Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy. Right. Now.

Did you miss it?  Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden is dead.  American Special Ops forces killed him.  Specifically, a specially trained Navy SEAL confronted him in his suburban hideaway, asked for his surrender, was refused, and then shot him once in the chest and once in the head.  It was surgical, it was deliberate, and it was effective.  And now Osama, the leader of the Al Qaida terrorist operation and the mastermind behind 9/11, is no more.

Impromptu outpourings of joy and patriotism exploded all over the United States late Sunday night when the news broke.  Flags were waved, songs were sung, tears were shed and fists were pumped.  Because when it comes right down to it, all the words we've grown accustomed to hearing since that awful day in 2001 - words like justice and safety and protection and freedom and peace - boiled down to one thing:  the war on terrorism was to a great extent an American vendetta against one man.  And it finally achieved resolution in Abbottabad, Pakistan last weekend.

As the dust settles, some ask whether Americans have gone too far in our celebratory attitude toward the assassination. NPR wonders if there is any moral justification to taking not just solace but satisfaction and even joy from Osama's death.  Salon frets that we might be portraying ourselves as the monsters we claim to despise through our flash-mob happy dances.  Fox News is fine with the fist-pumping, as long as we're giving all the credit to the Bush administration. 

All more or less valid arguments.  Jingoism is an ugly thing, and of course exulting in anyone's death sits queasily upon the soul of people raised to respect life and liberty.  Personally, I'm kind of a softie; just last week Beloved Spouse scoffed at my sympathy for the son and grandchildren of Moammar Ghadafi who were killed by NATO bombs.  I know that the son was a willing accomplice of the evil father, and I have no idea whether the younger Ghadafis were innocent bystanders or mini-Moammars being groomed to take over the family repression business.  I heard the word "grandchildren," and I realized all over again that every target is a human being and somebody's loved one.

But with Osama bin Laden we're not talking about a vigilante mob stringing up a horse thief before the sheriff shows up.  We're not talking about detaining and torturing faceless henchmen and possibly committing greater crimes ourselves than any they carried out in the process.  And we're certainly not talking about wishing harm on an entire nation, culture, or religion as personified by a random scapegoat.

If you were alive on September 11, 2001, your life was changed by the World Trade Center attacks.  If you knew, even distantly, one or more of the 3000+ people who were killed or wounded in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania.  If you donated money or blood or time to the victims and their families.  If you watched the replays of the attacks and realized that it had happened here, in your own country, and could happen again.  If you've been to an aiport in the last 10 years.  If you've watched the news or participated in an election or a debate on national security.  You've been touched.  You're not the same.

I'm not going to turn this post into a political commentary on the war in Iraq, but let's not forget that more than 3500 American soldiers (plus those from other countries and thousands of Iraqis) died in combat because we wanted to believe that Al Qaida could be defeated by getting Saddam Hussein out of power.  Let's not forget that 2400 U.S. and coalition casualties have occurred in Afghanistan as we struggled to get closer to Osama's actual base of power.  More than 10,000 American troops are there right now, and there is no peace for them or their families just because we cut the head off the Al Qaida snake.

The point is, we as Americans have a lot of skin in this game.  Our allies do too, and God bless them for their sacrifices; but the United States and Osama bin Laden are the public faces of the combatants in the so-called war against terror.  I invite anyone to provide a reasonable argument that Osama was not an evil man, in the way that religions and philosphers and average people understand that word.  He was responsible for thousands of deaths, both among his enemies and his purported followers.  His ideology was based on twisted, power-mad notions of righteousness that brooked no dissent.  He stated, publicly and repeatedly, that he hated the West and wished our culture eradicated and our bodies laid waste.

I respectfully ask this of those who think that joy is an inappropriate response to Osama's death:  Was the world wrong to exult in the death of Adolf Hitler? Or Josef Stalin? Or Saddam himself? Did the victims of these evil men not deserve their moment of retribution, even if it was mean-spirited or uncharitable?

I suspect that many of us would like to be better people.  Whether you believe in sin or karma or divine retribution, I'm sure many share my twinges of guilt that the brutal killing of a human being arouses feelings of excitement and national pride.  We should be better than that.  We should be stronger than that.

But we were scraped together from mud and clay, not from the clouds on which the angels sit.  Show me the man (or woman) who has complete control of his baser instincts, and I'll show you an old episode of "Kung Fu."  Peace and love and forgiveness are not beyond us as humans; but they have to fight with a lot of other, more visceral instincts to triumph, and sometimes they lose.

The public exultation will fade away.  It has do; we still have a long way to go in this unfortunate war.  Like millions of others, I'll continue to pray for the safety of our troops.  I'll pray that our leaders' actions are ruled by justice, wisdom, and compassion.  And in the case of Osama bin Laden's death, I'll continue to believe and be grateful that they were.

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