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Reconciliation, not retaliation, is the true American response

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Courtesy of Pete Souza / The White House

It’s weird to think that Osama bin Laden no longer exists. He’s been this quasi-mythical figure of looming evil throughout almost half of my life, the “icon” of international terrorism. He was responsible for a great deal of death and misery, both directly and otherwise, and he was a major player on the world stage. Not in the same level that a head of state is, but he was the sort of person whose actions or inactions always sent those clichéd ripples throughout the international community.

Now, he’s dead. That’s positively bizarre. What was even more bizarre was the level of celebration that erupted after the news broke – CNN kept showing people chanting and singing in front of The White House; Times Square was apparently party-city.

And I’d be willing to agree that maybe, what’s underneath the “USA! USA! USA!” talk is a sort of relief at having something the nation can all get together and be happy about. We live in contentious times.

Most of us struggled to understand 9/11 back when we were in elementary school, and so we assigned a status of “real-world-Sauron” to ObL. But that’s no excuse to celebrate the death of a fellow human being.

I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in killing people. I reject the idea that it’s ever a necessity. There are reasons, people, reasons, that these kind of horrible things are allowed to happen. Hitler doesn’t become Hitler without the economic scuppering of Germany; terrorists don’t become terrorists if they’re not locked into desperate poverty; people don’t break into your dorm and steal your XBox because trickledown economics is just working so well.

That’s a simplification, but it all comes down to the things people will do when they’re in terrible situations. I can’t claim to be an expert, but if (a) the news and (b) fiction have taught me anything, the downtrodden are the most likely to do horrible things.
Not because they themselves are horrible, but because when you see no way out, Mr. bin Laden and his promise of money for your family seems like an awfully good idea. It should be noted that bin Laden was not at all poor—he was extremely wealthy and used his riches to take advantage of others. Power is just as dangerous as poverty.

I don’t feel joy over bin Laden’s death. I recognize it as a historically and perhaps politically important event, but I refuse to join in with the people shouting “USA! USA! USA!” and running down Laclede.

There’s a passage from George Orwell’s “1984” that deals with what’s going on here, and the following is a quote from within that passage:
“In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”

Impossible to avoid joining in. It feels “good,” doesn’t it, to celebrate the death of a fallen foe? To know that someone responsible for so much misery is gone from the world? I think that’s a misunderstanding of feeling good—we might feel a sense of relief, or of national pride, or of simple joyous blood-lust, but not good.

I wouldn’t imagine that the people who were shouting “USA! USA! USA!” feel the same way doing that as they do when they see a beautiful sunrise or listen to their favorite song. I know I didn’t when I heard the news. But it’s hard to avoid joining in; we want to feel united in triumph, in success, and that’s why the Two Minutes Hate is so dangerous.
It is dangerous because, like any display of misguided nationalism, it ignores the real issues involved. We’ve taken out Osama bin Laden, but we haven’t won the “war on terror.”

We’ve removed a terrorist, a major terrorist, but unlike with the demise of Sauron, the proverbial orcs have yet to disappear. Terrorists—the people who actually commit the horrific acts of bloody murder—do so usually because they’ve been given an incorrect set of ideas about the ways of the world.

They’re susceptible to these views most often because of their personal or familial situation, and that’s the issue we need to shoot in the face. They cheer in the streets after a terrorist strike because they’re wrong about good and evil, just as those of us who celebrated ObL’s death have similar misconceptions.

I’ll run cheering through the streets when we use our resources, financial and otherwise, to work towards elevating the condition of our fellow human beings both at home and abroad.

Let’s embrace this sense of national unity and use it to push for peace, for an end to poverty, for better education; let’s prove that we’re really, as some guy shouted outside my apartment—“America the Great!”


  1. Reading thoughtful commentary like this from a young person gives me new hope for the future of our country.

    You’re right on target, Noah. I hope there are many more young people like you to take the reins of our country and make it great again.

  2. Pingback: An Eclectic Mind » Interesting Links, May 6, 2011

  3. joan blake says:

    I’m an 80 year old woman who would be proud to have Noah for a grandson. I feel fortunate indeed to have found his comments. It has put my day off to a very good start. Wouldn’t it be a much better country, world, if the majority felt the same way?

  4. While I appreciate your heart for humankind, and the fact that you choose to be a pacifast, a couple items from your article struck me. You said that you don’t believe it’s ever necessary to kill. This is a naive, polyanna mindset. If someone breaks into your home with the intent to do your family harm, what is the responsible thing to do, attempt healthy dialogue? If either one of the above respondees were faced with someone attempting lethal harm upon them or their children or grandchildren, I wonder if their feelings would be different. I do not like the idea of killing, but I am mature enough to realize that there are, as you put it, “people who actually commit the horrific acts of bloody murder”, and are not the types given to rational and civil discourse.

    You also said that terrorists don’t become terrorists if they’re not locked into desperate poverty. Wherever did this notion come from? Terrorists become terrorists for a number of reasons, none of which have to with desperate poverty. Muslim terrorists are raised from childhood to believe that Jews are worse than dogs and that America is the Great Satan. Jehod upon them is obedience to Allah. There is no persuading those of a mentality of exterminating the Jews that they should not exterminate the Jews.

    Further, you would not want mistake the term “terrorist” for one strictly of a Muslim or Middle Eastern origin. There are plenty of examples of rich kids who have brutally beaten and killed their parents.

    The reason we all have locks on our doors and 911 close at hand , the reason people kill a 71 year old man in order to steal some classic cars, the reason children get shot during a drug shootout and children are abducted from your subdivision, and stampede through the doors of a Walmart, leaving an employee dead, is because, people are not basically good, it’s because people are, by nature, not good at all. When some choose to act out there “badness” upon others, sometimes the unfortunate reality is that the appropriate response is lethal force.

  5. redhawk23 says:

    Many have said that Osama bin Ladne should have been brought to trial rather than killed for his crimes. I actually agree with that viewpoint. However, he was a man who had declared war on the United States and led others in a conflict against us. The last time I checked, we have killed a large number of other people who declare and fight war against us. Why should have Osama bin Laden been any different? Because he has a famous name to his face?

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