...Slate has published this article
on the witness-free, photograph-free, evidence-free burial-at-sea of Osama Bin Laden.
So where do you think he really is? Does the body rest in Davy Jones' Locker -- or is the arch-terrorist hanging out under an assumed name in Buenos Aires?
What really bugs me is the lack of Bin Laden sightings. People have had post-mortem encounters with Jesus, Elvis, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Nicholas Flamel, Czar Alexander I, Hitler and many others. Why not Osama?
One of my favorite "survival" stories involves General Michel Ney, usually called Marshall Ney, who was Robin to Napoleon's Batman. (Well, sort of.) Historians tell us that Ney was shot by a firing squad in France; the year was 1815 and the General was just 46. However, soon afterward, a French-speaking fellow named Peter S. Ney showed up in South Carolina and took a gig as a schoolteacher, a profession he carried out until his death in 1846. Petey never came right out and said that he was
the Marhsall -- except, reportedly, on his deathbed -- but he dropped lots of hints to that effect. Many of the people who knew him became convinced that he was indeed the famed aide to Bonaparte. For more, see here
One survival story I find almost
persuasive involves Hitler's favorite commando, Otto Skorzeny, who officially died in 1975. If you scour the net, you can find a few photos
of an elderly "post-mortem" Skorzeny. I must admit that the images
are pretty damned unnerving. Still, I hesitate to embrace this theory, if only because there are people out there who just love to play games with Nazi history. (See, for example, my earlier post on those lovable funsters Henry Makow and Gregory Douglas
A peculiarly persistent legend involves Joan of Arc. Throughout the 20th century, the "Joan survived the stake" theory
gave rise to a number of books
which quickly fell into obscurity. I'm both grateful and sorry that the famed Johannic scholar Régine Pernoud spent so much time rebutting this nonsense. In 2007, an author named Marcel Gay revived the idea. Although I've not read Gay's book, I have gone through the older ones; they're crap. Naturally, the media has treated Marcel Gay's thesis as something sensational and new
, even though I'm pretty sure that he has done nothing more than rehash a lot of old dreck.
The survival theory has an origin in uncontested fact: Some five years after the Maid's death, an adventuress named Claude des Armoises impersonated Jeanne d'Arc. Astoundingly, she talked one of Joan's brothers -- Pierre, if I recall correctly -- into going along with the ruse. Claude's motive was financial. Most moderns are shocked to learn that Joan was wealthy, and that she used her money to buy property in Orleans. (Not to mention horses. And lots of expensive male clothing.) After Joan was burned in 1431, her estate became tied up in the Medieval equivalent of probate, and Claude thought that she could make a play for it. Of course, she made a point of avoiding King Charles VII or Gilles de Rais or anyone else who might have identified her.
(Brother Pierre's motives are a bit mysterious, although he always was a social climber eager to capitalize on the fame of his big sister.)
The revisionist historians take Claude's gambit at face value. As evidence, they point to records that the city of Orleans held a feast in the honor of The Maid, alive and well, when Claude-as-Joan came parading into town in 1436. What the conspiracists don't
tell you is that, not many months later, the city paid for a memorial service for La Pucelle
(Joan's nomme-de-guerre). Obviously, the town fathers saw through Claude's little charade. Although she didn't get hold of the property, she did go on to marry a knight and thus did fairly well for herself.
Adherents of the survival theory usually stitch it to the even nuttier notion that Joan of Arc was of royal birth. This idea is pure nonsense. Joan's father was a farmer in the town of Domremy who did a stint as mayor. She had an army of godparents who could, and did, testify to her origins.
The "royal birth" theory traces back to an early 19th century conspiracy theorist named Pierre Caze, the mayor of Bergerac, who was sort of the Alex Jones of his day. Caze also resurrected interest in Nostradamus after nearly everyone had forgotten all about the once-famed seer.
Aren't you impressed that I could rattle off all of that stuff from memory?
Back to Bin Laden: There were all sorts of rumors that he died long before he died. For years, whenever a Cannonfire article mentioned Bin Laden in any context, I would receive messages from cranks who seemed quite enraged by any suggestion that the guy might still be alive. "Cannon, you fool! Don't you know
that Osama Bin Laden died in 2004?"
(Or 2001. Or 1999. Accounts vary.)
I have always told these correspondents that I did not know
any such thing, and neither did they.
So what, now, should we make of the official story about Bin Laden's 2011 death in Abbottabad? Frankly, I do allow myself a certain skepticism, if only because the details are so infuriating and imprecise. If you want to see what I mean, just follow the very first link in this post. There really was no pressing need to toss the body into the ocean quite so rapidly, without an autopsy, without witnesses, without photos, in a ceremony unobserved even by the sailors on that vessel.
Yes, I would
like better evidence. No, I don't think that's an outlandish request.
That said, let me make one point very clear to Mr. Crank-Who-Is-Dying-to-Write-an-Infuriated-Response-to-Cannonfire-Right-Now: No, I do not know
that the raid was staged and that Bin Laden's death was faked. And if you are honest, Mr. Crank-Who-Is-Dying-to-Write-an-Infuriated-Response-to-Cannonfire-Right-Now, you will admit that you do not know
either. If you had evidence, you would publish it in book form and make a lot of money.
Speculation is not evil. It can, in fact, be of great service. But speculation is not evidence.
My point in writing this rambling essay comes down to this. If we heard so much about Osama's death before he died, why have there been no reports of his life after his life? Where are the Bin Laden sightings? Whenever there's a questioned death, I expect sightings.
"Osama? Yeah, sure, I met him last week. Here's a shot of us together at Disney World."
You know. That
sort of thing. Where are the photos of Bin Laden in line for The Avengers
? Our popular mythologists have shirked their duties.
I forgot all about Jim Morrison, didn't I? Actually, one could write a whole book about rock stars who allegedly faked their deaths, and such a book would probably sell pretty well. Too bad I'm not of that musical persuasion...