May 2, 2011
The comfort of cold comfort
"Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children."
I watched the president say the words that I honestly never thought I'd hear. Not like that, anyway. I always figured we'd find bin Laden the same way we found Joseph Mengele. Sometime in the future, we'd get a tip that bin Laden died peacefully in his sleep some years before, and we'd find an old grave and analyze the bones, and that would be that. A footnote to history, and nothing more.
Instead, it went down exactly like most Americans hoped it would. And while I don't have much to add to the volumes of opinion making their way to the Internet today, I thought I should at least mark the moment, fraught as it might be with complicated emotions.
I sat in front of my television and watched the celebrations that began last night, the chanting of "USA! USA! USA!", as if we'd just won Olympic gold instead of killing another human being, albeit an undeniably evil one. In my head, I knew that this was wrong, it was barbaric and not much better than the crowds in faraway places who cheered and danced in dusty village streets to celebrate the carnage of September 11th.
But in my heart, I felt the same way as those who were celebrating. I felt that same visceral, tribal satisfaction. And now, even in the cool consideration of the next day, I find that, try as I might, I can't truly fault the cheering Americans for whom bin Laden's death serves as a proxy for all the things that should have come out of our long, sad national response to 9/11, all the simple plans that turned out to be incredibly and unpatriotically complicated, all the battles that should have been won but instead just led to more war, and all the sacrifices to the cause of "national security" that instead of making them safer, just made them less free.
Killing bin Laden doesn't change any of that. But it feels like it should, and for now, that'll have to do.