July 23, 2008

The Purloined Letter, 2008 version

The reports about the capture of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic inevitably bring to mind Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Purloined Letter.

In the short story, a compromising epistle is hidden in a room. Everybody knows it's there but nobody can find it. Why? Because rather than squirreling the letter away in a secret hiding place, the bad guy placed it in a prominent position. (It reminds me of the time in 2003 when I looked everywhere for my spectacles but didn't find them until somebody pointed out that they were in my right hand. Good thing. Otherwise I'd probably still be hunting.)

Karadzic, a contemporary bad guy of the first order, used the same approach in avoiding the Serbian police for ten years. He let his hair and beard grow out white and added a pair of dorky glasses. Then he set himself up, successfully, in plain sight and with Web site, as a spiritual leader and healer. It's hard to understand how the man who led the slaughter of 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica could get away with the charade. I guess he never went to a Target store; in the U. S., they and other major retailers use facial recognition software. And I guess the people he was "healing" never got around to asking about his hometownand therefore never played the know-someone-who-knows-someone-who-knows-your-cousin's-friend's-cat game.

As Poe demonstrated in 1844, sometimes you just can't see what's right in front of your face.

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