We are beasts. And we come in strawberry, vanilla, and butter pecan. Our violence is ferocious. There are too many examples to give, but here are three:
First, there’s strawberry. Bin Laden was strawberry. Making a statement and creating “collateral damage”* in equal portions.
Then there’s vanilla. That’s The Presidency. Putting out the word on the heads of individuals he wants eliminated, darn the collateral damage, full speed ahead.
And then there’s butter pecan, which can be done without collateral damage, like the secret agent in 1978 who used his umbrella to ‘accidentally’ prick Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian playwright and dissident who had defected to the West, and implant the poison ricin in his calf. He died in a London hospital four days later. Butter pecan knows the person, the face, the habits, and finally the whereabouts of his victim and cold bloodedly murders him.
Bin Laden wasn’t a victim of cold blooded murder, because his death was vanilla. But the question arises: Are beasts insane, or is it our nature?
When the Trade Center towers came down I didn’t much talk about it because I just saw it as one more insane act in a mostly insane world, like the American battleship USS New Jersey in the Mediterranean that fired shells screaming into the hills of Lebanon in 1983 that were as much as five miles off target.** Five miles! and they disputed whether or not there was any collateral damage. Not that collateral damage really matters because whoever inflicts whatever damage has his “reasons.” We have ours, and he had his. Is it our nature?
But now that he is gone I am already feeling somewhat forlorn. When he was alive we had a face to hate, a man to find, a mission to accomplish. Now we have nothing but a corpse, and even the corpse is gone, buried at sea. A touch right out of the Arabian Nights or The Tales of Pocahontas, leave no trace of your enemy, skin him down to his teeth, kill him while living, insult him when dead. We are a strangely cruel and unusual nation, like our enemies, like him. Are we insane?
Why do we avoid looking at vomit but read newspapers? I gave up reading newspapers years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Once when I did I noticed that all the countries and presidents had changed, but the stories were the same as before. So he will come back, like a thief in the night and with a different name, and the master of the house will have to start the hunt all over again. Is it our nature?
“We always get our man,” say the Mounties, and the techniques of doing so change over time, so the details of how we got our man may never fully come to light. But I learned all I ever needed to know about that in high school when we saw Caesar look into the face of his assassin and say, “Et tu, Brute?” We are all brothers, or are we not? We are all insane, or are we not?
“The sun was hot and I felt like killing something,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He was standing on the side of the road in the middle of the desert waiting to shoot iguanas. Beasts killing beasts. What is that? Chocolate nut?
*”Collateral damage,” an absurd designation for “civilian casualties” or “slaughtered innocents” which burdened sensibilities in the military, thus they coined this term for public consumption. Collateral damage sounds like we’re playing the board game Risk–“Oops, collateral damage, I spilled my beer over everything.”
**Now that I think about it, I believe McHale’s Navy was always five miles off target.