Last night on Glenn Beck’s sickly teevee show, the profitable conspiracy theorist host made a simple plea: for the government to release its photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse. Glenn would like to see it. And his argument was that the photos can’t be all that gruesome, because most Americans have seen The Godfather and children play violent video games. In fact, Glenn “worked all day” on this goofy little cartoon of bin Laden’s shot-up head. And guess what? Beck is right. Not for the reasons he mentions, and certainly not for that dumb drawing, which makes bin Laden actually look cute. The reason President Obama should release the photos is because they will be more gruesome than movies or video games. And it is only fitting the photos live forever here on the most horrifying place in all the world: the Internet.
The problem with movies and video games, some people say, is that they give people a lust for violence. But the actual problem is they give people a lust for violence that isn’t real. Does your child think it’s cool to shoot somebody’s head off? Take them the Internet. Show them a photo of a real human being who was shot in the head. That kid won’t think it’s so cool anymore.
The news media can have their protracted debates about whether it’s suitable for them to air the photos if they are released, but it won’t matter, because they will exist on the Internet, the most suitable place of all. The Internet needs these photos so badly it has already made fakes. It needs them not just out of morbid curiosity, but to conclude another chapter of the Internet: the videos of office workers, people’s family members, jumping out of the World Trade Center in terror, and the videos of U.S. citizens being decapitated by terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East. Without the gruesome image of a dead bin Laden, there is no true justice to answer these crimes that will continue to float forever on the Internet.
Yes, these photos will end up on the back of the XXXL t-shirt of a man standing in front of children in a Walmart checkout line. But children should probably see a real dead body, one that’s not caked with makeup in a casket, at some point in their upbringing. Death is a part of life. And, in modern times, so is American justice and the country’s war machine.