Funeral for a Fiend
By R. D. Flavin

     So, on May 1, 2011 we got our “Big Bad,” to employ Joss Whedon's 'Buffyism' for arch-villian, and Osama bin Laden is currently excarnating at the bottom of the Arabian Sea (var. Mare Erythraeum), probably in international waters equidistant from the coasts of Pakistan, India, Oman, and Iran.  Great Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna mokarran), as well as dozens of kindred predatory species, swim and snack beneath the warm waves, but the little nibbles from Geryon crabs and other deep-sea scavengers will likely be the last corporeal dealings with the infamous terrorist.  It's said that Bin Laden's corpse was disposed of according to the basic requirements of Islamic tradition.  Washed three times, wrapped in a winding-sheet or shroud (Arab. kafan, kaffan), some mumbling, and dumped overboard from a ship (as a land burial would have been wicked complicated).  A funeral for a fiend from the twenty-nine year old Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson seems like twisted pomp and circumstance, but those last American dollars spent are sufficiently appropriate, though I'm unsure if serving coffee and Windmill cookies afterward in the enlisted messes and galleys was necessary.  However, it was the least we could do.  Commemorative t-shirts and baseball caps might have been perceived as gauche.

     The final disposition of America's enemies has long been an ad hoc affair.  Mitigating somewhere between avoiding “cruel and unusual punishment” and merrily observing an executive order for a one-time federal holiday, we address individual criminals and evildoers with efficient and discrete considerations.  At times, physical remains are returned to the family of the deceased, interred in an unmarked or mass grave, or preserved and cataloged by geek creeps for future study (as in the cases of John Dillinger's “johnson” and Jeffrey Dahmer's brain).  The American government has never formally supported morbid trophyism and is assuredly mindful that though the ability to literally flog or beat a dead horse or miscreant is intrinsically possible, it soon grows wearisome, then pointless, and finally ...just plain wrong.  Still, as any sanitation worker will confess, sometimes taking out the trash can be problematic, in that one has to pick it up, move it, and then put it some place where most won't mind.  Yeah, there was a time when we burned our refuse and dead without further thought, but with post-Holocaust sensitivity combined with the new pseudo-paradigm of global warming, cremation by decree probably shouldn't be an official option.

     During the American War of Independence, battlefield civility allowed, when possible, for each side to retrieve their dead and wounded.  There were also a significant number of times the task of the burying of the deceased was taken up by the winning side or, with common sense and courtesy extended, the local population would eventually grab shovels and do the right thing.  British Red-coats who died while in captivity, regardless of whether or not they were enlisted men or officers, were stitched in blankets and included in prisoner exchanges.  America began with an acknowledgment that war is sometimes necessary, has a pretty good record as far as wins, losses, and draws are concerned, and has continued to maintain a measured battlefield civility, which I believe the recent disposal of Osama bin Laden examples.

     Now, there have been (way too) many isolated episodes of lapsed judgment which have resulted in unnecessary atrocities, as opposed to the 'necessary' horrors like nuking Japan twice in 1945.  America's enemies, be they foreign or domestic, have usually been treated with justice and humane consideration.  Okay, I mean ...severed heads weren't piked outside city limits and corpses didn't swing from the trees on the Common.  Well, that might not be entirely true, as our treatment of the Native Americans has been epically uneven, that is, wrong, really wrong, and at times ...sick.  And, after the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, bad karma is currently depriving children from collecting backyard arrowheads for fear of facing federal charges.  Ah, maybe “fear” isn't the proper term, but it'll have to do for now.  Anywho, scalping was practiced by all parties, bounty payment was withdrawn after the western territories became states, though according to Quentin Tarantino's 2009 WWII “guys on a mission” fantasy, Inglourious Basterds, scalping may continue past the nasty nadir of a childhood game of Cowboys & Indians.  Showing a modicum of respect for the dead is an ongoing responsibility.

     America's 1861-1865 semi-civil 'War Between the States” was a national tragedy which typified the Nietzschean “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Damned bloody and costly, yet a requisite for positive moral growth, our battle with the slave states and their sympathizers (var. 'The Confederate States of America') had the pretentious affectation of a gentleman’s conflict when journalists, chroniclers, and legal witnesses were around, while the rest of the time it was as described in 1879 by Gen. W. T. Sherman, who quipped, “War is Hell.”  On May 15, 1864, two days after the first burial at the newly designated Arlington National Cemetery, two unknown (“Union”) soldiers were interred with somber reverence.  “Confederate” soldiers were granted plots after the end of the war, though relatives were forbidden from “decorating” the graves for a few decades.  Social historians suggest that the 1898 Spanish-American War brought about an unspoken public reconciliation with soldiers from the “North” and “South” joining together against a common enemy.  Yeah, it was about Cuba, the Philippines, opportunistic imperialism, and lessons still not learned more than a century later.

     The twentieth century of the Christian or Common Era was arguably mankind's most contentious.  A “Conflict Map” produced by the Nobel Foundation in 2002 displays over 200 wars (defined as conflicts with over a thousand casualties each) from 1899 to 2001.  America's participation got off to a slow start with a much delayed entry into World War I (var. The Great War and “The War To End All Wars” after H. G. Wells).  When peacenik Pres. Woodrow Wilson allowed his testicles to drop and convinced Congress to declare war on Germany after the early 1917 sinking of several American merchant ships by German submarines, as well as Germany's attempt to convince Mexico to side with them and attack America, it was irrelevant as to whether or not the German Emperor (“Kaiser”) Wilhelm II was a warmonger or a figurehead positioned in front of a cadre of generals – he was America's enemy.   A year and a half later, with the Kaiser's abdication and an agreed upon armistice with Germany (it would be until June 28, 1919, the fifth anniversary of the start of the war, that the formal and final peace agreement, the Treaty of Versailles, was signed), Wilhelm II was comfortably in exile under the protection of good Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.   The Treaty of Versailles allowed for the criminal prosecution of the Kaiser for war crimes, the Allies (var. the Triple Entente; Britain, France, and Russia) were quite vocal for a few years in favor of extradition, but Pres. Wilson demurred with doom and gloom hyperbole about possible destabilization and further war should the Kaiser be prosecuted (Kampmark 2007).  Later, after the Kaiser's failed attempt to become a Nazi, in one of his first acts as Britain's new prime minister in 1940, Winston Churchill, further softened the Allies' position and put forth an offer of asylum, which Wilhelm II refused.  Manners, at least in 1940, were apparently still demonstrated on a semi-regular basis.

     It seems that the fantasist and popular historian, H. G. Wells, served a Belgium waffle in terms of “The War To End All Wars,” and predicted another global conflict in his “great 'dream' of the future,” The Shape of Things to Come (Wells 1933), writing of a world war which would last from 1940 to 1950.  He missed the start of World War II by a little over three months.  Wells did correctly foresee conflict between the United States and Japan, he just underestimated the American response.

     The military implications of the 1940 signing of the Tripartite or Axis Pact were realized with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declarations of war by America on Japan (December 8, 1941), and Germany and Italy (December 11, 1941).  America's enemies during World War II were Japan's Emperor Hirohito, Germany's Chancellor Adolf Hitler, and Italy's Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (later, “Duce of Fascism” and other punk titles).  During the final days of battle in the European Theater of World War II, Italian partisans captured and shot Mussolini.  Those wild and über-romantic Italians weren't content to simply execute the fascist dictator without a trial, they drove his corpse to Milan, allowed the townspeople to have their way with his dead body for a time (read: the blood-thirsty mob hit, kicked, and spit on him repeatedly, as well as adding at least several more bullet holes), hung him upside down next to his girlfriend and two other fascists (a third was shot and added with opportunistic spontaneity), which was followed by some freestyle group stone-throwing, until police and town officials intervened and claimed the mutilated Mussolini, burying him in an unmarked grave in a large cemetery just outside of Milan.  Most of the world didn't express much dissatisfaction with the Italian partisans summarily executing the Duce without a trial (passim Ventresca 2006), though the Vatican did immediately criticize the Milanese mistreatment of the carcass.*

* The cadaver “comedy” didn't end in the cemetery outside of Milan, as Mussolini was clandestinely dug up on Easter Sunday, 1946, by a couple of neo-fascists who left behind a sentimental note in the empty grave.   For the next few months, the dead Duce was regularly moved in and around Milan, until authorities finally reclaimed the body in the possession of a couple of radical Franciscans.  The cadaver was warehoused for ten years until political palms were oiled and his remains were eventually allowed to be non-ceremoniously entombed in a family crypt.  Recently, there's been some call for DNA testing, as conspiracy wackos suggest a body-swap occurred at some point.

     The day after Mussolini's death, word reached Hitler in his besieged bunker in Berlin.  The news is thought to have finalized his last wishes, being as he was midway between a marriage to Eva Braun and suicide, he left orders for his body to be burned asap after his imminent self-murder.  The specifics of Hitler's suicide, cyanide or a self-inflected gunshot, were for many years debated alongside of Stalin's faux rumor that the Fuhrer had escaped the bunker and successfully fled to South America.*  Adolf Eichmann's 1960-1962 capture, trial, and execution were presented as important steps in prosecuting high-profile Nazi war criminals post-Nuremburg, and the 1979 unremarkable death of Josef Mengele in Brazil and the 1983 arrest in Bolivia of Klaus Barbie had yet to occur when most learned of the “real” fate of Hitler, or at least 'some' of the real story. In 1968, the Soviet translator and journalist, Lev Bezymenski, published copies of previously unknown files regarding the May 4, 1945 Red Army discovery of Hitler's partially burned body and a subsequent autopsy report (Bezymenski 1968).  He also included discussions of the dead bodies of Braun, the Goebbelses and their children, and provided a coda which included the speculation that the Soviets had eventually performed a complete cremation and scattered Hitler's ashes to the wind. Time Magazine made a brief mention of Bezymenski's work with an ending reference to an earlier Russian magazine article from 1965 which outlined much the same story, but was less documented (passim Ainsztein 1967).  Utilizing such efforts and achieving mainstream dissemination for the general reader (myself included), it was with the impeccably researched biography, Adolf Hitler (Toland 1976), by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, John Toland, that most learned of an “official” Soviet account of the Red Army and Hitler's burned corpse.  In the years since, the story has grown to include an initial dispatch of an autopsy report, a chunk of skull (with a bullet-hole), and a section of jawbone (with shards of a glass cyanide ampoule) to the Kremlin, prompting an implicit conclusion that Hitler had consumed cyanide and then shot himself.  It's further alleged that in 1970, after Bezymenski's work, the possibility existed that someone could deduce a secret burial (in Magdeburg, Germany), and that the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, personally ordered the exhumation of Hitler, Braun, and the Goebbelses, a thorough destruction of their remains, and disposal of the ashes in the Elbe River (or, as some have it, in the sewers of Magdeburg).  Though disputed, the Russians still “officially” assert that the skull and jawbone are genuine.  The reason for Soviet secrecy has always been understood regarding Hitler's burial, as neither the appearance of a pretender or the rise of a grave-cult would have been welcomed.  The trophyism of occasional public displays of Hitler's uniform and stuff along with the fragmentary remains is said to be ...all about victory.

* Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, an occasionally provocative British historian, maintained that he was encouraged by MI6 (var. SIS or, simply, the British foreign intelligence service) to counter Stalinist claims that Hitler survived WWII, writing his The Last Days of Hitler (Macmillan & Co., London; 1947) with interviews with those personally involved in the incomplete burning of Hitler's body.

     While the final dispositions of the Duce and the Führer left America judicially unrequited, its relationship with Emperor Hirohito was dispassionately chaste, yet made all parties feel unclean.  The Emperor publicly surrendered (via radio broadcast), could have easily been arrested and prosecuted for war crimes, yet General Douglas MacArthur convinced President Harry Truman and others not to proceed against Hirohito and the Imperial family.  In light of the $500,000 for “pre-war services” that MacArthur was given by bank transfer on January 3, 1942 from the soon-to-be exiled Philippine government (Petillo 1979), one might cautiously advance unevidenced remuneration for overlooking the Imperial family and concentrating on Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō, who would swing from a rope on December 23, 1948.  The successful marketing of Hirohito as an “almost saintly figure” by MacArthur (Dower 1999, p. 326), unaware and innocent of aggression and the promotion of tactical hostilities, was (and remains) problematic to all parties, including the Japanese, except those far-sighted and MacArthur-influenced salary-minded sages in post-WWII Washington D.C.  By the numbers, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (held in Japan against the Japanese) convicted and executed more war criminals than the Nuremberg Trials (held in Germany against the Germans).  Hirohito remained a fiend in the eyes of many of his subjects until he passed in 1989 at the age of 88.  He was given a full state funeral attended by the American president and other world leaders and their representatives.

     America's next two major military conflicts, in Korea and Vietnam, were as external influences on internal struggles, that is, the United States (in cooperation with the fledgling United Nations) backed one “capitalist” side over the other “communist” side in civil wars.  Ostensibly, efforts didn't work out as planned, and North Korea and Vietnam remain communist countries to this day.  There were, of course, those who wished to exercise the nuclear option, as MacArthur wanted to nuke North Korea and selected Chinese military bases in 1951, and Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) suggested low-yield atomic bombs to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines from China in 1964.  America's “enemies” in the Korean and Vietnam wars were the governments and troops commanded by North Korea's Kim Il-sung and North Vietnam's Hồ Chí Minh and Phạm Văn Đồng (and the occasional Chinese or Soviet soldier/adviser).  The military conflicts were particularly costly, every so often the remains of US soldiers are still routinely returned from both countries, and the question of capitalist ideology versus socialist dogma continues to be debated.  Should have's, would have's, and could have's aside, we're still (sort of) at war with North Korea and communist Vietnam seems to be doing well economically and has developed quite the tourist industry.  The adage of “if you wait long enough, everything old becomes new again” is demonstrated today by neo-conservatives (var. Generation X Cons or X-Cons) who wank and wack that Goldwater may have been on to something.

     Being the “land of the free and the home of the brave” has its reasonably unpredictable consequences, to wit, when Grammar and Rhetoric walk into a bar, Grammar usually orders top-shelf and Rhetoric has a draft, a couple handfuls of nuts, and then goes for the cheap shot.  After 'Nam, the United States of America attempted to navigate the tricky path of peace with the election of the (Christian) Sunday school teacher and peanut farmer from Georgia, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, as president.  Carter had great luck with the Camp David Accords which resulted in the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, but didn't fare as well with the new Islamic theocracy in Iran or with choosing to fund and supply the radical Islamic Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan (who eventually became the Taliban) against the Soviets.  Admitting the deposed Shah of Iran into America for cancer treatment was a good ol' boy humanitarian gesture that backfired into the 444 day-long Iranian Hostage Crisis, much like his trying to whack the swimming bunny that was perceived as attacking his canoe while on vacation, Carter (through hindsight) chose incorrectly.  He showed his leadership mettle when he authorized a rescue attempt of the hostages, unfortunately it also demonstrated America's military peacetime unpreparedness (and wicked bad luck), which resulted in the deaths of eight servicemen.  It wouldn't be the last time a Democratic president had bad luck with military helicopters.

     The regime overthrow of Grenada in 1983 under President Ronald W. Reagan, just days after the loss of 241 US Marines in the Beirut barracks suicide bombing and our ... sort of immediate withdrawal from Lebanon, was a somewhat successful hemispheric “backyard” engagement.  As was the invasion of Panama in 1989 under President George H. W. Bush, with 23 American servicemen dying for their country (with an outcome that Shirley included Noriega currently doing French jail-time for laundering drug money).  And, then there was the early 1991 Persian Gulf War (var. “The Mother of All Battles” and Operations: Desert Shield/Storm) with Saddam hardcore punking Kuwait, a slow boil response with a US-led coalition easily slapping Iraq back to passiveness, and Pres. G. H. W. Bush deciding to leave Saddam in power, rather than...  Such were the Republican Reagan/Bush years, though the following Democratic years experienced its own divided-by-zero incidents with the eighteen deaths in the 1993 Mogadishu, Somalia “Black Hawk Down” helicopter incident under President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, and the two casualties from a helicopter accident during the 1999 NATO-led Kosovo War.  For bulls-eye statisticians, Clinton may be commonly remembered for his distractions, though his military decisions should demand further study, specifically asking if he was effective in his August 20, 1998 cruise missile attacks against Afghanistan (to kill Bin Laden after the bombings of three East African US embassies) and Sudan (alleged nerve-gas factory), and the December 16-19, 1998 significant bombing slap-down of Iraq to forestall its acquisition and development of WMD.  It would be wrong to credit the new millennium with chronological uniqueness beyond ...what followed.  We're Dragnet minimalists who ask for "Just the facts..."

     With the final season of FX's Rescue Me beginning soon and its narrative conflict premise involving the events which occurred on September 11, 2001, I find it unoriginal to ...wait, defer, and refer to bits in previous columns about 9/11.  Damn, that said I might as well do all three!  I wrote a column on neolithic fermentation (and other stuff) called “Shit Faced” the week before 9/11 and my Past page links to several sad and odd weeks afterward.  The eerie anthrax attacks prolonged our tragically non-hip from returning to the consensual reality (mis)perception of being comfortably cool. President George W. Bush responded to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban, while also selectively targeting Al-Qaeda insurgents with Bin Laden as our pledged “Big Bad.”  It's barbershop academic how close we were to killing Bin Laden at the Battle of Tora Bora, as Afghanistan was established to be way difficult thousands of years before Alexander the Great stumbled through its unforgiving extremist landscapes, and Bin Laden remained free despite Pres. G. W. Bush's best efforts.  Yeah, that's right, “best” efforts with no snarky qualifier.  He tried, and then he tried harder, but he wasn't successful.

     Pres. G. W. Bush likely didn't read my November 2002 column, “Slam Saddam,” in which I demanded he “cowboy Saddam expeditiously” and “...eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, immediately, and by any means possible. Kill the son of a bitch. Now.”  He extended his 9/11 response to include the take-down of the guy who tried to kill his dad, Pres. G. H. W. Bush.  Like we needed a reason...  I still maintain that 'money' qualifies as a WMD, with Saddam paying out $25,000 benefit checks to the families of Palestinian suicide-bombers who murdered and maimed innocent non-combatants in Israeli cafes and at bus-stops.  The Ba'athist tyrant continued his anti-Israeli bluster until the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom (var. the Iraq War) on March 19, 2003.  Under attack, Saddam went to ground (literally) and was discovered eight months later hiding in a “spider-hole” some nine miles south of Takrit outside of a small farmhouse believed to have belonged to Saddam's personal cook.  He was found guilty of crimes against humanity on November 5, 2006 and executed by hanging on December 30, 2006.  The dead body of Saddam Hussein was given to members of the al-Bu Nasir clan (or “tribe”) who buried him in his childhood village of al-Ouja (var. Ouija), just outside of Takrit.  There were prayers, some crying, some criticism of the execution, but no significant protests or reprisals.  In 2009, after outlawing the political Ba'ath Party and associated symbols, the (interim?) Iraqi government forbade any further “organized visits” to Saddam's burial site after a YouTube video of schoolchildren visiting his grave became “popular.”  I've got a sad feeling this part of the story isn't quite finished...

     Since our Revolutionary War, the United States of America has required members of its military to swear an “Oath of Enlistment” to defend against “enemies” and “opposers.”  In 1962, with the stink of McCarthyism still in the air, the oath was amended to include a reference to “all enemies, foreign and domestic...”  Some hold that the oath concerns the Constitution, that is the cumbersome paperwork which defines our nation's government, its laws, and how citizens and government interact, but this is only a current (read: transitory) interpretation, as before 1962 the oath demanded “true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever...”  After 1962, the re-written oath seems to place an emphasis on a series of documents that few understand totally and often require the rulings of the Supreme Court to interpret the “constitutionality” of this, that, and every other little thing...  It's poor writing, unclear, and much like the occasional quibbles about the American flag, we pledge allegiance to some cloth, plastic, or paper construct, yet more importantly, “to the republic for which it stands...”  Our domestic enemies shouldn't be considered as critics of the Constitution, though some are, but rather as being against our nation and its people.  Simply, domestic enemies are criminals whose offenses may or may not include treason, and who threaten our nation and its people.  I'd put mass-murderers and serial-killers at the top of the list, but allow room for spies, traitors, and “homegrown terrorists.”  However, our military seldom confronts stateside enemies except in times of crisis and catastrophe with martial law in effect and a “shoot-to-kill” order given regarding looters.  I'm not sure, but I believe such was the case during the Rodney King-inspired LA riots and Hurricane Katrina.  I don't think anyone was actually killed by National Guard troops, but I could be wrong.  Anywho, the coward Timothy McVeigh was allowed to receive the Catholic Anointing of the Sick sacrament before his lethal injection execution, his body was cremated, and the ashes were conveyed to his lawyer who is believed to have scattered them at an undisclosed location.  Ditto with Dahmer...  It's probable that a similar fate is in store for Manson, the Unabomber, and other domestic enemies...

     After a six-month deployment in the Indian Ocean, the USS Carl Vinson has finally returned home.  Its captain and crew are under orders not to discuss any specifics of Osama bin Laden's burial at sea, though all appear to beam with pride at being a part of history.  Many have commented that Pres. Obama's decision to dispose of Bin Laden's corpse in the Arabian Sea was appropriate, as was his choice not to publicly release any photographs of Bin Laden's dead body.  Fearless in the face of "bad luck with military helicopters," Pres. Obama put into motion Operation Neptune Spear, a successful raid on a large residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan which concluded with the death of Bin Laden, followed by a hasty funeral for a fiend, and then ...a splash in the water and an end to an enemy.  And, that's that!  Al-Qaeda has a new leader, America is still engaged in its Overseas Contingency Operation (var. “War on Terror”), and there's still much to be done.  Of course, some don't see it that way...

     With asinine aplomb, a professional treasure hunter and attention whore du moment, Bill Warren of San Diego, California, claims to have investors and plans to search for and locate the remains of Osama bin Laden because...   Well, he says we need "proof," he also says his Russian girlfriend told him Bin Laden might not be dead, and he further argues that the search would make a good documentary.  A chump looking for chum...

Ainsztein, Reuben.  1967.  “How Hitler Died: The Soviet Version.”  International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-). 43,
  2: 307-318.  The author discusses and references “Berllinskie Stranitsy ('Berlin Notes') by Yelena Rzhevskaya (Znamya, No. 5, 1965.  See
  also: Ainsztein, R.  “Review: The Death of Adolf Hitler.”  International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-).  45, 2:

Bezymenski, Lev.  1968.  The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives.  English translation of Der Tod des
  Adolf Hitler.
  New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Dower, John W.  1999.  Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Kampmark, Binoy.  2007.  “Sacred Sovereigns and Punishable War Crimes: The Ambivalence of the Wilson Administration towards a Trial of
  Kaiser Wilhelm II.”  Australian Journal of Politics.  53, 4: 519-537.

Petillo, Carol M.  1979.  “Douglas MacArthur and Manuel Quezon: A Note on an Imperial Bond”  Pacific Historical Review.  48, 1: 107-117.

Toland, John.  1976.  Adolf Hitler.  2 vols.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Ventresca, Robert A.  2006.  "Mussolini's Ghost: Italy's Duce in History and Memory."  History and Memory.  18, 1: 86-119.
Wells, H. G.  1933.  The Shape of Things to Come.  London: Hutchinson & Co.

Glad that Wendy's has brought back their Premium Fish Fillet sandwich,


Return to