Soon after President Barack Obama announced the death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden late Sunday night, a crowd began to gather outside of the White House. At first it was small group of a few dozen people, perhaps the amount you would expect on the streets of Washington DC at midnight on a Sunday. But soon their numbers swelled into the thousands, united in a joyous celebration that the symbol of evil that had haunted the American psyche for a decade was no more. Similar celebrations broke out in New York City - site of the worst portion of Bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks - Los Angeles and other American cities as well. But in the days since, these celebrations have drawn rebukes from the Left in this country, including from some of my self-described “lefty” friends. Some say that they were too boisterous, too rowdy; more stern critics say that it is wrong to rejoice in the death of another human being, no matter how odious they may be, others still say that such expressions of joy for the death of a foe are even “unbiblical”. So while some on the Left stand back and cluck their tongues like disapproving librarians over the actions of some of their fellow Americans, I am forced to ask why shouldn’t we celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden?
Americans twice broke out into loud, boisterous celebrations at the end of World War II: first for V-E Day, signaling the defeat of Nazi Germany; then for V-J Day to mark the surrender of Imperial Japan. In each case they were, in effect, celebrating the death of untold numbers of Germans and Japanese. But more importantly they were marking the end of a long and bloody conflict, the ultimate outcome of which was far from certain when the war began in 1941 – their demonstrations, from the famed one in Times Square to the smaller ones that occurred in every corner of the country, were simply expressions of the joy of surviving a horrible conflict. Bin Laden’s 9/11 suicide attacks were no less a declaration of war than was the attack on Pearl Harbor, yet there was an important distinction: Unlike Hitler and Hirohito, Bin Laden did not lead a nation-state, but rather a diffuse terrorist network. In the War on Terror there were no cities to capture, no armies to defeat, no armistice to eventually sign, which is what makes the death of this one man – the font of al-Qaeda’s murderous ideology - reason enough to celebrate, it is simply the closest we will have to that V-E/V-J Day moment in this modern conflict.
The celebrations of Sunday night can then best be viewed as a national catharsis, a chance to let out a decade’s worth of pent up fear and anxiety over always wondering, always fearing what horrible things might happen (and uncertainty is the terrorists best weapon) by seeing the mastermind of the worst act of terror ever to occur on American soil – not to mention the other Bin Laden planned/inspired attacks in Nairobi, London, Bali, Madrid, etc. - taken out, once and for all. It’s worth noting that many in the crowd in DC, and I’m assuming in other cities as well, looked to be college-age students. They are the generation who came of age during this time of terror. As children they watched airplanes fly into buildings and were left to wonder if the same thing would one day happen to the office where their parents worked, or to their own school? They grew up dealing with the indignities of TSA security measures every time they took a vacation, of hearing nightly news reports about the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while seeing police with attack dogs and automatic weapons casually walking around the local train or bus station became a common sight, all thanks to the actions and ideals of one man. We were told to always be vigilant; we learned to live always in fear. Is it any wonder why some chose to celebrate upon learning of his death? Their celebrations were not so much for his death, but rather for their own survival through this Age of Terror; as Bruce Springsteen sang in Badlands, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive…”
The arguments as to why we shouldn’t celebrate the death of Bin Laden are, to put it bluntly, weak. The first is that the Sunday night celebrations were simply crass in their execution: too brash, too coarse, too exuberant (I admit, I did question the singing of “We Are The Champions” outside of the White House…). But the celebrations themselves were an expression of modern American culture, which, let's face it, can often be coarse and boorish. I would say though that the post-Bin Laden celebrations were conducted as much within the mores of society as were the jubilant Times Square celebrations upon the announcement of V-J Day, so to criticize their tenor is invalid. The next critique is that celebrating the death of another human being, no matter how awful they may be, is in effect considering human life so cheap that it lowers us to the level of the terrorist. This is a nonsensical attempt at moral equivalency that works only if you once flew a planeful of people into a building full of more people – there is simply no equating the cheering crowds with the murderous actions of Bin Laden and his minions, no matter how much you may have personally been offended by the celebrations of his death. As to the “human being” component, I would argue that being “human” cannot simply be an accident of biology, there has to be a “spiritual,” for lack of a better term, component to being human – a sense of reason and ethics that sets us apart from the beasts. Bin Laden was a nihilist who fought not for the liberation of a people or against a perceived social injustice, but rather was an individual who perverted one of the world's great religions to provide a moral veneer to his exhortations to others to commit mass murder in his name. I would contend that through his very actions Bin Laden forfeit any claim to his own humanity, thus rendering this line of argument null and void. Finally there is the “unbiblical” argument, presumably that we should forgive and “turn the other cheek”. In this case, I can only assume that proponents of this line never read much of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament when God was smiting people left and right for transgressions far less serious than mass murder.
If you do not personally feel like celebrating the death of the world's top terrorist, I can respect that. But it is pretty clear why many do feel the need, exhortations that they should not frankly come off as the type of hectoring, politically-correct wimpiness that has so long dogged the Left. Sunday night’s cheering crowds would have already been a footnote if not for the steady stream of op-eds, tweets and Facebook posts coming from I’m sure well-meaning and for some reason morally-outraged people. At this point they are not changing minds; they are only reinforcing negative stereotypes about the Left.
I for one am glad that Bin Laden is dead. I hope that in his last fleeting moments he felt some of the same terror he tried to spread in cities and towns around the globe, that he felt some of the pain the victims of his bombings felt in their last moments, and I hope he's burning in Hell.
Hell is biblical too.
Barack Obama, Culture, Osama bin Laden, Terrorism, United States