The Killing of Osama bin Laden

May 5, 2011

Like many Sunday evening, I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed with a mixed bag of feelings and emotions.   Jubilation, excitement, contemplation, concern and fear all came to play in my head.

And judging from what I have read in many posts in various media, I am not alone.

As the action unfolded in Pakistan, I was aboard a flight to Washington, DC, touching down at Ronald Reagan airport.  The descent brought me directly alongside the Pentagon.  I snapped a quick photo of the Pentagon from my plane seat, which was by a window.   I can only imagine the hive of activity that was going on inside at that moment.

I visited with my sister and nieces awhile, then went to bed.  On Facebook at 10:54 pm Sunday evening, I saw a new post from a friend:  “BIN LADEN IS DEAD!!!!!”  Stunned, I turned on the TV to CBS, and sure enough, they were just announcing it.  In seconds I posted it as well.   Of course, in like guise all over the world, the news spread faster than the networks could broadcast it.

Honestly, the very first reaction I had was jubilation.  I literally felt like dancing in the streets.  If I were more confident in my ability to navigate the District, I would have driven straight to the White House, a mere eight or ten miles away, to join the growing multitude outside the gates.

And I wondered, is that wrong?  To feel happy and excited over this news?

I have puzzled on this since Sunday evening.  The answer I finally came up with is “no.”  It isn’t wrong.

Some will protest in earnest at this, saying it is wrong to feel that way when someone is killed.  It is not Christian, it is not moral, and so on.   In almost all circumstances otherwise, I would agree.  It would be very hard to feel happiness at the news someone has died, if one has any sort of compassion as a human being at all.

So by what reasoning can I feel differently about what happened Sunday night?  It is simple.  I was not rejoicing at the death of a man.  I was rejoicing that good had finally triumphed over evil.   The death of Osama bin Laden really means nothing to me, except relief that he is gone and won’t kill again.  But his death was symbolic of something much greater to me:  seeing a light once again after years of darkness.   Nearly ten years of nervousness and fear, thousands of lives lost, being taunted by little more than an armed goat-herder hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, it has all been rough on the American psyche. And to see a triumph after all this time really is a cause for laughter, hugs  and cheers. Indeed, jubilation.   I think the most compelling images I saw Sunday evening and early Monday morning were those taken outside the White House, just miles from where I was.  Literally, dancing and laughing in the streets.

It occurs to me, however, that there is a bit more.  Yes, it is a cause for celebration, but I would be remiss not to recognize something that lies beneath and underpins that.

It is hope.

More than a national sigh of relief, this event has given us hope once again.  Hope that yes, evil can be defeated.  Hope that yes, our nation can be mighty again.  Hope that our president, so often maligned, might be a bit shrewder than we have given him credit for.  Hope that with Al-Qaeda decapitated, it might finally die out.   And hope that, perhaps now, as we are united in mind and purpose, we can pursue the problems facing our country with the same sort of efficient tactical and operational success.

So I have no qualms about the posts on Facebook and Twitter I have seen celebrating bin Laden’s death.  Yes, indeed, good riddance to bad rubbish.  He who was perhaps the most evil person to walk the earth in the last 60 years at last sleeps with the fishes.  Let the jokes come, the celebrations continue.  We are not evil or sinful in celebrating this day.  We are simply joyful–and hopeful–that for once, united in common mind, purpose and emotion, we have seen a light at the end of a very long and very dark tunnel.

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