Hardcore History takes on public executionsteemCreated with Sketch.

in history •  11 months ago


Hardcore History is a podcast by amateur historian Dan Carlin. There are lots of history podcasts out there, but two things set Carlin's apart; one is the passioned voice that Carlin uses as he speaks, contrasting sharply with the rote lecture format of many other podcasters; the other is that his shows tend to be very long, with episodes over six hours long - themselves perhaps in a series with other episodes at least four hours long - not unheard of. (This length also means that episodes are released months apart, so it's always a treat to see a new episode appear in my podcast app.)

The most recent episode is a "blitz" episode (so just a one-off, not part of a series) entitled Painfotainment, and covers the phenomenon of state-sponsored public execution. This is a topic which is quite alien to our contemporary Western civilities - and yet, up to just a couple hundred years ago, was not only common, but a spectacle you might attend like a pro baseball game.

With great and sometimes quite graphic detail (if you're like me, you've heard the phrase "to break someone on a wheel," but had no idea the magnitude of horror such a thing entails), Carlin covers the topic from the perspectives of the condemned, the religious and/or political leaders instituting such a punishment, the crowds showing up to watch it, and even the executioners themselves.

Near the end of the over-four-hours-long episode, Carlin speculates about why public executions fell out of favor in the West. Changing cultural attitudes? Government secularization? Leaders realizing that it was not an effective crime deterrent after all? Perhaps some combination of the three. And yet today, in the 21st century, political execution still exists and is even celebrated by some people. And we still have people whose job description, or at least part of it, is to murder captives in the name of the state; to inject them with lethal chemicals, or flip the switch on an electric chair, or whatever mechanism is involved with flooding a hermetically-sealed chamber with lethal gases. And in many cases, press members and people involved with the case or the criminal's victims are invited to watch. Who's to say that public executions couldn't come into favor again, and that they couldn't turn into the spectacle they once were before? Truly sobering.

I suggest those interested in history to give Carlin's podcasts a listen. If this particular topic doesn't interest you (or perhaps even disgusts you), there's still many others to choose from. Most of the older episodes are paywalled, but there are still dozens of hours of episodes available for free, including Blueprint for Armageddon, a six-part series (over 20 hours of runtime) on World War I. You can find Hardcore History on the Apple Podcasts app and probably other common podcast services, or you can download them directly from the website.

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