The stills are passé, now. The videotape is in and on the air. Soon we may be able to rent it at Blockbuster, maybe even buy it on DVD. You must agree that the tape material puts them in a better light (no pun intended). Military morticians have filled in the battered faces (was it Uday or Qusay who required the most putty?). The transmogrification is also accomplished by putting them on their backs and videotaping from below.
There was a moment of supreme irony when the first still photos of the dead sons of Saddam Hussein were made public. Two network affiliate television stations in the District of Columbia announced that they would not be showing the photos. And this in a city where mutilated corpses are rather the order of the day. By now of course we have all been exposed to still and video and are so accustomed to the sights, before and after, that it is possible to offer critiques of the morticians’ work. Surprisingly, no cable channel has conducted one of those viewer polls: who do you think got the better job, Uday or Qusay? Call in or e-mail and we’ll have the results right after the Kobe Bryant poll tonight.
Beneath the triumphalism there runs a disturbing current in the American psyche. Is this act of publication really who we are? Putting miscreant heads on pikes is a European pastime the founders came here to forget. Televising mutilated bodies courtesy of government seems to many a modern version of the same.
The stated reason for the dissemination of these morgue scenes is to convince Iraqis that the Hussein sons are truly dead. Why is this important? Because in one view they will never cotton to us thoroughly if there is a chance a Hussein regime might spring back into the saddle. Do they fear this? Of course, the theory goes, and they can never become fishing buddies until we have dispelled the last fear they harbor of the autocrats’ return. There is the obverse of this theory. That they are hoping for a revival of Husseinism and this hope must be crushed by absolute proof of this genetic impossibility. The anecdotal evidence as culled from on-scene random interviews in Iraq is inconclusive. Those who want to believe they are dead believe the pictures: those who don’t, don’t.
This ambivalence has led to cries of “You should have taken them alive. That way we could have tried them and shown the Iraqis (a) we had them, and (b) they were bad people.” There are juridical problems with this. Despite the popular belief and repeated assertions of it, we are not at war with Iraq. Exactly what jurisdiction we would have over living Hussein folk is far from certain. The General in charge of the operation in Mosul says the orders were to “kill or capture” and since the sons refused orders to surrender….
Excitement over the bodies has muted discussion of the operation itself. It took six hours for 200 troops with helicopter gunship backing to kill three men and a teen-ager holed up in an unfortified private home. What happens if and when Saddam himself is discovered? Kill, or capture? And if the latter, what then, and on what charges?
Display of the mortuary photos persuades many that we have turned a cultural corner not dissimilar from one involving the Kobe Bryant case. We speak of anonymity of feminine rape victims Modernists say this protection is archaic, a vestigial habit from a past long gone. Unfortunately, the argument may be true. The afforded anonymity is from a past when woman was regarded as sacrosanct, when the mystery of her sex and sexuality was valued. And when the thing of value was thought to be violated by an act of violence. Victorian? You bet. Today’s radical feminists want to put the woman’s name out there. “Sally Mary Smith of 333 Third Street was forcibly raped last night by three men whom police later apprehended in a stolen car…”
The alleged victim in the Bryant case has had her name plastered on the Internet. A “talk show host” (are there more of these than sons of Hussein?) has announced her name on the air. Her “friends” in school have talked to the press (in terms that would damage her credibility). And an argument has been brought to the front suggesting some equality would be served by publishing rape victims’ names along with those accused. The argument is based on the belief that the victim has not really lost anything of value that cannot be compensated for in a future civil law suit in addition to punishment of the perpetrator. Followed to its conclusion, this argument foresees photos of the victim published. Perhaps, since it is all academic and doesn’t really matter, there could eventually be photos of her private parts, which we of course would no longer refer to by that Victorian euphemism.
We are come a long way. Even in a country where the old argument, “he needed killing,” is still raised as a homicide excuse, there is something execrable about publishing a rape victim’s name, as if to take advantage of her a second time. Perhaps, in a similar vein, killing Uday and Qusay because “they needed killing” was sufficient unto the day, and if the Iraqi beneficiaries of this don’t want to believe the collateral proofs, let them maunder on in their fantastical world. We needn’t have changed ours for this.
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