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Osama bin Laden's Porn and Policy Library (and the Banal Evil of the Unread War Novel Over Memorial Day Weekend)

05/26/2015 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

Osama bin Laden begged his favorite wife to join him in paradise (should death come by drone or SEAL raid or hypertension triggered by a Hunker Down Diet of dried meat and Pepsi.)

But first, The Most Wanted Man on Earth generously suggested she feel free to go right ahead and remarry, so as not to be lonely in her sunset years.

This he penned in floral poetics, presumably before curling up in the compound with a tattered copy of Chomsky and reviewing the Grand Imperial Strategy...

Or perhaps, on those particularly fitful nights, before dipping into his extensive porn stash and getting global domination done for Team Taliban, one Western virgin at a time.

But maybe those gray afternoons called out for a little comfort comedy, whereupon he'd pour a big cup of boxed Nestle and crack a juicy 911 conspiracy theory, always good for a laugh or two...

What Osama bin Laden did not do in his waning days is this:

He did not take that rare stretch of quiet time in a hurried and fractured existence, (like say the long Memorial Day weekend at the outset of summer, ahem) to break up the pornography and punditry, and read a novel or a poem that makes palpable the horrors and heartbreak of war in a way that the Oxford History of Modern War, with all its canonical detail, cannot impart.

Bin Laden's compound collection was not unlike Hitler's library, the latter comprised mostly of military strategy with some pulpy smatterings and occult departures. Not surprising given Fuhrer's utilitarian understanding of "reading as no end in itself, but a means to an end," which he says explicitly in the first volume of "Mein Kampf."

Hannah Arendt's thesis on the banality of evil is based on the wholly unexceptional figure of the Nazi, not as fanatic or sociopathic, but as the average bureaucratic Eichmann, just following orders and looking for a raise.

Banality, in this sense, is reiterated in the Orwellian wonk-speak of bin Laden's library.

It is a stoic anchorman genre still aspiring toward a pre-Internet Walter Cronkite conceit of objectivity.

It sanitizes the carnage and barbarities of war into a string of stats, strategies, surges, theories and armchair analyses -- much of which competes on Sundays with golf to induce a pleasing weekend nap.

The best of war fiction and memoir and cinema interrupts the banality of war with the hell and wound of war.

It communicates the fragile transcendent beauty of every day life that we so often take for granted until battles come and take it all away... And worse, takes them all away. Our people we love. Our children and siblings and lovers and friends who make life real and sweet. Gone.

Murder and rape and torture, be it in Auschwitz or Syria or Columbine or 911, requires an unnatural distancing of the human heart.

This collapsing of the being has to be learned with sufficiently impassive language to mask the gaze and bury feelings, making faceless targets of manufactured enemies.

Unlike purely non-fiction military policy text, stripped of emotion and aloof in its factual tone, the most enduring war literature and films do the opposite.

That is, they create intimacy and a bloody mess of memoir.

They remove the mask. They ask us to gaze deeply into the aching center of a soldier's eyes as life drains from his body, at which precise moment he realizes, too late, that his separateness from the Other was just an illusion all along...

But we close the book and realize we are still alive! There is still time! We close the book and are opened to the inimitable preciousness of life that had otherwise eluded us until we read this novel or poem or saw this play or that movie ...

No matter how indispensable or compelling an argument or how thorough the reporting, war policy books such as Obama Wars do not venture much out of DC board rooms and into the heart of darkness...

It is, in a sense, easy to emotionally compartmentalize such accounts to the point where, were one interested in using this genre as reference material to, say, annihilate and torture an enemy, one would likely not be much interrupted by the baffling contents of one's own beating human heart.

Moreover, one would not likely meet a character or read a stanza or see an image that erupted in him the spontaneous reservoir of his forgotten shared humanity...in turn prompting an unprovoked moral self-interrogating that would subject his own ideology to the scrutiny of his newly awakened soul.

Quite conceivable bin Laden's heart could have been comfortably tucked away while reading his policy books or watching his porn, and then brought out conveniently, upon his whim and under his close management, for the purpose of say, constructing a love letter to his favorite wife or in Hitler's case, for doting on his beloved dog...

Osama bin Laden's library is an irony-free reminder that the pure historical or policy narrative is a relic of a pre-Jon Stewart world that never got around to reading Tolstoy or Shakespeare.

In a time when the fourth wall has come down on just about every other realm of culture, when billionaires wear hoodies and flip-flops and serialized dramas stream a steady legion of morally complex characters and gender and race constructs are dissolving in the millennial palm, isn't it high time we allow the war wonkery to mingle with, say, a poem or two?