cheering death

I don’t understand people who cheer on another’s death. Even when Osama bin Laden was killed, I didn’t feel happiness or elation. It was just sad – not because I have any sympathy for bin Laden, but because such things have to happen at all in our world. To be clear, given the chance I would’ve shot him myself, though it would’ve given me neither joy nor sense of fulfillment. It’s just a grimly necessary task, the putting down of a rabid dog.

Even now, all the celebratory photos following bin Laden’s death stick in my mind. I can understand the emotion a bit, I think, but it just seems untoward and unwarranted. What does bin Laden being dead gain you? What departed family member does it return to life? How does it make the world better, rather than just making us all a little more into monsters of necessity?

Osama bin Laden imprisoned would’ve become a living martyr, an icon to rally the jihadi aspirants. Killing him was the right decision – one of the few times I agree with America’s wanton dispensation of non-judicial execution. And no, I am not in favor of the death penalty even in regular jurisprudence.

But being ecstatic and celebrating like your favorite football team just swept the playoffs? Not for me.

I was also thinking today about all the military funerals I’ve been to. I doubt the few who read this blog have ever attended one, and if you do be prepared for the “Last Roll Call.” I am not easily emotionally affected by most things, but the roll call is absolutely terrible in its finality though at the same time it also has a dreadful beauty like trinitite. Knowing the roll call is coming up at a military funeral is one of the few times I recall experiencing a feeling of physical distress from words alone.

I will never do last roll call justice by describing it. It’s like trying to re-create the sun in a toaster oven. But it’s usually near the end of the funeral. Typically, the company commander or another member of the unit stands up and calls the deceased name’s once, as if for reporting for formation.

Of course there is no answer. Of course.

Then the speaker calls the name again.

No answer. Silence, terrible silence.

By this time, people are usually sobbing; faces are hidden in hands and limbs are slack as the air in the room is suddenly far too heavy.

I cannot capture in words how incalculably clearly this method of honoring the dead emphasizes their absence, like seeing for the first time a hole ripped into reality through which some Lovecraftian void has spilled.

Then a third time, and thankfully the last time, the speaker enunciates the name.

One last nothing of an answer, that void in the world giving forth no response, assenting to death forever with its frightful silence.

Never in life have I seen so many people in tears, people who I know did not even like the soldier whose funeral they were attending, and those who were present only to be ushers or to assist – all eyes damp, downcast. And the family of the fallen is always by this time bawling in great hitching wails.

No, I do not recommend military funerals or last roll call. It’s not something one forgets.

Thinking about those funerals, and thinking about bin Laden, I realize that every death is a tragedy. Every person we kill had people who loved him or her – rightly or wrongly, but it’s often so very hard to choose who we love – and every person was a kid once who dreamed the same dreams of success as nearly anyone who has ever lived on this planet.

Killing – even justified killing – cheapens us and rips another hole in the world. I’ve seen that void, seen its reality, at more military funerals than I care to recall. I can’t forget it, and I wish more people would somehow feel that emptiness before they so gleefully cheer on death, who neither needs cheering or even acknowledgement to find us all eventually.

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