Tuesday, May 03, 2011

9 Years, 234 Days Later: What bin Laden's Death Means to America

Make no mistake: the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is a monumental military and psychological victory for our great nation and for all Americans. It marks the end of the biggest criminal manhunt in history, presents us with an opportunity for unity, and to experience some sense of satisfaction as we continue to mourn the loss of 3000 victims and heal the still-open wounds.

Much has been said and written about the reaction here at home as news began to spread late Sunday evening that a Unites States mission led by Navy Seals killed bin Laden at his $1-million fortress/mansion in a suburb just 35 miles outside of Pakistan's capital (quite contrary to the belief these past ten years that he'd been desperately living like a hunted animal in a remote cave). Hundreds of people, largely college students and young people, immediately descended upon the White House, Times Square, Ground Zero and other locations throughout the country. While they rallied and cheered in jubilant celebration of the death of this monster, others have decried such revelry and likened it to the shameful dancing and glee that took place on the streets in middle eastern countries following the attacks ten years ago.

It's hard to make comparisons between then and now, as the deaths that were celebrated back in September 2001 were of innocent people, while bin Laden was a mass murderer who deserved to die. Additionally, it's unfair to judge anyone under these trying circumstances. Those who've lost loved ones to violence view life, and death, through a much different lens. It's easy to understand how victims of deadly crimes could desire vengeance and vindication. It's easy to understand their celebration over the death of those who kill. It's the biblical "eye for an eye." That other Americans who have indirectly been affected by the 9/11 attacks also joyously celebrate bin Laden's death is understandable as well.

To be sure, bin Laden and his actions forever changed the U.S landscape in so many ways. His impact can be felt in virtually every aspect of American life, from politics and finance to travel and homeland security. Since the 9/11 attacks, we've been forced to live in fear when we fly, board a train, stand in the subways. That the architect of this terror had half his face blown off is justice served to many. Like Hitler during the 1930's and 40's, bin Laden was responsible for mass death and atrocities, and was our #1 enemy. It's ok to cheer and celebrate his death. We killed our enemy before he could kill us. The joy is more like a collective sigh of relief that maybe this reign of terror, if not over, will abate somewhat. And if our great nation, which has been royally kicked in the ass since the 9/11 attacks--made worse by the worst financial crisis in over 80 years--has a brief opportunity to feel victorious and proud, what's wrong with that?

But it's also completely understandable to view such revelry as uncouth and un-American. Celebrating the death of anyone is not supposed to be something which causes elation and high-fives. We are supposed to be above that. Civility and the rule of law is what really makes America great. But things are very complicated in the post 9/11 world. Grief comes in many different flavors, and everyone experiences it differently. So we must understand and accept the myriad reactions to bin Laden's death without judgement, and at least agree that America and the world is a better place without him.


Anonymous said...

Too bad any good feeling will be lost to the tea bagging repubs. They are so full of racial hate for our duly elected president, that they can't see or think straight. I am white and I find them immoral.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your take on the celebrations.

People see it both ways. I guess it's kind of personal.

My take on things is that there is a big difference between the revelry that comes from winning a hard fought war as was the case on V-E and V-J days in Times Square and dancing in the streets when a person is dead.

One deals with victory of nation over nation and an END to killing. There is the joy that comes from the knowledge that a war has ended and it's not individualized.

The other deals with the killing of a particular person, which leaves me a bit queasy. I get it that people who lost loved ones could feel such an emotion - the old saying is a conservative is a liberal who was once mugged.

But what I saw on TV were college kids for the most part - kids who were toddlers when 9/11 happened - who really weren't deeply thinking beyond the "let's celebrate" mode. To me, those kids - some of whom expressed the view that their final exams scheduled for the next day should be postponed - were not very classy and made me squirm. It was almost like "something to do". Not nice.