Americans, as Osama bin Laden once observed, are a people who value life. He saw that as a weakness but he was wrong, as he was about so much else.
Because we value life, we understand the power of death. Hence the debate that has erupted over the photographic evidence of bin Laden's bloodied corpse. Should the U.S. government make the photos public?
No. Definitely not.
The world doesn't need a photograph to prove that the terrorist is dead. There is evidence aplenty, including a DNA match and confirmation by one of bin Laden's wives. The Pakistan government isn't disputing it. We have the word of the Navy SEALs and the president of the United States. That is enough.
Bin Laden is dead.
The deniers don't buy it, of course. And they won't. There will always be people who cling to falsehoods. The Holocaust never happened, despite the evidence found at the concentration camps and the testimony of the people who survived them. Barack Obama was born overseas, never mind the copy of his U.S. birth certificate and the word of the doctor who attended his birth in Hawaii.
Photographs of bin Laden's corpse won't convince these people. And a responsible government shouldn't dignify them or make policy decisions on their behalf.
So, if not to put doubts to rest, what would be the purpose of releasing the photos?
Sarah Palin, always the voice of the chest-thumping crowd, posed a rationale on Twitter: "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction," she wrote. "No pussyfooting around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."
But bin Laden said of his followers, "We love death." Photos of their martyred hero would seem just as likely to incite as deter.
Closure, then? Not likely. An airing of the mastermind's bloodied corpse won't put to rest the horrors of 9/11 and all that followed. Many of us remember them every time we board a plane.
The bin Laden photos, we are told, would be gory. Of course they would. They would be much like the photos of the corpses of three of bin Laden's presumed compatriots, which the Reuters news agency purchased from a Pakistani security official after the raid, and are now widely available on the Web.
The photos show what happens when a human being is shot with a high-powered weapon. It's a bloody and horrible aftermath. Unfortunately, that will come as no revelation to the cops who patrol the streets of Kansas City. They see the same awful wounds on homicide victims. The photographs of the dead terrorists may have historical significance, but in a violent world they show nothing extraordinary.
At the same time people are criticizing Obama for not releasing bin Laden's death photo, others are questioning whether it was necessary to kill the terrorist at all. Bin Laden was unarmed, though weapons were said to be within an arm's reach. And though U.S. forces encountered gunfire on the first floor, it now appears no one was shooting in the part of the compound where they found bin Laden.
This is a weak controversy that shouldn't last long. The U.S. commandoes had to make split-second decisions in a dark and chaotic setting. Bin Laden already has caused the deaths of thousands of U.S. service members and civilians. Saving him didn't justify the risk of a single other lost life.
There is angst, also, over reports that bin Laden's 12-year-old daughter witnessed his assassination. That too is contrary to our values. But war does not pass over the young, and one can't help but remember the many children who witnessed their parents being murdered again and again, as the footage of airliners flying into the Twin Towers looped on TV for days.
With the killing of bin Laden, the United States did what it could to achieve justice for the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and their families. If we value life -- and bin Laden had that part right -- then we treat the dead with respect.
As U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, put it, "Osama bin Laden is not a trophy."
As President Obama said, "We don't need to spike the football."
Bin Laden is dead. We should take comfort from that and get on with the business of living.
Barbara Shelly is a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by e-mail at email@example.com.