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A Time to Cheer? Reflecting on the Death of Osama bin Laden

Wrestling with America's reaction to the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

I’m sure many of you have a similar story.  I walked in the door on Sunday evening, and turned on the TV.  BREAKING NEWS, declared the banner on the bottom of the screen of the cable news channel. 

The anchors were rambling in vague sentences, as I sat trying to figure out what the BREAKING NEWS actually was.  Then, the anchors answered my question—they had MAJOR NEWS…. but weren’t sure what it was.  All that was known then was that the President of the United States was about to go on national television at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night.

My first thought was that we had declared war on Libya.  Not too outrageous a thought, given the events of that weekend. Then Wolf Blitzer announced that he had learned it had nothing to do with Libya.  Ten or so minutes go by, and we learn it has to do with Osama Bin Laden. We got Osama Bin Laden. Dead? Alive? 

Within the next half hour, as we waited for the President to go on air, the story spread of the killing. When President Obama confirmed it with his unprecedented late Sunday night speech, history had been written. The world’s most wanted terrorist was dead.

I sat there, a bit shell shocked.  Wow. I watched the scrolling of my Facebook wall as my fellow night owls posted their thoughts.  I remained glued to the TV, phone in one ear, talking to my sister, trying to digest the news and contemplate the consequences of it. 

The news channels began showing the crowd gathering at the White House, at first a few dozen.  Remembering back to that historic gathering on the night of Obama’s election, I felt drawn to go. 

Sitting in my living room in Bowie, just 25 miles from the Capital of the United States—history is happening right here.  I should go.  I should be a part of it.  As the crowd grew, reporters and their camera crews also showed up in great number. 

I watched on TV as people literally RAN to the gates and Lafayette Park.  The camera focused in on the college-aged kids, jumping and cheering. Cheering? Yes, they were cheering. Hmm. My pangs to be a part of it eased off.  

Had the crowd gathering been of a solemn, patriotic, respectful tone, I think I would have gone.  But I did not want to go be a part of a joyous celebration of death. 

Al Qaida and Taliban sympathizers around the world were shown cheering over the success of the 9/11 attacks, and we as Americans denounced such joy over our tragedy. How are we any better by cheering  a death at our hands?

The capture of Osama Bin Laden has been hailed as a great triumph for the American people.  President G. W. Bush announced it back in 2001—wanted dead or alive. This mission seemed more designed for the ‘dead’ part, however.  

The reports are they he received two shots—a shot to the head, and one to the chest. Precision kill shots. Stories coming from the White House today indicate he was unarmed. That bothers me. If he was unarmed, what is the justification for shots?  

I have no silly notions that he could have/should have been taken alive and put on trial. I mean, come on, a trial of Osama Bin Laden?  No one in the world is ambivalent about Osama Bin Laden. A trial would have cost zillions of dollars, taken years to prepare, and every single second between the capture and the end of the trial, would have been filled with danger. 

But should we have gone in and shot an unarmed man? Even the world's most wanted terrorist? And should we celebrate the death as a happy event?

Of course, we don’t know the whole story, and may never know.  And I do not mean to criticize the elite team of Navy Seals who carried out this dangerous mission.  I have great respect for them, and believe they were following orders given to them, and did an amazing job. But, his death does not make us safe.  If anything, we face more danger now that he has become a martyr for his cause.  He was not the sole planner and perpetrator of the 9-11 attacks. The deaths of 9-11 have not been avenged by this.  

To me, this is not a time to cheer. I’m reminded of the Byrds hit song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, the lyrics of which are taken from  the Book of Ecclesiastes, suggesting there is a time for everything, even killing. The song, however, became an anthem for peace and tolerance during the Vietnam War.

The song ends with the line: “…a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

I hope not.

Stan May 05, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Great article...I agree. It is good that this terrorist leader is no longer a threat, but I do not feel joy at his death.
Tom O'Connor May 05, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Sorry, I am not shedding tears or getting upset he was unarmed. I recall that 3,000 individuals were unarmed the day they were killed on 9/11. This man was behind the deaths of many more Muslims. I bet they were unarmed as well. He's dead. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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