Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Death of Osama bin Laden

I was in bed when I found out. Brandi was asleep, and I was watching TV and periodically checking Twitter on my phone. When I read that President Obama would be making a statement, I really didn't think too much about it. Then, as reports started coming through that indicated what the statement was about, I switched over to CNN.

I watched the coverage as various aspects of the story came through. When the president finally came on to make his speech, I woke Brandi up so we could see it together.

The whole situation seemed so surreal. September 11 was so long ago, and with the resulting conflicts that have unfolded in Iraq and Afghanistan, I had almost forgotten that the main point of U.S. operations in the Middle East was to bring him to justice. For news of his death to come at this point, apropos of seemingly nothing else, was a little hard to process at first.

So I watched. I was especially interested to see the impromptu gathering of celebrants at the White House gates and, as the night went on, in New York City and college campuses around the nation. I was struck by how much these celebrations looked like so much like video from foreign places of celebrations or protests, often military/political in nature: people waving flags, chanting, singing, etc.

Seeing so much jubilation over the violent demise of another human being...I found it unsettling, distasteful, and completely understandable. Kids in college now were only 8-12 years old on September 11. They've grown up with the threat of bin Laden's deeds hanging constantly over their heads; to them, the news of his death must have been like finding out the monster in the closet had been killed. Also, this isn't a conventional conflict like wars in the past, when winning a battle or taking a town or territory could indicate progress. In a way, this is really the first symbol of victory the U.S. and its allies have had since this conflict began ten years ago, and really probably the only symbol of progress or victory the general public could even recognize.

So. He's dead. Notice I didn't say he was "brought to justice" or anything quite so trite as that, because I really don't believe there is such a thing as justice for a person like bin Laden. He was the cause of so much pain, death, and grief over the course of his "career," and he paid for it with a violent end. That doesn't seem like justice, but it does seem like the only ending that was even close to fair. Taking him alive would have been a circus. While I cannot join others in rejoicing in his death, I feel relief that the search has come to an end with this particular resolution.

By no means is this a magic bullet or instant cure. The so-called war on terror isn't over, troops aren't coming home immediately, and gas prices aren't even coming down. Sadly, there are no solutions that would bring about those results, at least not in a rapid manner. But this is a step in the right direction. The world is marginally better now than it was on Sunday, and that will have to be enough for now.

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