Sunday, October 23, 2011

Death and the Laden

It's more than likely that few will mourn the death of the many-named dictator of Libya, but it seems there are those who regret the manner of his death, if not his death.

I find this puzzling, as those who express concern or outrage on this issue include, it seems to me, many who actively sought his death, and seem to welcome it if not rejoice in it.  It is one of our peculiarities to seek the death of some person and trouble ourselves over the manner of that death.  Kill him, by all means, but do it nicely, we seem to say.

I wonder if this is in part due to a feeling of guilt.  There is no question that what is called the West has been actively trying to kill him for some time now; NATO directly, and these United States "indirectly" at least.  Since our President proclaimed the happy doctrine that waging war does not consist of merely raining bombs and missiles upon people, but requires that we be present on their territory in numbers shooting at them as well, it appears that we may do quite a few things indirectly in the future if we or our President is so inclined.

It would have been much more palatable had he been killed by one of those bombs or missiles, or by one of the aptly titled drones.  We would have been spared the pain of watching him being taunted and manhandled and it seems shot in the head.  I think it must be said that there is something disturbing in the practice of seeking to kill and then shaking our heads in dismay that the killing was not well done, something which renders us uneasy--something unworthy.

That said, it also seems we must acknowledge that there is something unworthy about killing someone, anyone, in a manner which degrades that person, not to mention that person's killers.  Lynchings are not admirable.  One can understand that hatred is earned in some cases, and it seems that the deceased in this case did many things which necessarily caused him to be wildly hated, and this suffices to explain, if not justify, the manner of his death.  What could have been expected if he was captured in these circumstances?  Did we think he would be solemnly and peaceably escorted to a safe place to await a dignified trial?

A reasonable person (we lawyers love to refer to this person) should have anticipated that it could and perhaps would come to this.  So, I'm inclined to feel a certain contempt for those who, supporting his death, noisily declaim that it was wrongly done.  At the same time I can't help but feel a certain regret.  We humans have since ancient times felt that the dead are to be treated with a certain respect, and have in the past at least feared the consequences to us if we did not grant them that respect.  That respect has in some cases at least been deemed appropriately given to a person facing his last moments.  Then again, we have also turned executions into circuses.  They could be a kind of holiday or show not all that long ago.

We are quite willing to be killers, it seems, but would prefer to be gentlemanly killers if at all possible, at least in certain cases.  It's not a very satisfying conclusion in any sense, but may be the only one possible, the only one which fits the facts.

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