Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Osama, Meet Obama

I was alone at home Sunday night when my younger sister called and told me that President Obama would be speaking momentarily about a national security issue, and no one knew what it was.

These were not calming words.

I don’t need to recite to you the litany of things that might be going wrong. (Yet I recite them to myself on a regular basis.) It was just a few minutes later when word about the subject circulated. Like everyone else, I reacted on a few different levels:

One level was sadness, just because anything that vividly takes me back to 9/11 and its aftermath is an inherently unhappy thing. Those were tough days, so I got choked up for a few seconds while waiting (interminably) for Obama to speak.

Another level — what might have been something resembling relief if bin Laden had been killed in, say, 2002 — was now more accurately described as weary satisfaction. In recent years, it already felt like al Qaeda was severely splintered (though not toothless), and that bin Laden was a mythic motivator rather than a real-life general. Capturing or killing him started to feel just as mythic — and more a Where’s Waldo?-like test of patience and vision than a top strategic priority. But of course, it was still good news. Mythic motivators are important. And so is justice, however long delayed. Bin Laden was not just a murderer, but a longtime, calculating, political one, so I see nothing wrong with him being killed in battle, as it were. It was his choice to make that one of his possible paths to the grave.

The resultant celebration was surprising to me. I have nothing against it, per se, though I’m more the type of person who would only gather and yell in public for something sports-related. When it comes to things like war — and a lot of other things besides — I’m more like the guy at left, who spent part of the night of bin Laden’s death mourning a loved one at the Pentagon memorial.

I didn’t lose anyone on 9/11, and I’m certainly not going to shed any tears for bin Laden, but overall I feel like this is one small, just event in a much larger string of incredibly sad events. And unlike V-E Day, to take one example, this is not a clear-cut finale to something. The battle we’re in (the world is in) is untraditional, and it can’t be stopped by one accomplishment.

I did take a moment to celebrate. One of the first things I did after hearing the news, being a 21st-century nincompoop, was happily post this video from the 1980s to Facebook and Twitter. But when I saw the celebration outside the White House, I was surprised by the size and demographics of it. So many of the celebrants looked like high school kids. Bruce Arthur, a Canadian writer whose work I’ve come to know through his entertaining Twitter feed, was in D.C. for it:
People climbed trees and lampposts, until they were asked to stop. Many were so young. . . . It was the primal hunger to experience history, to live a part of something bigger, to be on TV rather than watching on TV. They wanted to be the man swinging the hammer on the Berlin Wall, to be the Navy man or the nurse sharing a kiss in Times Square on V-J Day, to be the dancing crowds in Tahrir Square.
Arthur found a woman whose younger sister was killed at her desk in the Pentagon on 9/11, and asked for her reaction to bin Laden’s death:
“We were elated, but in the meantime we were also sad,” Monica said, “that someone’s life was taken. I would say that he deserved what he got. Can I say that? That he deserved what he got. Us being a Christian family, we’re supposed to learn how to love and forget, to forgive people. But it’s very hard.”
You can absolutely say he deserved what he got. Not being a Christian myself, but being quite nonviolent, I still think it’s a perverse extension of sympathy to waste much of it on someone like bin Laden. There are all kinds of people who do bad things who I can see deserving sympathy, even of the deepest, most radically Christian kind — people in terrible circumstances, otherwise decent people who do something awful in a fit of passion, stupidity, madness and/or panic — but he’s not one of them.

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, who was also in D.C., offered another perspective on the crowd’s jubilation:
Almost everybody was Twittering their excitement. (A Twittering mob is a less terrifying mob.) A lot of beer was drunk and spilled. The scene was boorish, of course. Triumphalism is often not a pretty thing. But still distinctions had to be made. This crowd burned nobody in effigy, nobody’s flag, nobody’s books. It had assembled to celebrate an entirely defensible act, whose justice could be proven on more than merely nationalistic grounds. After all, Osama bin Laden killed even more Muslims than Americans, and represented one of the most poisonous ideas of our time: the restoration, by means of sanctified violence, of a human world without rights.
Well said.

My other thoughts that night mostly revolved around the mainstream media (which is just embarrassing on almost every level) and Obama. When my sister called, I turned on the TV, which was on NBC, to find Donald Trump earnestly addressing La Toya Jackson in the boardroom. Earlier in the week, I had seen a video clip of Trump getting huge cheers from a crowd by saying that the country has no leadership.


Blogger Barbara Carlson said...

Thoughtful post.

Trump's been trumped (I hope that means what I mean to say. I don't really know cards.)

Perhaps admitedly crass capitalism can recoup the 3 trillion Osama made the US spend because of him. -- See


8:56 AM  

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