Reality 70% Less Real Than 10 Years Ago

Saw Saddam Hussein hang the other day.

Because the Angry Czeck keeps his furious fingers on the pulse of the liberal media, I knew camera-phone footage of Hussein’s execution was available on the Internet. I found it right away on YouTube, subject “Hussein execution.”

Camera-phone video isn’t exactly Panavision®, but the choppy, poorly lit images of the dejected dictator standing on a scaffolding with a noose around his neck were more dramatic than anything I’ve seen on AMC lately. When the bottom fell from Hussein’s feet, it took me by surprise. I gasped.

An image that sticks to your mind and to Google

The Internet grants the world access to events we once relied our imaginations to re-enact. I know Benito Mussolini was shot and killed, along with his mistress, at the conclusion of World War 2 because I read that in a history book. I read that Benito’s last words were, “But sir. Sir…” On the camera-phone of my mind, I can see him – bald and shaken, with his mistress screaming and hanging on his shoulder – imploring the young Italian communist with the machine gun in his hand to please reconsider. I see him drop abruptly to his knees when the bullets hit. He lands face first in the mud, and his mistress’s body falls across his back. Before my mind moves on, I hear the executioner’s friends slapping him on the back. Good comrade.

But I witnessed with my own eyes Saddam Hussein’s death, just like millions of others with an Internet connection. I’m not sure if I’m any better for it.

A couple years ago, a young American contractor named Nick Berg was kidnapped in Iraq. Berg hoped to make a little money during the reconstruction of Baghdad. Alone, without bodyguards or journalistic immunity, he made for an easy target for thugs claiming to be Al-Qaeda.

On May 7, 2004 Nick Berg was executed, supposedly in retaliation for abuses at Abu-Ghraib. According to Wikipedia, The CIA claimed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi personally beheaded Berg. Maybe, but thanks to the Internet, I personally witnessed the decapitation.

Later, my Angry Dad would ask me why I would want to watch something like that. What I told him then was what I still believe today. The history made in Iraq is, by most Americans, being viewed from a comfortable distance. When we hear men are dying, we press our lips firmly, mutter a platitude, and go back to watching According to Jim. I had to see Nick Berg die. It was not enough to read the words.

Like how I suspect most terrorist videos are made, the tape of Berg’s execution lacks cinematic flair. The image is slightly unfocused. The lighting is harsh. Five men wearing hoods stand behind a young man sitting cross-legged on the floor wearing an orange jumpsuit. The man on the floor is Berg.

Then hooded man standing in the center begins to speak. The words are Arabic, so I don’t know exactly what he is saying, but the body language is threatening and his tone is infused with the cowardly bravado that can only be manufactured in front of a camcorder while secreted away in an undisclosed location.

Meanwhile, Berg is visibly unnerved, and he looks at the camera with blank eyes. It’s clear that he does not understand the diatribe that is, presumably, about him. Berg doesn’t know what is coming. But I do. And I feel myself becoming very angry at the man who speaks. I glare at the give hooded men and wonder which maniac will execute Berg.

Because it appears that Arabic allots for no dramatic pauses, it’s a surprise when the man with the large knife makes his move. He grabs Berg from behind, and Berg yells in surprise. The knife is raised to the air, and Berg yells again. The decapitation itself takes between ten and fifteen seconds, and when the proud assassin holds Berg’s head to the camera, your stomach becomes a lead mortar shell.

Berg’s alleged murderer receives some air time of his own in 2006

The hooded man with Berg’s head displayed in front of him announces, “We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.”

I closed the mpeg and dragged it to the trash. Then I emptied the trash.

I’ve seen passenger airplanes crash into the World Trade Center, and I’ve seen the bodies falling from the inferno it caused. And when I saw those things, I wanted revenge. For Nick Berg, I wanted the revenge all over again. The thugs believed they were making a video of fear, but what they did instead was generate a dynamo for anger.

And then it was over. All that was left was the horrifying image of Nick Berg’s head imprinted on my brain, and the uneasy knowledge that it left behind: I wasn’t horrified enough.

We live in an age where we can all bear witness to atrocity, and now the blind eye that once shielded our innocence is propped opened. Staring. The camera may be pointed to a police beating or a mass execution or a racist rant, but the spotlight is on us. Do we respond with action? Do we shrug our shoulders like always? Has access to carnage become too easy for us? On one screen I can watch Nick Berg have his head hacked off. On a second screen, I can watch the Dukes of Hazard leap across a river in a Dodge Challenger. How is one more realistic than the other when obtaining it required the same level of effort?

These are questions for philosophers and not the Angry Czeck. Me, I’m just looking for the next video of a guy swallowing a microphone.

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