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Won't You Come Home, John Walker?

Your favorite American Taliban is here to stay. Brace yourselves.

11:01 PM, Jan 27, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
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HE'S BEEN CHARGED, he's back from his summer home in Kandahar, and the talk shows fill with John Walker again, and it won't be the last time, will it? There will be no closure for us, folks. He will be in our lives forever, even from prison, a specter that reappears and floats, impossible to swat away, always out of reach, like the pink elephant to the drunk. It's that face, I think, that quilt of all our ugliest patches: the Ted Kaczynski hair, the Charles Manson eyes, the Sara Jane Olson moral grounding.

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with the other prisoners. I mean, it's got to be immensely difficult to transport, house, and guard hundreds of highly trained monsters who really, really believe the only surefire way to guarantee an eternity-long wet one from God is to rip out your throat with their teeth. That's for starters. Then the usual suspects pipe up. The ACLU gets weepy over the threat to our Constitution, perhaps sincerely not noticing that they're a threat to our Constitution. The International Red Cross races to Guantanamo to make sure that these terrific young men are all getting premium channels and not just basic cable.

Yes, it's John Walker, ladies and gentlemen, give him a nice hand, and the airwaves churn again with the hard questions: What do we do with him? Is he still ours? Was he ever? And why didn't he at least have the decency to be a Communist, so we could call him Johnnie Walker Red?

Put aside for a minute what we should do with this freak, and let's start at the beginning. Didn't anyone notice the ticking of the bomb as he was growing up? How did it slip below the parents' radar? "You know, son, your mother and I understand how hard it is being a teen and thinking about girls, but this whole thing about martyring yourself and getting 72 virgins is a bit problematic. For one thing, this is America. We don't have 72 virgins."

Speaking of someone who'll never be on the cover of Parenting magazine, did you read what his dad said? Here's The Pater as quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "He looks terrible. We just want to talk to him. And maybe a little kick in the butt for not telling us what he's doing." Let's take this apart, shall we?

"He looks terrible." No, he doesn't. That's the look they're going for. For them, he looks great. In fact, he's probably one of their Rangers. They probably had him on all the recruiting posters.

"We just want to talk to him." You mean for the first time?

"Maybe a little kick in the butt . . ." Whose, his or yours?

"For not telling us what he's doing . . ." For not telling you what he was doing? How long did you not know what he was doing? Are you crazy? Did you know he was out of the country or even out of the house? Did you know he was in Afghanistan? If you did, what did you think he was doing there, hanging out with the two idiots who were going from village to village singing "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man from Galilee"? In God's name, what were you his mother thinking about all those months? "Looks like a nice day, plenty of sun. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't we used to have a son?"

Or did everyone notice and stick their heads in the ground? Have we all become so afraid of taking clear stands that no one thought to speak up about a kid Dervish-dancing down the street in a burnoose? No Mrs. Kravitzes from "Bewitched" furtively sliding the curtain aside? "Abner, look. It's the Walker boy playing Lawrence of Arabia again."

Of course, many Americans on the call-in shows are rationalizing what he did. One mental giant reflected, "Let's not judge him too quickly. I did some wild things when I was nineteen, too." Like what, hack off feet in Sierra Leone? The Taliban was not a search for self. ("Gee, I don't know, Dad, maybe college, maybe hitch around Europe for a while. Hey, wait a minute. How about the Taliban?") There are still plenty of harmless ways to make a pointless gesture. Was the Peace Corps full up? (By the way, do we still have a Peace Corps? If so, where? More importantly, why?)

Okay, everyone, from the top again, with feeling: The Taliban was a death cult, a collection of devils who skinned their own alive to maintain fear, who blasphemed every time they used the word "God," whose least horrible accomplishment was the vicious way they treated their women. They were a bloodlust burrito wrapped in heat and hate, so joining them wasn't a wacky alternative to interning for Amnesty International; it was evil.