Anniversary Post: Salem Witch Trials

Bridget BishopOn this day in 1692, the Salem Witch Trials stated. It seems like only yesterday (Because it was!) that I writing about the good people of 17th century Massachusetts Colony killing Quakers. But after 1661, that became illegal by royal edict. What to do? People get afraid and every American knows that the best thing to do when you are afraid is to lash out at people who are not threats. Thus, on 2 June 1692, 60 year old Bridget Bishop was hauled in front of a grand jury on the charge of witchcraft. The main thing at her trial was that she didn’t dress properly for a Puritan. And just eight days later, they hanged her. She was the first of twenty.

I know that we all look back on things like this and wonder what the people were thinking. I don’t. I look out at modern America and see the way that we continue to do the same kinds of things. My favorite example is the drug laws. And I know most people respond to this, “We don’t kill drug users!” Well, that’s not really true. To start with, Iran kills people for unauthorized drugs. And that “advanced” country Singapore killed two people for drug offenses just last year. It didn’t kill any for murder.

But okay: that’s not the United States. The fact that we don’t kill people for drug offenses is simply due to the same reason that we don’t kill people for stealing horses: it just isn’t done anymore. But there are certainly people in this country who want the death penalty for drugs. And we certainly destroy lives because of our drug laws. We put people in unsafe prisons where they are killed. And we are willing to go to war over drugs. Remember the invasion of Panama in 1989? That was sold to the American people as something we had to do because of drugs. As a direct result of that invasion, as many as 314 Panamanians and 23 Americans were killed.

But the point is not the punishment. The point is that our culture is so afraid of drugs that it can be sold pretty much any policy in the name of fighting it. The fact that our drug laws are primarily used to oppress the weak goes along with the witch trials. Of course, after a while, even powerful people were caught up in the witch trials — but that is what finally caused their destruction: the whole thing was out of control. This is what fear does. And I think Americans are among the most fearful people on the planet.

So we mark this day 323 years ago when the Salem Witch Trials stated. But we mustn’t feel superior to those people. We are, after all, the people who killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis because we were vewy vewy afwaid.

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