Tags: Looking | Evil | the | Face

Looking Evil in the Face

Saturday, 23 February 2002 12:00 AM

All of these traits were important to his family, friends and colleagues. But most important to me, and I hope to you, was that he was an American citizen who was peacefully working at his profession.

Danny Pearl was murdered not for any crime or other misdeed he might have committed. He was murdered just because he was an American, a Jew and a reporter.

And he wasn't merely killed. According to credible reports, he was terrorized, tortured and humiliated. Then his throat was slit, his dead body was repeatedly stabbed, and finally he was beheaded.

His horrific murder was meant by his killers to be a warning to America, and to the West in general. It was, but not in the way the killers intended. They meant his death to persuade us that the terrorists were serious, so we should treat them with respect and heed their demands.

But what this terrible act really warned us of is the true nature of his killers and of the people and policies they support.

For this reason, I believe strongly that the videotape of their subhuman brutality should be shown. Of course, children shouldn't see it. It could be shown on TV late at night, with repeated warnings, or over the Internet so that adults can view it if they choose.

That is, we should force ourselves to put aside our pacifist illusions. We cannot "dialog" with terrorists. "Dialog" about what? The best knife for decapitating a human being? The best way to bomb a disco or pizzeria? The best procedure to bring down an airliner? The best means to release nerve gas or anthrax spores?

We cannot "build a bridge" to terrorists. They will use it to get at us. We cannot "give peace a chance." A chance to do what – kill more pizza eaters and mutilate the bodies of more reporters? We cannot "see things from their point of view." To do that, we would have to descend to their level of bloodthirsty barbarity and vicious bigotry.

What we should do, if we have the guts, is to show the videotape and look evil in the face.

No, I don't mean look death in the face – I mean evil. There's a big difference, but one that many modern-day Americans have trouble recognizing.

I first saw death when I was in the second grade and a classmate was run over near my home. Our class attended the funeral. I can't recall if the coffin was open, but I think it was, because for years I associated death with satin cushions.

My father died of a heart attack when I was 19, and I vividly remember his waxlike face as family and colleagues paid their respects at the funeral home.

Then I went to medical school, where we spent a semester dissecting a cadaver. Unlike the frail, elderly cadavers of most students, ours was particularly muscular — he had died not of old age but of a gunshot wound to the head. I realized that our good fortune in having well-developed muscles to study resulted from his bad fortune of having been shot.

For the first time, I began to separate the tragedy of death from the evil of murder. The deaths of my father and my little classmate were tragedies. This man's death resulted from evil. Of course, it was also tragic for his family and friends, if he had any. But the cause of death was a gunshot wound, resulting from murder, resulting from human evil. I learned more than anatomy in that class.

When I was 26 I had a head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on a freeway. Both cars were estimated by the police as going 50 miles per hour at impact. Death has many faces. To Danny Pearl it looked like the muzzle of a pistol and the blade of a knife. But to me that day it looked like the front end of a Chevy.

The other driver was killed, and both cars were totaled, but I got out of the hospital in one day. I figured that every day from then on was a gift.

Later I specialized in medical oncology. Today there are effective treatments for many kinds of cancer. But at the beginning, four decades ago, what we did was mainly to try new treatments on patients for whom there was no other hope.

All physicians know that their struggle against death must ultimately be lost, but oncologists know it better than most. For some, however, death comes as a release. I still recall a teenaged patient who died after a long struggle. I don't recall the exact type of cancer, but I recall the struggle.

When he finally died, the family was prepared and went to the nurses' station to sign the necessary papers. I sat at the bedside for a few minutes, then to my surprise I patted him on the arm, as if congratulating him on his graduation – which in effect I was.

Later, my mother died, as did uncles, aunts and colleagues. Of course these deaths hit me hard. But by that time, death was no stranger. It always came as a shock, but not a surprise. It was always a tragedy.

But if I wanted to see the results of evil, I had only to visit the emergency room and observe gunshot wounds, stabbings, beatings and other assorted evidence of man's inhumanity. The difference between tragedy and evil was always clear to me. This was true even of the greatest tragedy, death.

Recently, I've been under treatment for a health problem. There is every indication that the treatment will be successful and that I'll be around for some time yet, which may (or may not) please my readers. But as I said, every day is a gift.

So you see, I speak with some authority when I say that I have looked into the face of death. Believe me when I tell you that it is not the face of evil.

Younger Americans have gotten so used to good health that they take it for granted. Often even middle-aged people have never had to endure the death of a family member or close friend, and many have never seen a dead body. Of course death is frightening, even more so when it is an unknown.

But when you have seen death face to face, as have soldiers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and doctors like me, it's a bit less frightening. What is really frightening is human evil, with its far-reaching extent and many varieties.

The first thing to do when we fear something is to understand it. The only way to understand evil is to look it in the face. True, the face is horribly ugly, but once we have the courage to look, it becomes a bit less frightening.

Equally important, it becomes more familiar. Once we can recognize evil, we can begin to fight it. True, the fight will be dangerous. But if we have things in perspective, we realize that evil is to be feared even more than death itself. That makes us dangerous opponents.

Eventually, the terrorists will get the message. They may be fanatic, and by some standards crazy, but they're not stupid. It's unnerving to have your enemy stare unflinching into your face. Play the videotape. Then we'll know what to do.

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All of these traits were important to his family, friends and colleagues. But most important to me, and I hope to you, was that he was an American citizen who was peacefully working at his profession. Danny Pearl was murdered not for any crime or other misdeed he might...
Saturday, 23 February 2002 12:00 AM
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