How shocking was it to hear that we’d finally brought down that piece of excrement Osama bin Laden last night? Answer: Pretty damn shocking. And positively surreal. It was so incomprehensible that when a friend told me about it last night, I couldn’t quite understand what it was he was saying. Well OK, part of that was because I’m losing my hearing. But I was so certain that we’d never bag the dreaded Public Enemy No. 1 that when it finally happened, I didn’t believe it because how could it be true? The guy was too elusive, and crafty. and protected. And there was some doubt he even was still alive.
Now that it’s 24 hours later and bin Laden is being safety digested inside some shark’s tummy, I’ve started to think about What It All Means. What my primal feelings of blood lust at his demise is all about. What the instant and cathartic outpouring of celebration in the streets signifies. Mind you, I think it’s healthy, perhaps even necessary. It feels like a cleansing national exhale, a collective, spontaneous eruption of relief and joy that somehow helps to restore our sense of justice and order.
I always fear that Americans tend to come across to the rest of the world like so many narrow-minded yahoos. It leads me to generally distrust eruptions of nationalistic fervor of the kind we saw explode on Sunday night, mirroring a mob mentality in appearance if not spirit. Again, this time it feels different, that it isn’t jingoism we’re seeing but understandable pride and passion. We got The Bad Guy, and perhaps in some way it paints us again as The Good Guys. Even though, too often lately, it’s been difficult if not impossible to still believe we are.
Is the world a better place without bin Laden in it? Absolutely. Is it good that we killed him? Undoubtedly. Was President Obama bolstered by an act that even Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh had to praise? Without question. Did the President go a long way toward securing his reelection? Assuredly.
I’m also just fine with doing a little gloating over this no matter how many of those “Do not celebrate the violent smiting of mine enemies” quotes get forwarded to me. We’ve all earned the right to dance on this freak show’s grave. And to those Muslims who reason that we have disrespected their religion in burying bin Laden at sea, well, sorry, nothing personal, but this ain’t about religion but good old fashioned retribution. They’ll just have to give us a pass on this one and we’ll make it up to ’em down the road.
So why does all of this still leave me feeling uneasy tonight? Maybe it’s the fact that America’s reaction to the 9/11 carnage from day one has been violence, an eye for an eye, smash ’em, shock and awe, blood, guts, gore. An argument can be made that it’s been necessary to achieve the goals we’ve achieved. But no matter how carefully someone explains it to me, I’ll never fully understand why our retort to a bunch of Saudi Arabian maniacs running planes into our buildings was to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. And then to keep the war fires burning bright for nearly a decade.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have gone after bin Laden. Quite the contrary, the bastard needed to die. We couldn’t spare him over fear of retaliation. What’s undeniable, however, is that violence has consistently proven throughout history to beget violence. Even a scholarly, brilliant and reasonable man such as President Obama has continued to operate from that same philosophy, preferring diplomacy yet backing the continuation of war and, in this necessary case, assassination.
We have, in other words, responded to al-Qaida in precisely the fashion they expected and perhaps hoped we would. With regard to bin Laden’s killing, it almost can’t help but result in an escalation of suicidal terror from his followers, quite possibly within our borders. So ding-dong, the witch is dead. We have done hunanity a favor by eliminating Osama from this mortal coil. But his death hardly cleanses the Islamic world of homicidal zeallots. Quite the contrary, it almost certainly rouses them from their stupor. Because only those blind to history believe it’s possible to use bullets and bombs to produce peace.