Roy Rosensweig’s 2003 article on “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era”, one of our required readings this week, struck home painfully. You wouldn’t think a few paragraphs about Bert the puppet’s unfortunate linkage to bin Ladin would hurt, but it still does. And the story, this story, about how Bert was accidentally bound to history by an internet joke and a good friend deeply involved in that history was forgotten, is a cautionary tale: abundance of data and popular input may privilege the mundane, erase the important, and rewrite history for the worse.
Bert was a puppet. After his inclusion in posters in Pakistani demonstrations, he found himself side-by-side with bin Ladin, and the subject of much mirth. At the Pentagon, we joked tensely that our troops had taken a small yellow prisoner who insisted of bin Ladin, “It wasn’t my fault, I was just his puppet, he always had his hand up my back”. Others claimed that bomb damage assessment of a home in Qandahar had found unexplainable pieces of yellow felt. In New York City shortly after 9/11, I chanced upon a children’s coin ride in the shape of a New York City fire truck, with Ernie and, yes, Bert, racing to the rescue. I labeled it Bert’s Redemption and snapped a photo. Perhaps some of this dark humor was on e-mails – I imagine so – perhaps some historian will find it and ponder how men and women in a most stressful situation could quietly joke about a puppet.
Kirk von Ackermann was a friend. He was intimately involved in terrorism analysis, especially in the events leading up to 9/11, and I can say little more. He never was mentioned in the 9/11 investigations, never was interviewed, and he disappeared alone on a road in northeastern Iraq, almost ten years ago to the day. He
Source: From Periphery to Catalyst