Wednesday, December 7, 2005

“I think he would be liberal,” Mark David Chapman has said of John Lennon, whom he murdered 25 years ago in New York City. “I think he would probably want to see me released.”

Mr. Lennon and his widow, Yoko Ono, were pop music’s most famous liberals in their day. They helped create the mold of activist star with political songs, media stunts such as bed-ins for peace, and simplistic, if enduring, slogans such as “Give Peace a Chance.” However, Miss Ono isn’t feeling too liberal these days when it comes to Mark David Chapman.

She has spoken out against British and American television specials devoted to her husband’s killer. Even worse, a feature film on Chapman’s life is in the works. It’s just the latest installment in pop culture’s long-running love affair with celebrity stalkers and mass murderers, from Valerie Solanis to Charles Manson.

Chapman is fortunate that he murdered Mr. Lennon in New York, where the death penalty was reinstated in 1995, but never enforced, before being overturned again last year. If the crime had occurred elsewhere — like, say, Texas — he might never have had the chance to muse about his victim’s forgiveness.

He has been denied parole three times since 2000, and Miss Ono has played a role each time, sending and resending a letter stating that she and Mr. Lennon’s two sons “would not feel safe for the rest of our lives” if Chapman were released.

She also has found it deplorable that if Chapman were freed, he would be “rewarded with a normal life while John lost his,” and she objected to the message this would send to other potential assassins and their unsuspecting victims.

Safety, justice, deterrence: Miss Ono’s arguments against leniency for Chapman are the same ones made by countless Americans who have suffered losses similar to hers and are supported by groups such as Families and Friends of Victims of Violent Crime. Most will sympathize with her position.

Not only did she lose her husband to a senseless murder, but she witnessed the event. Given Chapman’s notoriety and his remarkably cheeky pronouncements, it is unlikely his parole wishes will be fulfilled anytime soon.

What is most striking, and sobering, about Miss Ono’s protest is how it illustrates the conflict between her political convictions and her experiences in the real world.

In the distant past, Miss Ono and Mr. Lennon propagated any number of radical political views, including one song that urged, “Free all prisoners everywhere … all they need is love and care.”

Though Miss Ono shouldn’t be held to statements she made in the early 1970s, her politics do not seem to have changed much in the years since: Love and peace will save the day, now as then. The ideal world is harder for some people to give up than for others, but sooner or later, personal experience intrudes.

It is not unlike the tension in John Lennon’s songs, which always veered between idealized dreams and the hard, bitter facts of living. From the former came his memorable imagery and questing nature; from the latter came his wit and delight in puncturing pretense.

Both made him special, but as legions of his fans have discovered in their own lives, the material world (as George Harrison once called it) has its own realities. And when it comes to the reality of violence, Yoko Ono is guided less by Mr. Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” than by his earlier, wiser “Not a Second Time”: “You’re giving me the same old line/I’m wondering why/You hurt me then, you’re back again/ No, no, no, not a second time.”

Often, the same liberals who dispense with pity for their tormentors expect “ordinary” Americans to treat theirs with a forgiveness more common to saints. One suspects, or hopes, that Miss Ono’s trauma of 25 years ago has helped her understand the views of others who have experienced violence up close and who, like her, have exerted great effort to keep destroyers of life from repeating their deeds.

Paul Beston is a contributing writer to the American Spectator.

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