The announced death of Osama Bin Laden this week gives us all the opportunity once again to revisit the ancient practice of defiling your enemy’s dead body. Though to be sure this is a custom that has always roused lively debate.

For Bin Laden’s bloody assassination at the hands of an American hit squad and the subsequent hasty disposal of the body at sea has raised suspicions that the venerable tradition of disfiguring your dead enemy may have been revived on this occasion. For though there are apparently many photos of the deceased which would prove beyond all doubt any questions of identity, these are never to be released. Why? Because they are said to be ‘too terrible’ to be seen by the general public and might inflame Muslim sentiment. Perhaps some cranked up gung ho Navy Seal took a nose or ear for a souvenir. Would it be surprising? Now, while happy to encourage robust displays of patriotism and flag waving, the American administration is also eager to keep the public blood lust to a minimum. President Obama is keen to be seen to be taking the moral high road. No unseemly wallowing in your victim’s entrails please.

On the other hand maybe rather than trying to hide the bloodied evidence, the Americans were actually trying to make a crude Mafia-style symbolic point, “ He fucked with us so now he’s sleeping with the fishes..” Its like watching an episode of the Sopranos.

But all this moral squirming about treating your enemy with dignity and respect reminds me how on Anzac day recently, I watched an old newsreel from WW2. The sort of thing they showed to kids in the theatres before the main film. Anyhoo, it included graphic scenes of helpless, unarmed Japanese in life boats, escaping from a sinking ship, being strafed by Allied planes.

There goes another boatload of Nips to meet their ancestors,” the announcer told us triumphantly, like he was calling the cricket and someone had hit a six.

Now there was a war where they weren’t afraid to show their hatred.

Of course its one thing to hate the enemy, its another thing to cut off the scrotums of their dead and use them for a tobacco pouch. Generally this sort of activity has not been considered civilized behaviour since the time of Homer. Yes, when Achilles strung the dead body of Hector by his ankles to the back of his chariot and took it for a spin around Troy, even his fellow Greeks felt he was going too far. “Hubris”, they muttered, “He will bring down the wrath of the gods.” And so it proved to be.

Later the Persian emperor Xerxes proved himself to be no more than a barbarian in Greek eyes, and lost crucial support, when he had the fallen body of the heroic Spartan King Leonidas disfigured after the humiliation of Thermopylae.

By way of contrast, the Roman emperor Augustus demonstrated his humanitas by allowing Mark Antony and Cleopatra to be buried together with full honours in a luxury tomb. It turned out to be a wise political move, helping to heal the wounds from the bloody Roman civil war.

Later the Crusades furnished us with many examples of chivalrous treatment of the enemy dead. Chivalry, alas, pretty much died as a concept

in the trenches of World War I.

Of course there is the opposing school of thought, that holds that your enemy’s skull makes a fine ashtray and the mutilation of his corpse an excellent method of advertising the inadvisability of ever crossing you politically.

Certainly that unhappy English Dynasty, the Stuarts (poor losers and worse winners) had no compunction about fixing Oliver Cromwell’s head to a spike in a belated act of revenge. They probably would have preferred to do it while he was still alive but they dug him up anyway. Their living enemies they did have drawn and quartered, a particularly gruesome way of finishing anyone off. (Pretty much on par with feeding people into a meat grinder – Uday Hussein’s favourite method.) I can’t recall if they then treated the remains with repect, give em a decent burial and all, or if they just shovelled them into a trench somewhere. Thats British royalty for you.

As for Timurlane, he made whole pyramids and columns out of the heads of HIS enemies. But was he a nice person, remembered fondly by history? I think not. President Obama doesn’t want to go down that path.

Of course if your a jungle tribe who relates to all outsiders with fear and paranoia, it probably makes sense, from your point of view, to line the perimeters of your territory with the skulls of trespassers on stakes. But if your a modern nation state post Geneva convention, this sort of behaviour is considered, as I mentioned before, not Civilized.

Of course many cultures consider it civilized behaviour not only to defile the bodies of their enemies, but EAT them as well. Nothing like having a reputation for Cannibalism to keep people from straying onto your territory. Not to mention the politico-magickal benefits of absorbing your enemies Power when you eat them.

Wouldn’t that be a fine sight to behold? Barack Obama squatting on the Presidential desk, gnawing on the bloody skull of Osama Bin Laden, smeared with human gore and entrails.

It would certainly give America’s enemies some degree of unease.

In the end I say take one course or the other, but whichever way you choose to go DO IT PROPERLY. If your going to take the moral High Road, then you have to be rigidly undeviating from it. You play by the rules.You bring people to trial, not shoot them down like your a lynch mob in a bad western. You don’t prattle on about freedom and human rights then run an atrocity like Abu Ghraib prison or Guatanamo. You play a straight bat. The road is hard and the gate is narrow but in the end you get to where you want to go.

On the other hand if your going to play Dont-Fuck-With-Me, then you take a leaf out of Marlon Brando‘s book in Apocalypse Now, and you show them REAL shock and Awe, as well as Fear and Terror. You take no prisoners and you make no apologies.

But if you take that road, the fast, wide way, the karmic expressway, you gotta be prepared to pay the Toll booth at the end. And there will be a price, oh yes. The Wheel of Sharp Weapons Returning, as the Tibetans term it. Or to put it another way; those who fight Monsters often end up becoming monsters themselves. Do we want to be monsters, or just keep them from our throats?

Here endeth the meditation.



 The Reverend Hellfire is a practising performance poet, an ordained minister and a general practical joker.



~ by reverendhellfire on May 8, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: