Mourning Nicholas Berg

Lord knows there are political points that could be made about the horrible tragedy -- the horrible crime -- of the murder by Islamic extremists of Nicholas Berg.

Already the political tug-of-war over Berg's life and his death has begun. (Not for nothing do we all agree politics is a dirty business.) Everything is sorting itself out nicely into the facts for "their side," i.e. the pro-war pro- Bush camp, and "our side," the anti-war anti-Bush camp.

"They" can claim Nicholas Berg himself -- one of the most admirable- sounding Americans to come our way in a long time. He was a supporter of the war. He traveled to Iraq on his own because he was adventuresome, and idealistic, and because he had at age 26 set up his own company from scratch: Having built a radio tower in his backyard for fun, he now wanted to get wealthy by helping rebuild radio towers in Iraq. In the New York Times profile of the young man, one friend of the family says he "was a great kid. If anyone wanted a son, you'd want Nick for a son."

"They" can also lay a claim to some of the anger and disgust we feel for those who murdered Berg and then bragged about it. "They" can channel it -- with hardly any difficulty at all, because my anger at least is halfway there already -- into wanting to see bloodshed in return.

And "we"? We can claim Nicholas Berg's father, Michael -- who opposed the war his son supported; whose anger and disgust with the US government for starting this mess we share.

"We" can point out that bloodshed to avenge bloodshed is a vicious cycle we'll never escape. To which "they" can counter: Why are you always talking more about the killings of Iraqis than of Americans?

And it will go from there. Soon enough, I expect those who claim the son will try to take him away from the father.

Wondering what that might look like? You don't have to wonder: Just check out Bill O'Reilly's interview of Jeremy Glick, whose father, a Port Authority worker, died in the 9/11 attacks. Glick signed an advertisement, "Not in Our Name," to oppose the war in Afghanistan. So O'Reilly had him on the show to slap him around and tell him "I don't think your father would approve of this," and ultimately, of course, to shut up, shut up, shut up.

This time around it's the son who died, and the father who's left behind. But the political hacks at least are the same, and they are already circling -- wondering which facts to seize and hold high for all to see, and which ones to kick furtively under the rug.

It's all so sad, I wish I could stop it from happening. Just like, when I saw the paper this morning and the story of Nicholas Berg's death, I wished I could have stopped that from happening as well.

The only thing it seems worth saying today is to offer condolences to the Bergs. We -- by which I mean we Americans (on this day I'll presume to speak for both sides) but also many kind and good Iraqis -- are very sorry for your loss.

Matt Bivens writes the Daily Outrage column for The Nation.

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