“When that second airplane hit the building, we all changed. We need to get back to some serious thinking.”
Steven Tyler, Aerosmith
I still remember recoiling from the pictures out of Falluja, the images too terrible to reconcile with reality; the indignities too horrible, even now, to recount in all their fulsome detail.
March 30, 2004: four American men working with a security company in Iraq are ambushed as they drive their SUVs down the street.
They are peppered with bullets, blasted with hand grenades, set on fire.
Their charred bodies are pulled out of their vehicles and dragged through the street, prodded with sticks, mutilated. Burned and blackened flesh ripped apart; limbs cracked off at the brittle joints.
Some of the corpses — raw and reddened in places like seared meat, twisted black limbs at unnatural angles — are hoisted and hung from a bridge like macabre marionettes.
Locals converge and cheer, shouting their approval, pumping their jubilant fists into the air.
The White House calls the acts despicable.
Have you found the punchline yet? It’s hard to find one. There’s nothing funny about death or mutilation, as far as I can tell.
And yet, Osama bin Laden’s death last week has spawned all sorts of fresh material on the American television comedy circuit.
Now, let’s get this straight: the killing of bin Laden is not the same as Falluja, where innocent people were murdered, their bodies subjected to unspeakable indignities.
Bin Laden was a mass murderer and terrorist mastermind. His meticulous execution at the hand of U.S. commandos was commendable, whether you see it as justice or revenge.
It’s hard to think of the people leaping to their certain and horrible deaths from the twin towers in New York during 9/11 and not feel satisfaction knowing that the person who orchestrated that atrocious act of terrorism — and many others — has been permanently decommissioned.
Good riddance to him.
I can understand some Americans’ joyful reaction to the news.
But I can’t help but think that mining bin Laden’s death for laughs trivializes the enormity of 9/11.
And I fear it will foment radicals already inflamed by hate in this treacherous war with terrorists that shows no signs of abating, no matter which warlord is killed.
The quotes that follow are from a May 3 story out of New York by Associated Press reporter Frazier Moore, who noted that bin Laden’s death “fuelled a wealth of comic relief, punch lines and unapologetic crowing from TV’s late-night hosts.”
— David Letterman to his “Late Show” audience: “You seem like you’re in a good mood. You folks enjoy the Osama bin Laden season finale?”
— Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report:”: “I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl who just shot bin Laden in the eye.”
— Conan O’Brien on TBS: “Great news! The world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, is dead. Which means now the official No. 1 threat to America is the KFC Double Down.”
— Jon Stewart, “The Daily Show”: “(I wonder what the look on bin Laden’s face was when he realized) the helicopters overhead were not giving traffic and weather updates?”
— Letterman, again, on bin Laden’s possible last words: “I need a house full of Navy SEALs like I need a hole in the head.”
— Conan O’Brien, on the fact that news of bin Laden’s death pre-empted the last minutes of the Donald Trump-hosted reality show, “Celebrity Apprentice”: “This begs the question: how do we kill bin Laden again next Sunday?”
And on and on it went.
Now people who work in newsrooms tend to have dark senses of humour. Trust me, a little levity goes a long way in dispelling some of the depressing, horrible stuff we have to hear — and I’m not just talking about throne speeches.
So, I get the jokes, and I even get the need to make them at the worst of times.
What I find unsettling are the glib comparisons. If, as Letterman jokes, bin Laden’s death is the “season finale,” were the terrorist attacks on the planes and the Pentagon and the World Trade Center the season opener?
Surely this belittles the tragedy. This is serious stuff, not “Survivor Man.” Terrorism is not reality TV; death is not a sight gag.
I see no reason why we should slide down into the same moral cesspool — even if only metaphorically — as those who would drag corpses through the streets for sport, snatching our own pieces of flesh.
I think Canadians who lost loved ones at 9/11 said it best last week in Ontario when they were asked by Canadian Press reporter Michelle McQuigge whether they were glad to hear that bin Laden is dead.
“I don’t know if I feel like celebrating,” said Cindy Barkway, whose husband David died at the World Trade Center. “It doesn’t change much of my reality.”
Erica Basnicki, who lost her father in the New York attacks, said she felt no sense of jubilation.
“We will be happy and celebrating when terrorists are financially incapable of committing further acts of violence,” she said.
“We’ll be happy when the war is over.”
Amen to that.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.