“Osama Bin Laden’s dead.”
To be honest, I was expecting something like “Good morning” or “The kettle’s just boiled.” Instead, my wife greeted me with “Osama Bin Laden’s dead.”
They found him and they killed him. I sat down with my wife and we did the tour of 24 hour news channels. Of course, everyone was covering it and had been for hours, but it all came back to this seven word soundbyte. They found him and they killed him.
I saw reports from New York, of celebrants cheering in the streets at Ground Zero. All things considered, I suppose it was fairly restrained, somewhere between a touchdown dance and “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.”
Cheering a death, even this one, doesn’t sit right with me, but I get it. This is the man we hold ultimately responsible for the attacks on September 11th. This is the mastermind who took 3000 lives and turned the world upside down, the man who set the events of the past decade in motion.
I get it, but I can’t share it. I keep thinking to myself, “He’s just a guy.”
In our minds, we made him into some sort of super villain, a Blofeld for the new millennium. It’s easy to imagine him in his secret mountain hideaway, directing the fall of the Western World from the shadows, with a legion of loyal agents ready to act on his orders at a moment’s notice.
Instead, we find a man living in isolation and relative comfort hiding under his hunters’ collective nose, a man whose contribution to the struggle had become largely symbolic. To his followers, he was an inspiration. His continued existence, a confirmation that the enemy can be defied. For those enemies, he had become a ghost, a boogieman.
The death of Osama Bin Laden will not slow the operations of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. In fact, as a martyr, he may very well continue to serve as a powerful symbolic leader. The recent events in the Middle East are likely to do more to harm Al Qaeda, revealing peaceful uprisings and popular revolts as more effective instruments of change.
His death does nothing to slow the actions of terrorist organizations, and yet the order was given. Had to be given. Osama Bin Laden has enormous symbolic power in America as well. He was the Big Bad Wolf, the monster lurking in the dark. The dragon had to be slain.
Given the choice, I would have preferred to see him captured. I would have seen him stand trial and convicted and punished, not out of devotion to the rule of law, but to reveal him as Just a Guy.
Not a Monster. Not a Giant. Just a man. One who committed unjustifiable acts and was made to pay for them.
That didn’t happen. Instead, they found him and they killed him.
I won’t mourn his passing. I won’t celebrate either. For me, this is a somber and solemn moment, to reflect on the death of some guy I never met, and what that means for those of us who are still here.