Death is a regular visitor. It comes by even in a week when the big seller was a royal wedding couched in "fairyland" terms by almost everyone except (thank God) the Church, which at least saw this particular wedding as a token or sign of all weddings which carry the regal hope that promises made and love shared is a high ideal. Marriage of those in high places give some the hope that their marriages, although less grand, are none the less occasions that participate in a generally recognized "good thing."
But what of the death of those in high (or notorious) places? Death, for most of us is an odd mixture of reality, story and fiction. But death by killing presents a story where justice is often less important than some other concerns. The killing of those in high places requires some rationale, if only because we of lower estate need the confidence that justice is served there and would be served as well if we were killed.
This last week it was reported that Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, 29, the son of Moamer Gaddafi, was killed in a NATO strike along with several of his children (grandchildren to Gaddafi.) It is unclear just what end was served by these deaths. They bring no honor to NATO. These deaths are basically "collateral damage," the killing people who just happened to be in the way. In the way of what? Who was the target of the strike? Any of us who look for a rationale here have to look hard.
A child's death is a source of great sadness. Killing a child is almost entirely to be viewed as a very bad thing. Killing a parent requires explanation to the child but killing a child requires even more. Killing either leaves some with unanswered questions of justice and right. These are not deaths to celebrate. This is no good news for those of us who wish justice for us lowly to be mirrored in justice for those in high places.
Last night the reports came in that Osama bin Laden was killed. Bin Laden was not a man in "high place." He was a maker of terror, a murderer and the leader of a death machine. Killing bin Laden was the killing of a notorious murderer.
It might have been better had he been taken into custody, but probably that would only have put off his execution. "Taking out" bin Laden is a far cry from killing children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Killing bin Laden was an immediate consequence of armed conflict.
Still, there is an unease here. To the extent that we want justice modeled for the high and the notorious in such a way that it mirrors what justice would look like for the low and unknown, this is not a promising event. It suggests that "wanted dead or alive" really is desire without differentiation. We want him either way, dead or alive, and without much care as to which. Justice is not well served by unexamined fulfillment of desire. That is not justice, that is revenge.
I'm glad, very glad, we got him. And if getting him meant killing him, so be it. But I wish we had taken him alive. I mostly want armed forces and police to practice taking them alive, on the grounds that when they get to the lowly they (whoever they are) will not simply consider lowly folk not worth the trial.
Last night was a "Western" ending, a showdown. "Wanted, dead or alive." Fine, here he is, dead. But Westerns don't always promote justice. They give greater place to getting even. This is less good news.