"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
On Decency and the Death of Zarqawi
America is a strange country.
Last week, the U.S. military ended the life of one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a high-profile terrorist leader who had been wreaking relative havoc both on Iraq as well as my MS Word spellchecker for years. Like most Americans, I consider Zarqawi's death to be generally helpful. I also tend to view him as someone who fundamentally deserved to die. Anyone who's seen the tape of him ripping Nick Berg's head off knows where I'm coming from on this. The man had earned his demise. And in many respects, he'd been asking for it for years.
All the same, though, there seems to be a certain 'ding-dong, the witch is dead' mentality to the way some people are reacting to this story. I find such jubilation to be at least mildly morally troubling. And the reason I say this isn't because the guy deserved our sympathy (he didn't), or because I hate the Wizard of Oz (I do), but rather because, in a very real way, this whole thing reminds me of Janet Jackson's nipple.
It was only a short while after Zarqawi's half-human heart stopped beating that pictures of his dead face began showing up in papers and on TV. Such images aren't unusual when it comes to War on Terror news coverage. In fact, they're quite common. Who can forget those touching photos of Saddam's dead sons, for example, their faces all bloated and their arms neatly draped across fake wooden logs with help from the fine folks at Sears' Portrait Studio? Not a day goes by that I don't regret not purchasing a wallet-size copy of those photos when I still had the chance.
So I don't have a problem with seeing Zarqawi's dead face, in and of itself. After all, I enjoy a dead face as much, if not more, than the next guy. Ask anybody. I'm always up for a viewing.
Still, I find it at least slightly bizarre that these images get on the air with barely a whisper out of so-called decency groups (such as LL Cool Brent Bozell's vaunted Media Research Center), when, meanwhile, Janet Jackson flashes a weird, ninja-star-wearing nipple for 0.0000009 seconds during that annual festival of depravity, the Super Bowl, and it's nearly enough to shut the country down.
I'm not saying we shouldn't have standards for these sorts of things. I'm actually on the same page as the decency groups when it comes to Janet Jackson (only in their case they were offended to have seen a female breast, whereas I was mostly offended that the breast in question turned out to be not so good looking). But the contrast, the very double standard, between sex and violence couldn't be any more clear here. Show a dead terrorist's face'no problem. But show a nipple? All of a sudden it's hide the kids, get off the planes, stay out of the malls, the British are coming.
I think Bill O'Reilly put this whole issue into perspective better than anyone last week when he said on his show, 'The death of the terrorist Zarqawi should be celebrated by decent people everywhere.' To me, this says everything about America's current concept of decency. Because unless I'm missing something here, I always assumed getting aroused by someone's death was, you know, the opposite of decency.
Again, I'm not saying Zarqawi was anything less than a jerkface. And, again, I'm not saying he didn't have it coming. But for years we've been told our terrorist enemies were ruthless, cold-blooded animals'primitive creatures, in fact, with no respect for life. What are we, then, if we're breaking out the confetti here? How come we can do it, and they can't? Is it because we're 'us' and they're 'them'? And, if so, isn't that sort of a little bit selfish? Or even indecent?
Furthermore, what kind of country are we living in when a nipple'not even one of the more interesting genital classes, but a nipple'presents us with a crisis in decency, while cheering the death of a human being'even a vile, detestable human being'is cool? Self-proclaimed 'values' advocates are always talking about 'the children.' Well, what does this tell the children? That two slightly discolored, milk-giving flesh disks pose a greater threat to civilization than the callous disregard for human life?
I'm not going to sit here and tell you Americans ought to be mourning the death of Zarqawi. Nor am I going to tell you we should in any way feel bad for him. That would be moronic. But step out of your shoes for just a moment, America. We complain about terrorist cultures covering their women in burqas. We complain how they're unable to see the value of lives other than their own. Hell, we even complain about their utter religious intolerance, even as we're buying Ann Coulter's new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, in which non-Republicanism'already linked by Coulter to terrorism'is equated with out and out godlessness. Does the old theatrical clich', 'You know, we're not so different, you and I,' not ring a bell here?
Maybe it's a good thing that Zarqawi is dead now. But a life is still a life, and a death is still a death. And while some of the things that happen in war may be necessary, that doesn't make them fun and exciting like a three-point shot at the buzzer. War is still war. And war is still unfortunate. That is the only good and decent way to see it.
Anyone who has ever mourned the death of a soldier on our side has no business clapping for the death of anyone on any side of any war anywhere. Either every human life has value, or no human life has value. If you can't understand this, you're not just a hypocrite'you're enabling the very mentality that keeps the world at war.
Even if Zarqawi did deserve it. Which he obviously did.