Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seeing is believing.

“He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong.”
-- Ronald Reagan, following air strikes on Libya in 1986, and also sampled in Def Leppard’s “Gods of War.”

For those taking a longer view of history than is customary in our time of super-sized junk food and atrophied attention spans, Moammar Gaddafi’s grisly finale last week was not at all unusual. In short, we’ve all been here before.

When the armies of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini helped jump-start World War II by invading Ethiopia, the Libyan desert already was a colonial possession of Italy’s, and it was not rid of Axis troops until 1943, when Gaddafi still was in diapers.

Not long afterward, Mussolini suffered the same fate as the future Libyan despot. He was captured by anti-fascist countrymen, tried very quickly and just as hastily executed along with his mistress and others. Il Duce had been rescued once before, and his captors were determined to avoid a repeat performance. The corpses were meticulously hanged by the ankles from the overhanging lattice of an Esso gas station in Milano, and as was the case after Gaddafi’s death, photographs of the scene were widely circulated.

In some of the images, American GIs can be seen, milling around like veritable tourists with their Brownies, arrived just in time for the spectacle. One of them was a New Albanian whose name I recall as John Scheller, who was a substitute teacher when I was in junior high school. He would be long forgotten, if not for the contents of his briefcase: Photos he had taken himself of the macabre scene at the Esso station. Understandably, they were his prized possession.

It occurs to me belatedly that a scant 30 years separated his witnessing of gruesome history in Italy, and the equally depressing sight of my vacant 13-year-old butt slumped in an FCHS classroom seat. It is quite plausible to imagine that Scheller the substitute might have been the same age then as the author is now. Is he still living? It’s possible, although probably not, but in the sense that he made an impact on an impressionable adolescent, his memory will live as long as I do.

Mussolini and Gaddafi aren’t the only hitherto supreme leaders to have been paraded ghoulishly before the cameras following their messy ends. In 1989, as communist Romania devolved into bloodshed, the last minutes of the husband and wife Ceausescu team were faithfully filmed, as was the lifeless aftermath of their sentencing. There was film at eleven, and it may have been the highest rated program of the year.

Of course, images of Saddam Hussein beneath the gallows undoubtedly are available on the Internet, although I’ve no interest in seeing them. It’s enough for me to know that although Idi Amin and Pol Pot got away, others like Gaddafi weren’t as fortunate. Whether the latter was killed in an accidental crossfire or purposefully dispatched by an opportunistic rebel is immaterial to me.

Either way, there’ll be a new chapter of some sort for Qaddafi’s country, while here in America, a quarter century after the Libyan leader counted wrong, we finally can close the book on the Reagan Era.

Free at last ... free at last.

No comments: