Wanted Dead or Alive

By Robert C. Koehler

When President Obama, summing up the killing of Osama bin Laden, said, “Justice has been done,” the problem wasn’t simply that he misspoke — justice, after all, can only emerge at the end of an impartial judicial proceeding — but that, in so misspeaking, he hit the emotional bull’s-eye.

“Justice has been done.”

We got him, America! Oh yeah, sweet! Who can’t feel the pop of satisfaction in those words? “He should have said, ‘Retaliation has been accomplished,’” Marjorie Cohn pointed out recently at Common Dreams, and that’s true, of course, but the president wasn’t summoning the dry, sober rule of law. He was evoking, just as George W. Bush did before him, the Wild West, America’s deepest font of mythology, where justice, you know, comes from the muzzle of a revolver. As with Geronimo, so with Osama: Wanted Dead or Alive.

“. . . it was the Indians who, by the ambush, the atrocity, and the capture of the white women . . . became the aggressors and so sealed their own fate,” writes Tom Engelhardt in The End of Victory Culture, describing the first mythological enemy we created as we carved a nation out of a continent.

“From the seventeenth century on,” Engelhardt continues, “Americans were repeatedly shown the slaughter of Indians as a form of reassurance and entertainment, and audiences almost invariably cheered.”

In the post-9/11 decade, myth and politics — myth and all phases of American culture — have converged with a certain ferocity that seems unprecedented in my lifetime, and coincides with our transition to a state of perpetual war and economic freefall. As real security for most people nosedives, appeal to myth, especially the myth of the Wild West, becomes the prime tool of governance.

“. . . from this day on,” said Mara Liasson a week ago on NPR, “his Republican opponents will always have to deal with the new and enduring fact that Barack Obama is the president who got Osama bin Laden.”

This says nothing and everything in one fell swoop. The “everything” is mythological: This is a big, big victory for the prez and for America. The “nothing” is . . . everything else. Bin Laden’s death doesn’t end our wars or make us safer. Indeed, anything but. Talk of terrorist retaliation immediately began cycling through the 24/7 media. If Sen. Charles Schumer has his way, the security bureaucracy will create a “no ride” list for Amtrak passengers because some evil, though sketchy, plans were found at bin Laden’s compound targeting the U.S. rail system.

“Even in death,” writes Glenn Greenwald, “bin Laden continues to serve the valuable role of justifying always-increasing curtailments of liberty and expansions of government power.”

The raid and assassination have also led to a resurgence of torture justifications in the media, particularly from Bush-era officials neck deep in war-crime complicity, despite zero evidence that testimony obtained via “enhanced interrogation” or “Rumsfeld interview” yielded any useful intelligence. Could it be, Carla Seaquist wondered in a piece on Huffington Post, that they’re just trying to establish a protective buffer against eventual prosecution for war crimes?

The myth of the Wild West is the myth of necessary violence. It has no limits. It justifies the carpet bombing of civilians. It justifies political assassination, including assassination by drone aircraft (with unlimited civilian casualties allowed, especially if they can be labeled “suspected insurgents”). It justifies the spread of toxic pollutants. It justifies the use of nuclear weapons.

And all it asks of us is a state of endless fear.

“There’s a way in which terrorism is incredibly smart and savvy,” said Suzanne Ross of the Raven Foundation. “If you make someone afraid, they will destroy themselves eventually.”

In several video presentations, Ross and her colleague, Adam Ericksen, examined President Obama’s attempts this past week to call forth a heightened sense of national unity around Osama bin Laden’s assassination. It’s a devil’s bargain, they maintain, because the need for more violence will never end. However, this need — for the next war, the next political assassination — always seems so reasonable. And as part of the bargain, “The meaning you’re making around violence is your own goodness,” Ross said.

The Raven Foundation, along with innumerable organizations and, in all likelihood, a majority of the American populace, want this country to reorganize not around violence and exclusion — good guys vs. bad guys — but around a higher human standard: compassion, inclusion, real justice.

The only way this has any chance of happening is if enough people free themselves of the myth of the Wild West, which reduces these values to the status of the fair maiden rescued at gunpoint.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com


Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now out.

The book is a collection of my essays fused into several narratives. They run the gamut from the highly personal (dealing with grief, the death of my wife, single parenting) to the acutely political. The book is about the quest for both inner and outer peace, the urgency of both, and the fragile future we are giving birth to.

“Koehler’s points are made with a combination of journalistic acumen and spiritual precision. He takes you by the brain and will not let you go to sleep, will not let you shut down, will not let you look away – and yet, in the same essay – will not let you lose hope, and will not let you stop believing in the spirit of goodness that lies within us.” – from the foreword, by Marianne Williamson

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14 responses to “Wanted Dead or Alive

  1. I swear, these rulers are out of their minds

  2. No they know that gullible folk swallow every patent medicine given them.
    After all, COTO presents an obvious lie as the truth so why not everyone else? I respect the notion of publishing those who seemingly are on your side, but one must question what side that is when so many lies are presented as truth. Are we to think that the internet allows no facts to be verified? Suppose I am a respected author, Whitely Striber say, and I publish my encounters with EBE’s? Am I to be accepted at face value simply because I am published the the New York Times? Are our standards so low? Indeed what truth content is necessary? Is reiteration of the Big Lie sufficent? Next you will publish that a lone gunman killed JFK. All because a writer whose reputation relies on presenting lies as fact says so.

  3. I guess that’s up to individual interpretations as to what we buy into. In COTO what I see is a question, never really an answer and all these postings are individual opinions to be mulled upon by everyone that follows COTO. As this is your opinion, there’ll be many that beg to differ, whether they post their dissent or not. I and many others that follow this, don’t see this as a mechanism for leading us to following an established dictum, quite the opposite actually.

  4. WhyRogie, that’s not like you. I can see where this is going.

  5. He certainly was a dashing figure in his uniform towering over old Buz in their photo op in the US wasn’t he? Come to think of it, he wasn’t the skinny rake that we seen in his later pictures . I’m mostly preaching to the choir in saying the scent suggests there’s something rotten in Rome here.

  6. Thank you

  7. I suspect Obama rejected the order to take down the towers.

  8. more like Jimi Hendrix

  9. I see it not as opinion at all. Why call something that is a lie the truth?
    It is not a quantum physics experiment. OBL died in 2001. A writer ignores he died in 2001. He prefers 2011 at the hands of the US. This is published because he is a respected person. Yet still he lies. Why do we accept this lie?

    • well, pub, unless you have incontrovertible proof that OBL died in 2001, you should refrain from calling others liars.

      Ah, you don’t have such proof.

      If you did, you would be a well respected writer (or investigator) who grabbed the world’s attention as being the only person on the planet with such evidence.

      Please… be careful of the accusations you make since you can’t back up your own assertions.

    • I’m sympathetic to Publius’ view so far as the falsehood of the US government’s alleged 2011 political assassination of the long-dead Usama bin Laden is concerned. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s important to express an opinion about Robert Koehler’s state of mind, even though his article gives me that creepy Rob Kall kind of feeling.
      A few weeks ago I guessed that one and the same person stood behind Publius and Hybrid. Now I’m less sure. As above, so below.

  10. What I see is that a person has to walk a middle line. There’s so much disinfo out there from both sides whether it’s wishful thinking, spun for shock value or engineered to be manipulative that one has to keep a very open mind and keep learning. To become fixated to a story, theory or spin whether it’s from mainstream or out here in the ether fixates one to wasting ones precious time when all we have is the present time and everything else is, is a what if or then was. I find greater comfort in realizing that I’ve got a lot to learn that instigates me to search further and deeper than to come to a point after pushing a half ass poorly researched theory and having to admit that I didn’t have things straight enough to really voice an opinion. Nobody likes to be the fool.

  11. I’m currently reading G.Edward Griffins “The Creature from Jekyll Island”. I’ve been viewing what’s postulated in his book in slices and chunks as I’ve found things trying to pull it all together over time. I wish I’d discovered it awhile back. I’d call his book a treatise on the hidden history of finance and power and how it evolved. I’d rate it as, “What we haven’t been told 101.” But then if I didn’t ask the question and didn’t dig to find the answer, I would have never stumbled across that either.
    Oriental Proverb
    To ask maybe a moments shame
    but to remain in ignorant silence is a lifelong shame

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