Graphic images of violent death are not good for the soul. Whether in person, video or pictures, we do not need to see the images of a corpse torn asunder. Suffice to say that he is dead. The President says that we don’t need to “spike the football.” He’s right about that, but it’s more than that. You may be curious, but some things are best left a matter of unsatisfied curiosity. It’s not good for you. Our baser instincts are not always good to satisfy. Most of us have already seen enough; civilians included. Cries to the contrary are that baser instinct begging for satisfaction.
It’s best to acknowledge the thought and just… let it go.
It’s not about his dignity, it’s about ours. Yours. Mine. I’ve seen my share of death. Any share is more than enough. It’s not like the quiet violence of seeing a family member die of disease, nor of seeing them in made-up repose in a casket. As a young man, I held my father’s hand and looked into his eyes at the moment of death as the light of life left him. It was a remarkably spiritual experience, but balanced with a certain horror. The horror was in one of the earliest fears of a child coming true; I had lost a parent. But, there was no dehumanization. Our rituals surrounding death serve a purpose in letting go of a loved one while preserving their humanity. Seeing human beings reduced to remarkable similarity with road kill is just not good for the soul. Yes, we saw pictures of Zarkawi. We saw pictures of Uday and Qusay. We didn’t need to and, I strongly submit, we could all have lived the rest of our lives without having done so and been the better for it. It’s not about the sacredness of bin Laden’s life, it’s about the sanctity of human life and what seeing the results of extreme violence does to that sanctity in our own souls.
In early September of 2007, I lost four Afghan National Police to an IED. It was tremendously violent. As the Special Forces medic understated it, they had sustained, “injuries incompatible with life.” I don’t have bad dreams about it, but I can see those moments in my mind’s eye, and I can smell the mixture of blood, bowel and… fresh death… as clearly as if those men were still in front of me. There is no dignity in that moment, other than in the dignity of men who died for what they believed in; and that is such an abstract concept at that moment that it does not overwhelm the purely visceral horror of human beings torn asunder by massive violence wrought by other men.
I had to go through their pockets, having that OJ Simpson moment of trying to work rubber-gloved hands into close fabric. I had to, because the amount of facial deformation and the transformation of death made it difficult to positively identify the bodies. I had to find the ID cards. Their body fluids on the blue gloves caused their own sensations of horror. In looking into the faces, trying to remember, trying to identify the dead, the lifeless eyes stared out. Horror. No light of life, the spirit gone and the eyes not just unseeing but violently decoupled. I lost a part of myself that day. It was not an exercise of mental muscles but the slow, painful and violent amputation of a bit of my soul.
The horrible expression of death will never leave me. I did what I had to do, and soon enough it was over… but is never over. My soul is not stronger for having had that experience, it is the poorer for it. Painted by a brush that leaves an indelible mark. Now, much of that is lost in a photograph; but you can and hopefully will live the rest of your life without having that baser need satisfied and that brush paint your soul more than it has been painted to this point.
And you will be the better for it.
I say this as only those who have given the last semblance of God-given innocence blithely away and lived to regret it can. Jealously guard what innocence you still hold, for it is wealth in your soul; not weakness, but strength. As the voices of the baser instincts of our national character cry out for satisfaction, I encourage you to simply acknowledge that in yourself and in the human character and… let it go.