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David E. Ruth, ‘Our Free Society is Worthy of Better’: Caryl Chessman, Capital Punishment, and Cold War Culture, 31-55

Article

Published onJan 01, 2015
David E. Ruth, ‘Our Free Society is Worthy of Better’: Caryl Chessman, Capital Punishment, and Cold War Culture, 31-55

Abstract
Convict author Caryl Chessman was the focus of international attention from 1954 until his 1960 execution at San Quentin. Americans used Chessman to articulate understandings about themselves, their society, and their place in the world. Many used the case to comment on new understandings of behaviour and its modifiability, the apparent post-war rise in juvenile delinquency, and the prospects for individual autonomy in an increasingly conformist society. Cold War concerns profoundly shaped the discourse about Chessman. For some activists, global save-Chessman sentiment pointed to the possibility of transcending bitter international divisions. Execution opponents believed commutation would highlight the progressive social practices essential for winning the Cold War battle for global opinion. Execution supporters decried what they saw as the reluctance of soft, overly sentimental Americans to take the hard steps necessary to protect order in a dangerous world.

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