I’d like to talk to Osama bin Laden. Send him videos of people talking about everyday life. Just mail them to Pakistan with an odd confidence that they’d wind up in his possession. Why not? He’s not going anywhere. His life must be hell.
He’s on my mind a lot, anyway. Whenever I think of evil embodiments, there he is, seven years after the most abhorrent, senseless eradication of innocent human lives ever packed into a few hours.
Some of Hitler’s atrocities may have rivaled 9/11 numbers in a similar time frame, but the Holocaust, thank God, was never televised (couldn’t have been then, of course). Ironically, if a little of it had been, maybe a lot of it wouldn’t have happened.
There may be single battles, a few from our own Civil War and certainly the World Wars, that rival those awful numbers, but those involved opponents in wars. Both sides knew they were engaged in warfare, and killing was a matter of self-preservation.
Not even Pearl Harbor claimed as many lives, and even that horrendously evil, cowardly sneak attack was aimed at military forces.
But I digress. Since I was a child, Hitler’s was the face I saw in my mind’s eye whenever I thought of hideous evil on Earth directly and by design causing unfathomable physical and emotional suffering to innocents. His was the face I saw when I would brood about my sixth-grade Holocaust studies, until I had to envision him and his henchmen in Hell. (Some of us Catholic kids took our upbringing seriously.)
Maybe it’s partly because I know Hitler got his comeuppance and is long gone as a threat that I find him trumped in face-of-evil supremacy by a megalomaniacal cave-dweller who, fortunately, was seriously impeded (but not stopped) after one day. Oh, but that day….
Everything we never saw plays out in my head every anniversary more insistently than what we all did see, like a horrible sad movie that I don’t want playing but can’t shut off. Unplug it, go ahead, I’ve already tried – it has its own power inside.
The film opens with the night before a big trip: eleventh-hour inventory of stopping the mail and shutting off the water woven through the last-second soft mumbling and giggling of a couple deciding everything is go before turning in late.
Cut to next morning and a flight boarding line, bobbing Disney hats happily chattering away with Mom and Dad, the usual quiet passengers, a few nervous fliers, a couple of big leather briefcases, the greeting from the flight attendants while overhead compartments snap and thud. Everybody buckles up for takeoff.
Next, there’s a water cooler debate about the season’s start for the Jets and the Giants and how NFL preseason really doesn’t mean anything. A tiny line of water droplets glint off a crumpled white paper cup that flops end-over-end to a soft trashcan clunk that punctuates the final harmonious notes of sporting disagreement and some quick mutterings about lunch.
But then the film dissolves into everything we did see. After that, everything I’ve ever believed about humane, discreet, sparing application of the death penalty vanishes, and I just want to see the megalomaniacal caveboy murderer die. I also want him to burn in Hell, and sure, let me see that, too – in HD.
Then, of course, the rest of me regains control, and I regret my thoughts as outrageously judgmental, violent exaggerations that no flawed human has the right to think.
But what if we did finally nab bin Laden? What would we do with him? Have America’s leaders been honest enough with their fellow citizens on much of anything for them to trust that he would die at their hands?
Most probably would, and they’d probably be right, but there would be a big bunch of doubt. And even if we believed, would it be enough for the American psyche at large? Do we need more on this one, enough to create and commit an extreme national just-this-once act?
I’ll be first to admit that it would draw the wrong crowd and set a horrible precedent, but one part of my annual September mind-movie abomination is starting to seem less irrational to me:
If we catch history’s most horrific single-day mass murderer, we might have to let all of America watch him die. It probably would take a constitutional amendment, but come on, it’s either that or make some pocket network-slinging special ops sergeant rich – which I guess would be okay.
Seriously, whose news would we trust to tell us it’s been done? They could all show us the same photos of a shaggy-bearded corpse, but anything can be manipulated today, and the media bullshit faucets would go into such deep flood mode we’d all have to swim through the supermarket checkout line. The medium probably most resistant to manipulation: live high-definition television.
It’s an ugly, ugly thought, to be sure, but when has a whole country ever more deserved – maybe needed – to see the demise of a monster? No doubt, there’d be big lessons to learn, like how much we might (probably) hate ourselves in the morning.
Or, maybe we could just talk to him. His life must be hell.