UPDATE: Wow. Well, at least people are reading this post. (My last one, on British political reform, still has only 84 views.) This morning, some of the accusatory language that I had originally used was rightly softened by others at elephant. The intent of those alterations wasn’t dishonest; it was to bring my piece more in line with the usual tone here at elej.
Thanks to everyone for reading and for responding, including and especially those who have been critical, or angry, about what I said. To the extent I have time, I’ll be replying in the comments below.
William Shakespeare, Richard III:
Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end;
Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend.
Act 4, Scene 4, lines 191-196, The Oxford Shakespeare
In the hours since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death rocketed around the world, there’s been jubilation and anger, satisfaction and skepticism, hyperbole and understatement.
The killing of bin Laden is an incredible achievement. It’s real, it happened, it’s documented, and no one should doubt it for long; it’s important, it’s historic—and it’s wrong, ultimately, to deny that.
I’ve heard some friends say that it’s a distraction, that it takes away focus from real issues—that it’s a meaningless victory.
I have friends who say they’re skeptical that what the media is reporting is the truth, in this case that they suspect that either the U.S. government or bin Laden did not really do what we’re told they did.
Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. Let’s be clear.
Let’s be equally clear: on the orders of President Barack Obama, bin Laden, the mastermind of the largest mass killing on American soil in our nation’s history, was shot through the left eye by Navy SEALs at approximately 1 A.M. local time on May 2 2011 after a fire fight. Before being buried at sea, his body was retrieved as evidence and separately identified through DNA testing and facial recognition analysis.
There is overwhelming evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, and nothing to suggest that Bush & Co. were anything worse than incompetent when it came to the hideous attacks on our homeland—and my hometown. I’ve heard some, mostly my fellows on the left, deny this basic fact for years.
And for, well, a day now, I’ve heard claims that there’s something “fishy” about the way bin Laden’s body was buried at sea, that the timing is suspect, that he might not really be dead, it might not really be him, and so on.
More reasonable people make more sensible arguments about the import of what has happened and question whether the coverage has been over-the-top. Richard Engel, NBC’s phenomenal foreign correspondent, has declared that, “This ends a chapter in the global war on terrorism which has defined a generation.” Yes, that’s too extreme. And it’s true: the death of Osama bin Laden will not bring a single person killed on 9/11 back to life; it probably won’t end the operations of al Qaeda; there is a possibility that in the near term it may even inflame and energize our enemies; and the rightness or wrongness, past and future, of our ongoing military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are not vitally altered by this victory.
But this is some kind of victory.
I cannot imagine that there could ever be a more powerful triumph in the struggle to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat those who attacked us on 9/11, or a greater way to achieve justice for the thousands killed and millions scarred that day—in short, a bigger symbolic victory—than shooting Osama bin Laden in the head in his secure compound outside Islamabad (whilst he or another of the two adult men, one of them his son, who were also killed, attempted to use a woman as a human shield), seizing his body, ceremonially dropping it into the ocean to prevent any burial site from becoming a shrine—and then coming together to hear the cautious yet cathartic announcement of this well-executed (and, yeah, pretty badass) mission, delivered by a serious and thoughtful president to a relieved and celebrating nation.
I’ve heard, too, from people who are uncomfortable with the images of crowds cheering and partying, singing “We Are The Champions,” whooping and hollering, who feel this is good news, but it’s still wrong or distasteful to celebrate death or glorify murder. I’m sympathetic to that feeling. I oppose the death penalty, and if bin Laden had turned himself in to coalition forces, I would have been content to let him stand trial and sit in a jail cell. In a way, that would be harsher than this quick death in the midst of relative luxury.
But he wasn’t handcuffed in the town square: he was gunned down in a firefight.
Let’s remember: the crowds that gathered at Ground Zero and at the White House were largely moved not by vengeful anger but by joy in a job well done and a world made more secure, tinged with sorrow for all those lost in the last decade; they were waving American flags, not trampling the flags of others; they were holding aloft pictures of loved ones, not burning their enemies in effigy. This was not some inversion of the angry young men of an anti-American street protest; these were the joyous exultations of a merciful “American family, 300 million strong,” in our president’s words.
There’s nothing bloodthirsty about that, I hope.
And there’s nothing mean-spirited, or meaningless, about being glad that a murderous man met with an unpleasant end; that, thank goodness, few were killed or hurt in doing so; that all this was accomplished with the brutal effectiveness we should all want from our military.
If you think there are more important issues, you’re right…but that’s no reason not to savor this moment.
If you think this whole thing is some kind of fraud…I’m not sure what to say.
If you don’t think bin Laden and his compatriots were solely responsible for 9/11, if you believe Bush had something to do with it…really?
I’m probably not supposed to be so harsh to elephant journal readers, but I feel strongly—as a proud New Yorker who lived through 9/11, as a liberal, patriotic American who patriotically dissented from almost everything the Bush administration did in my name, and as someone who firmly believes in asking tough and uncomfortable questions of authority and maintaining a healthy skepticism of government and the media—that it is not only incorrect to cling to the delusions of the so-called 9/11 Truthers but actively harmful to our democracy and to the causes of truth and peace.
I’m proud to be an American, a liberal, a lover of peace, and a protester of war. And I’m glad, I’m proud, and I’m relieved that Osama bin Laden is finally dead, and that we can all move on, and focus on peace.
Harris Mercer is a new resident of Boulder and a native of New York City. He served as National High School Director with Students for Barack Obama at Obama for America throughout the Democratic presidential primaries in 2007 and 2008. At Bennington College in Bennington, VT he got to study both his obsessions: politics and Shakespeare. He can be reached at harrismercer [at] gmail [dot] com and wants you to go to http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.
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