Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead

"Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: 'to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.' Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people." -Robert F. Kennedy on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 1968.

As I watch the raucous celebration outside the gates of the White House, it seems like the only thing missing are Ewoks cheering and dancing and banging on the helmets of Imperial stormtroopers.


The news that Osama bin Laden is dead changes nothing, but it also changes everything. Soon al-Qaeda will undoubtedly rebuke the news, claiming it means little, as it is an open secret that bin Laden has essentially been sidelined as a leader for some time. Already there is word that U.S. embassies around the globe have been placed on high alert in the event that someone, somewhere wants to retaliate. And all over the world, including right here at home, people will go to bed tonight hungry, penniless and even hunted by terrorism of various kinds - be it in Sudan or Libya, or Syria or Yemen, or elsewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But it would be wrong not to at least partially acknowledge that this momentous news is a cacophonous, cathartic victory for not just Americans, but for people who pray for peace and freedom all over the world.

September 11, 2001 - God, can it be almost ten years already? - changed everything in this country, and with it, the world. A decade later, our politics and policies have irreparably changed forever, as have the ways we go about our daily business. Going to a stadium, getting on an airplane - it will never go back to the way it was. Civil liberties in this country have been in peril seemingly ever since September 12th of that year, and the Democratic president Obama has been just as aggressive in that regard as was his Republican predecessor. And that should be taken into account - that Obama has in large part virtually followed Bush's exact course in counterterrorism policies, torture being the biggest (and a very important) difference.

But this is an amazing moment for the president, and for our country, and especially for all those who died on 9/11, their families and for all of us who lived through that awful day - and who are still living through its ramifications. Bin Laden's death makes it feel like all the endless suffering of the past ten years - the war in Afghanistan, the needless war in Iraq, "Mission Accomplished," all the huffing and puffing of the Bush years, the disappointment in some of Obama's Middle East policies - was all worth something. Oh, you can argue with how we got here, and I certainly have. And this doesn't vindicate Guantanamo Bay, for example. But take a moment to reflect this news. Osama bin Laden has been killed, by U.S. forces. According to the president, this is what our troops and intelligence personnel have been fighting for, at least since Obama's inauguration.

Part of me wants to take a step back, and tell myself this isn't a big deal, and I shouldn't get my hopes up, that this country itself has done and is capable of some questionable moral actions in its history. And all that is true. I am against the operation in Libya, as I am in Iraq, and I could talk your ear off about all the problems we have at home. But, after all the terror Osama bin Laden caused on and after 9/11, we deserve a night like this.

Sometimes, it's okay simply to celebrate someone or something evil getting its due. It doesn't make America perfect, or mean that we are above criticism. It doesn't end terrorism, nor does it even begin to put a dent in all the problems in the world. It certainly doesn't change my own personal life one bit. And, believe you me, there is something strange about celebrating someone's death. But I am filled with satisfaction that, at least for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, justice has been served.

And in spite of all the problems and hypocrisies apparent from time to time, America remains the place most associated with liberty in this world, as well as the country with the greatest capability for good. We have problems in this country, including politicians and citizens who peddle poisonous beliefs and even untruths to the masses. But overall, the heart of this country is good, our wishes are pure, and, always, we hope for the best.