According to Wikimedia, a U.S. PsyOps leaflet used in Afghanistan
I would like to be able to congratulate myself on finding it more difficult than many of my countrymen apparently do, to rejoice in someone’s death, even if that someone is so horribly culpable as was bin Laden, but I also have to admit that I am left fairly unmoved at the thought of his being “double tagged” by some Navy SEAL’s bullets, and I don’t really begrudge whoever did it his bragging rights. It is all part of the bargain bin Laden struck long ago, and part of the bargain that poor SEAL struck, too, who will now have to live with whatever image those bullets painted for him, in him. After September 11, I wrote a poem about it:
The airplane whacks the building, the orange
fireballs billow and roil, the black specks sprout
arms and legs as they fall faster, the white
cloud obscures but cannot hide the structure
collapsing onto its inhabitants.
Over and over.
May those who planned this
be devoured by those who would devour them.
They have given themselves over to that.
I also piously wish that those who
devour them may choke on it. I can find
nothing to hope for that does not mock my
hope: a smiley face drawn in soot, a thumb
black with pulling a curving mouth and two
dotted eyes clean, encircled on a shard.
Karma, you might call it, the brute working of cause and effect. Easy to see it in bin Laden’s case, and all too easy to imagine some of the ways it will operate on those who have become, however laudably, his assassins. Think PTSD. But that is because we think we know what we believe to be the most relevant parts of their story, the bombs he set off, the triggers they pulled. Of course it’s more complicated than that, people function on many levels all at once, but we can at least identify acts that sketch a narrative linking bin Laden and the SEALS. It’s comforting.
Then there’s “collateral damage,” that is, people whose lives were more or less tangential to the master narrative. For some of them, if you state the relationship between the target and the dead man, you can think you have a handle on “why” they died together. It could be said that bin Laden’s son, for example, died for being bin Laden’s son and lieutenant, his couriers died for being his couriers. Consanguinity and voluntary servitude placed them within the killing field. Their lives were somehow aligned with his, congruent enough so that it is in some way understandable that their fates would be subsumed by his.
But then there is the woman who was shot when “one of the combatants,” as the reportage has it, used her as a shield. Who will carry that image to live with, I wonder. She is, so far, nameless in any news account I have read. The Burlington Free Press, which has contacted me several times lately wondering why I don’t subscribe, omitted her from its story this morning. Ended in combat, erased by an editor. Who was she? What was she doing there? Apparently considered so incidental to the action by the “officials” cited as sources that she was barely worth their mentioning, this dead woman bothers me for precisely that reason. On one level, she stands in for the rest of us, perhaps useful to the more cowardly and unscrupulous among the men with guns as something they might hide behind, otherwise irrelevant even if we catch a bullet. More importantly, whereas the other participants are defined for us by acts and relationships that we can tell ourselves were what brought them to the scene, about her we know nothing. Whereas their full humanity is obscured for us by what we think we know about them, she is a slaughtered mystery. I mourn her.
Update 5/4/11: According to the new narrative released by the Pentagon yesterday, it appears that the dead woman was not, in fact, used as a human shield. Instead, they say, she was the wife of one of the dead couriers, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. She got caught in a crossfire. Her name remains unreported.