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!”