“Did We Just Kill a Kid?”
In the spring of 1944, in the quiet little town of Alcolu, South Carolina, two young girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, were brutally murdered while picking flowers along a railroad track. Their bodies were found in a nearby water filled ditch. The cause of death was determined to be multiple blows to their skulls with a metal railroad spike. A Mr. George Stinney was soon arrested for the murders. While there was no physical evidence or eyewitness accounts linking the defendant to the crime, unfortunately for Mr. Stinney, the two girls were white. He was black.
Two white police officers were able to get a confession out of Mr. Stinney within an hour, behind closed doors. It was the only evidence offered up during his trial, a trial that was held in one day and lasted only two and a half hours. It was attended by 1,500 people, all of them white. Blacks were not allowed in the courtroom. Mr. Stinney, his family having been driven from their small town, faced the trial alone. Council for the defense offered no evidence on its client’s behalf, and it requested no psychiatric evaluation of the defendant. A guilty verdict was reached after only 10 minutes of deliberation by the (all white male) jury. No recommendation for mercy was given. Had Mr. Stinney’s lawyer filed a simple one sentence appeal, the execution would have been automatically stayed for at least a year. But this was impossible due to the fact that Mr. Stinney did not see his attorney again from the time he left the court. Furthermore, his attorney never spoke to any members of the defendant’s family, let alone inform them that they had the right to appeal the death sentence. Just 81 days after his arrest, on June 16, 1944, Mr. Stinney would walk into the execution chamber.
There is one more tragic element to this already tragic story. Mr. George Junius Stinney Jr. was just 14 years old when he was put to death. He was the youngest person (legally) executed in the United States in the 20th century.
Being small for his age, weighing just 95 pounds (approximately 43 kilograms) and only five feet one inch tall (approximately 1.5 meters), it was with great difficulty that the death sentenced was carried out. But carried out it was. His small body was propped up with books in order to get him to fit properly in the electric chair (the original designers having carelessly overlooked the fact that one day their device might be used to execute a small child), allowing for an electrode to be attached to his right leg.
One commentator reported that George said nothing as the mask was lowered over his face. But after the first 2,400 volts passed through the boy’s small body “the death mask slipped from his face and his eyes were open when two additional shots of 1,200 and 500 volts followed.” George’s head “went up and the mask came of his face … and saliva and all was coming out of his mouth and tears from his eyes.”
The Governor, Olin Johnson, had received hundreds of letters and telegrams asking for leniency for the young boy. But facing a primary election in July, the Governor was not inclined to grant clemency. One telegram compared the execution of a child to something that Adolf Hitler would do. A stinging and bitter accusation considering that American troops had just landed on the beaches of Normandy ten days earlier in the D-Day invasion to liberate France from Nazi occupation and terror. On that one day alone, 9,000 Allied soldiers would die or be wounded fighting the Germans.
It can be argued that the execution of a 14 year old child was a social aberration from a bygone era. A simple anomaly. An isolated case that “fell through the cracks.” A repulsive event from a period when America was still suffering from racial and social ignorance. Surely, as a society, the United States has progressed far beyond the days of when it tolerated the State sanctioned execution of children, has it not?
Two pilots are sitting in an air-conditioned windowless room in New Mexico. Before them sit an array of 14 computer monitors and four keyboards. 6,250 miles away (about 10,000 kilometers) they are controlling a Predator drone that is circling lazily in a figure eight pattern over Afghanistan. They are observing a crude house made of mud when the order is given to launch a laser guided Hellfire missile at the target. With just seconds to go till impact, a small child walks out from behind one of the corners of the structure. A flash on the control screen confirms the impact and explosion, with parts of the structure collapsing and the child disappearing.
“Did we just kill a kid?” the co-pilot asks the pilot.
“Yeah, I guess that was a kid,” the pilot replies.
Confirmation as to whether or not a missile strike had just been carried out on a child was requested. “No. That was a dog,” comes the anonymous response from a military command center.
The pilots review the video of the drone strike that had just taken place.
A dog on two legs?
One of the pilots is no longer in the Air Force, declining to renew his enlistment contract when it was up. After 6,000 flight hours and six years of military service he says “I saw men, women and children die during that time. I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.” He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by doctors with the Veterans’ Administration.
While the above incident could be deemed an “accident,” apparently the targeted murder of children is now accepted US military policy.
Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, Commander of 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, states, “It kind of opens our aperture. In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent” as well. While the Lt. Col would not elaborate on what exactly are the rules of engagement when encountering potential child combatants, reassuringly he tells us that he advises the soldiers serving under him to use “courageous restraint.”
Apparently this “courageous restraint” was lacking on October 14, 2012, when US Marines operating in Helmand province requested, and got clearance for, an airstrike on “shadowy figures” thought to be in the process of setting up an improvised explosive device (IED). The assailants killed in the strike turned out to be three children who were 12, 10 and 8 years old.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a part of NATO and the organization that is nominally in command of the war (the reality being, of course, that it is a US led affair), said that it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.” Family members of the victims reported that the children were sent to gather dung, which is used for fuel.
America’s first war in Iraq and its associated sanctions are believed to have resulted in the deaths of over half a million children. America’s second war in Iraq is believed to have resulted in the deaths of over 600,000 Iraqis (most of them between the ages of 15 and 44). America’s targeted drone attacks in the Tribal Regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have reportedly killed between 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children
If these were the actions of China, Russia, Iran, or any other country on Earth, we would be able to see them clearly for what they are. War crimes and crimes against humanity of the highest order. We would also realize that they are the actions of a society that is in moral decline.
Why it is impossible for the vast majority of Americans to see this is incomprehensible.
Acknowledgement: The author would sincerely like to thank Professor Bryan A. Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, for making him aware of the story of George Stinney.
Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.
“Afghan kids recruited for suicide attacks” by Joe Gould and John Ryan, July 18, 2012, Army Times. Accessed at:
“Attempts to clear name of 14-year-old boy who was executed in South Carolina 67 years ago” Reporter: Mark Potter, Anchor: Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News 6:30 PM EST (NBC News Transcripts), October 4, 2011.
“Attorney Decries Juvenile Executions (From Young Blood: Juvenile Justice and the Death Penalty, P 159-165, 1995, Shirley Dicks, ed. – See NCJ-166057)” by D. Bruck, 1995. Accessed at:
“Columbia Journal; Prison Lures Them In (as Tourists)” February 22, 1994, The New York Times. Accessed at:
“D-Day June 6, 1944” United States Army Official Homepage. Accessed at:
“Do Targeted Killings Work?” by Daniel L. Byman, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, July 14, 2009, The Brookings Institute. Accessed at: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2009/07/14-targeted-killings-byman
“Iraq Sanctions Kill Children, U.N. Reports” by Barbara Crossette, December 1, 1995, The New York Times. Accessed at:
“Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan” the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (Stanford Law School) and the Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law), September 2012. Accessed at:
“Questions Raised in Deaths of Afghan Children in Coalition Strike” by Alissa J. Rubin, October 17, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:
“Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders” by Dan Lamothe and Joe Gould, December 3, 2012, Military Times. Accessed at:
“Study Claims Iraq’s ‘Excess’ Death Toll Has Reached 655,000” by David Brown, October 11, 2006, The Washington Post. Accessed at:
“The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002-2006” by G. Burnham, S. Doocy, E. Dzeng, R. Lafta and L. Roberts, with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Al Mustansiriya University and the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 11, 2006. Accessed at:
“The Merciful Executioner: Spectacles of Sexual Danger and National Reunification in the George Stinney Case, 1944” by Annette Louise Bickford, University of Toronto, Southern Anthropologist Vol. 35, No. 1, 2010
“The Woes of an American Drone Operator” by Nicola Abé, December 14, 2012, Der Spiegel. Accessed at:
“War in Iraq: Humanitarian Relief Efforts” April 11, 2003, The Washington Post. Accessed at:
“When Something Wicked This Way Comes: Evolving Standards of Indecency – Thompson and Stanford Revisited” by J. L. Whitney, 46 Clev. St. L. Rev. 801 (1998)
“World: Middle East Iraqis blame sanctions for child deaths” by Jeremy Bowen, August 12, 1999, BBC. Accessed at: