Worth a thousand nightmares

The kid on his way to UVA barely existed–he’d been chopped in half at the waist and burned down to a crusty black skeleton. The man with the case of beer died about two minutes after I first saw him. He bled out in a pool of Budweiser and Rutherford Road gravel. The young, pretty girl looked almost normal, but her mouth hung at an angle that spoke the words, “I’m not coming back.” The man at the roadside looked like he’d died in a car fire, but had, in fact, been shot. The kid under the SUV was only a gray hand that looked to be reaching out for one last chance at life. The green Jeep Cherokee made sure the hand could grab nothing. There were more like that, and countless others under sheets or in body bags. I remember each one like it was a picture I studied for hours. That’s what happens when you see it for real. You don’t forget, no matter how much you want to.

My first reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death surprised me. The skeptic in me demanded a picture or video. I wanted proof that the bogeyman was gone; that we’d put a hole in his head out of which every dram of evil could leak; that the symbol of my country’s sweating, hand-wringing fear had been laid out like the monster he was. I discussed it with my wife. We both took comfort in the fact that we weren’t alone in our desire to see a picture of the end. It felt dirty, but the desire was real.

Most of the death I’ve seen in my life was a function of my work. It was a road I walked knowing the emotional landmines I’d have to endure. Despite holding a permanent place in my head, a majority of it is clinical and detached. I didn’t set out to see the dead people. They were just there. In the past ten years, I’ve made two choices regarding death that I wish I could take back. I watched the videos of Daniel Pearl’s beheading and Budd Dwyer’s suicide. Today, looking out this morning across a green garden and a plump robin pecking at the grass, I can’t understand the part of my brain that hit the play button on those videos. I watched each one once, but they replay too often in my head. Unlike the death I was forced to see, these were violent ends I’d made a choice to view. The fact I’d made a conscious choice made it worse. Much worse.

And now I was hoping the government would release the photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse? Why? That’s a question we don’t ask ourselves enough.

Do I really need proof Bin Laden is dead? If I do, this supposes I hold such a distrust in my government that I think it would lie to me about killing the world’s greatest super villain. While I know my government lies to me regularly, it’s a stretch to think it would do so in this case. Making such a claim in the absence of knowing it to be 100% true is a dangerous proposition. Having Bin Laden pop up and giggle, “I’m not dead yet!” would pretty much be the end of the current administration. That is to say, Bin Laden is dead and we don’t need any further proof.

Do other people need proof Bin Laden is dead? It doesn’t seem so. There are precious few doubters out there, and those who do exist are conveniently ignoring the point I made above. If you can come up with a conspiracy theory that has Bin Laden alive and in constant cooperation with the U.S. government since 9/11…well, we have more problems than a photo, don’t we?

Is it right to put the photo on TV? That is, when Daniel Pearl was killed on TV, we shuddered to the point of tears. Why would we want to be as evil as Pearl’s killers? It makes no difference that Pearl is our hero and did no evil in our eyes. In his killers’ eyes, Pearl was evil and deserved a public death, just as we believe Bin Laden deserved to die. Yes, there are differences in the men and the methods, but putting death on display seems to equate to the same thing. They were telling us, “We got yer boy.” As we need no particular proof of Bin Laden’s death, putting his corpse on TV serves no greater purpose than to say “Now we got YER boy.”

It seems pretty clear we as an American people decided the hunting and assassination of Osama bin Laden was a good idea. It would be a lot easier for us if Bin Laden had used his wife as a shield and been shooting at our SEALs. Even if he wasn’t, I can’t summon much outrage for double-tapping the son of a bitch in cold blood. He gave up his right to due process when he took public credit for murdering nearly 3,000 people on American soil. Moreover, it’s sometimes a good idea to remind people that a martyr’s blood doesn’t clot any faster.

That’s where we should end it. Put the pictures in a vault and call it a day. The bogeyman is dead and at the bottom of the sea. Let the crabs eat his eyes and spit out the lead. Osama bin Laden gave us a thousand nightmares. Let’s go to bed without another picture of the monster to haunt our dreams.