It was announced over the weekend that Osama bin Laden is dead, killed by American special forces personnel in a carefully planned operation.
Reactions to the news have been interesting to watch.
The reactions of people shown in the media here in the USA were initially joyous, images of cheering crowds, delighted citizens of all ages in the papers and on TV.
As the week goes on, I’m seeing more people stand forward to respond not to the death of Osama itself, but instead to those joyous reactions. Responses from those sad to see anyone celebrating the death of anyone, no matter what they may have done.
I’m going to raise the issue briefly, just to touch on some of these points.
I’d like to go directly at the heart of this concern; the celebration of the death of a human being.
It sounds like a very laudable thing, wonderfully sensitive and compassionate, to so love your fellow man that you are pained to see anyone celebrate death rather than life. To feel sadness that others would find joy in the misery or ending of another human life.
The death of Osama bin Laden can’t be broken down that easily, as the simple death of a man like any other.
This was more than that for many people. This was not just the death of a man, but of a symbol.
I’m going to make a comparison that I hope will show more clearly what I mean. Please bear with me for a moment.
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch of the North tells Dorothy that her falling house has crushed and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, we have never been shown the wicked witch or heard of her deeds, so her death holds little meaning for us.
Upon hearing this news, the Munchkins come out of hiding. They spontaneously burst into song, singing “Ding dong! The witch is dead” and dance in celebration.
Is this fiction? Of course it is. But it’s also a scene that I think many of us can understand when watching from the outside. The munchkins lived in fear under the shadow of the Wicked Witch of the East. They cowered in their homes, afraid of what evil she might do to them next. They feared standing out, for it might bring them to her notice, attract her attention to them.
When they knew that she was dead, their celebration spoke to me not of joy at the death of a person, but instead of a joyous reaction to the passing of fear, a fear they had lived under for a very long time, a fear they were powerless to do anything about.
The munchkins were not evil. They did not glory in the death of another human being, assuming the witches were human. But they had been afraid, and had been unable to strike back or even to defend themselves against the power of the Wicked Witch of the East. Once the Witch was dead, they looked around, and slowly came to the realization that they were free of that which they feared the most. Their hearts were gladdened and full of joy, so full they had to sing and dance to let it all out.
Analogies are always flawed things, but I see a lot of reasons for comparing the two situations.
From the moment the Twin Towers fell, America passed under the shadow of Osama bin Laden. For good or ill he was turned into a living symbol of terror. We lived our lives knowing that there was a man out there in the world bent on the death and destruction of American innocents, what the government calls non-combatants.
Here in America, we structured our lives around terror alerts and color codes and protective measures. In those first few months, we were told to seal our homes in pastic wrap, to watch our mail for anthrax dust, to watch our neighbors and the strangers on the street for anyone at any time could be seeking to kill us. We went to war to strike at the source, we took actions to hunt him down, we were told that at any moment the next attack may come.
We watched the media talk about how any large gathering, any event where Americans would gather together was now a potential target, a preferred target. The Super Bowl, the Democratic National Convention, a Barbara Streisand concert, all of these became ‘ideal targets for terrorism’.
We went about our lives anyway, because that’s who we are. We’re Americans, and while the normal stereotype of the American is of a loud, arrogant, violent cowboy, one thing is certainly true; we don’t cower in our holes or go into hiding. We take action. It may be the wrong action, but we do something, or we want to see that our government is doing something about it.
On September 11th 2001, a tension entered the lives of all Americans, whether we are willing to admit it or not. Osama bin Laden was turned into a symbol for terrorism, the face of those that want to kill our families, our children. The face of an enemy that did not want to face soldiers on the battlefield, but instead place bombs in schools and churches, to strike at the innocent and the defenseless.
For almost ten years, all Americans that choose to enlist in the armed forces know exactly who Osama bin Laden is, and what role he has had to play in our awareness of terrorism.
The symbol of terrorism is dead, killed by an American warrior in an intentionally planned strike. That’s a very powerful symbol, too.
Do I think people cheering and celebrating are ghouls, delighting in the death of a human being? Do I feel sadness for them?
No. I think we are seeing people who are celebrating that the symbol of terror we have known for almost ten years is dead. The bogeyman is gone. The Wicked Witch of the East got a house dropped on her, and for the moment, we can dance in the streets and cheer Dorothy and pretend that all is well.
We know in our hearts that the Wicked Witch of the West is still out there intending to get us, and our little dog too. A symbol of terrorism is dead, but terrorism itself is not. We all know this, we’re not idiots.
This was a victory, and it is right and just to celebrate a victory, to acknowledge what we have suffered, to remember those that we loved that have been lost along the way, and to show our gratitude and appreciation to the warriors that volunteered to seek out the source of our fears and destroy them, and who remain pledged to destroy all others that would continue to serve him and his cause.
God bless all those who continue to fight on behalf of the American people, and who place themselves in harms way to protect the innocent. God bless you from the bottom of my heart.