Why Does Everybody Wanna See Pictures of Dead Osama?
The other night on the Daily show, Jon Stewart continued his tireless efforts to convince his viewership that the Obama administration should show those pictures of a dead and eyeless Osama Bin Laden. This sentiment has been echoed all over the political spectrum, from left-leaning pundits to tea partiers who want yet another thing to fault President Obama on. Lots of people want to see those photos. My question is, who cares?
Jon Stewart likened the administration’s refusal to show the photos as a dismissal of the realities of war.
“We can only make decisions about war if we see what war actually is – and not as a video game where bodies quickly disappear leaving behind a shiny gold coin.” He said.
Full disclosure. I was in NYC during 9-11. I lived in a small apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn back when it was only 90% gentrified and not the current 190%. Back before Brian Williams made the area his own private laughing stock. Back when the word hipster was enjoying a well deserved five decade slumber. Anyways, you ask any New Yorker what it was like to be here during that day and the weeks that followed and you are likely to hear the usual keywords: Terror, confusion, anger. You know, what everyone felt. And just like everyone else, we also experienced a heavy dose of togetherness and love in the days that followed. Random strangers would hug on the street. People were having long and proactive conversations about their feelings. Now, we all knew something would have to be done about the culprit. It wasn’t that we were holding pitchforks with drool running down our chins as we chanted “kill! kill! kill!” It’s just that 9-11 was a huge deal and a lot of good people died and you just can’t get away with that. Consider it a solemn acceptance that Osama Bin Laden was sure nuff gonna get kilt.
So what happened? Why all of this zest for these photos? Is this a thirst for blood plain and simple or is it something more pragmatic as Stewart indicates? Would our country truly be enlightened by seeing those photos? Or do we just not trust our government? Insert conspiracy theory #157 here. I really don’t know. Anger and grief can do funny things, even ten years on. I do know that I trust President Obama at face value that the DNA was a match and they shot and killed the real bona-fide Osama Bin Laden. I also don’t quite buy Stewart’s argument on the photo being necessary to teach people about war-time truths. This wasn’t a battle. There was no front. No dead soldiers to mourn over. This was a quick invasion of a compound in which a man was killed. I just don’t see the teachable lesson here.
There is also the torture porn aspect. We all know what will happen to these photos. They are going to be everywhere. They are gonna get a lot of people worked up. Every kid with an Internet connection and functioning eyeballs is going to see them. They’ll be photoshopped to death to fit just about any ideology you can think of. Pundits will decree. Other pundits will offer countering decrees. Voices will be raised. In short order, they’ll become part of the confusing mess that is American politics in the 21st century. This is also completely discounting the potential of them being used as a rallying cry for Al Queda. So then, what’s the point? The dude is dead. Why slow down to stare at the accident? Let’s just get to where we are going.
There is, of course, use for releasing a photo of Bin Laden in traditional Muslim garb before he was buried at sea. That would serve to let the Muslim world that us Americans are working on that whole ‘disrespectful and boorish’ thing. Of course, that’s a completely different scenario than close-up photos of a guy with a bullet hole through his left eye.
Ultimately, though, it’s not up to me. It’s not up to Jon Stewart. In a weird way, it’s not even up to President Obama(Although it really is.) It’s up to the families and friends of the victims of 9-11. What do they want? If seeing the photos would be cathartic for them, then I’m all for it. If not, which I suspect, then can’t we just move on? This country still has a lot of problems to work out.
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