance, and it is natural for the citizens of a country free of capital punishment to be alarmed. He places emphasis on the process of the killing, ‘hauled out in the middle of the night, lined up and shot dead for their crimes’, which gives insight as to the authors personal perspective on the punishment, seemingly that he is sympathetic to the opinion of the reader. However, Davies soon after dismisses his personal opinion, implying despite his beliefs that ‘at the end of the day that is the law in Indonesia and it has every right to carry out punishment as it sees fit’.
In rebuff to the popular opinion the duo were rehabilitated, as was addressed in King’s piece, Davies had this to say:
Sure the drug smugglers may have been rehabilitated, but most people would be able to pick up a paint brush or find God if their lives depended on it.
Sure after spending the best part of a decade banged up in an Indonesian jail they have learnt their lesson.
But irrespective of all that . . . they are still two drug traffickers.
Ultimately we are only up in arms about their looming execution because they are Australian – let’s be honest with ourselves.
Davies emphasises it is human nature for people to do whatever it takes to survive, in the case of the duo, this being ‘rehabilitation’. In an example of an appeal to authority, Davies dismisses the credibility of the duo by calling them by their crime, ‘the drug smugglers’, rather than by name, and suggests their rehabilitation cannot necessarily proven because they are untrustworthy.
Davies continues by asserting that despite their supposed rehabilitation, the men ‘are still two drug traffickers’, and goes on to stakes a claim that the only reason we care about the execution is ‘because they are Australian’. In this claim Davies appeals to the reader’s to ethical and legal concerns. The claim sets about making the reader feel guilty for their outrage, and begs the question ‘why should we put Australian’s above the law?’. From this claim we can catch a glimpse of the authors underlying warrant and worldview for the argument: that all people must follow the law.
An analysis of these two oppositional articles reveal two very different kinds of argumentation directed at the same readership. King’s piece argues to solidify what she believes to be the existing opinion of her readers, employing a rant-like style of argumentation. On the other hand Davies, who also addresses a readership with worldview similar to King’s, attempts to persuade the readers away from their existing opinions to share his worldview. Both authors employ effective argumentative tactics to convince their readers of their view, however, despite their oppositional views on whether or not Indonesia should enforce the death penalty, both address the same general argumentative points in order to convey their message.
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