May 4, 2011

Preference for a More Confident Nation

Justin Katz

There's been some conversation in the comment sections suggesting that there's something contrary to American culture in street celebrations over Osama bin Laden's death, particularly to the extent that they involved effigies and burning pictures. Acknowledgement that a milestone has been reached and justice meted in an individual case is certainly appropriate, but the attitude that ought to underlie it, to my mind, is of steely resolve tinged with regret that the world has come to this. The death of bin Laden will not bring back those lost on September 11 and after, in the war on terror. And it's unlikely that, of itself, it will prove all that significant to the defeat of global terrorism perpetrated by radical Muslims.

This sentence, from an analysis by Liz Sidoti concerning the crass political repercussions of the killing, is downright chilling:

Now, in the early days of his re-election campaign, Obama is in a clear position of political strength as Americans finally are able to savor the death of the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

My understanding of America's approach to war was that it was consciously devoid of blood lust. Whether our intention is to pursue dire national interests or help to resolve atrocities (and whether or not one believes the latter justifies our involvement in wars), we view combat operations functionally, as dirty work that must be done.

I think back to the iconic images of ticker tape parades and dancing in the street at the end of World War II, and two key aspects jump out. First, the hardship and austerity of the war were decisively over from that moment, and the troops would be coming home. Neither really applies, in this case.

Second, the emphasis of such celebrations appears through the lens of history to have been "we've won," not "they've lost." Burning images and savoring death are of the latter attitude, and it would be a very sinister development for it to dominate, not the least because it bespeaks a cultural insecurity. A confident nation doesn't need revenge and isn't so haunted by individuals who've done it harm that its people must dispel their ghosts with public rituals.

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Good post, Justin.

Posted by: Monique at May 4, 2011 8:17 AM

Well put.

Posted by: riborn at May 4, 2011 8:53 AM

The highlighting of these "celebrations" are the mainstream media's way of adulating Hussein in the White House. He's a tough guy...look...he killed Osama. The general population is more concerned about $4. gal. gasoline, 17% unemployment, underemployment and the escalating price of food. Almost 20% of the country is on food stamps. Osama who??

Posted by: ANTHONY at May 4, 2011 10:28 AM

No worries, the nation has already forgotten.

I agree with your sentiments when it concerned Saddam Hussein, that was awful, but Osama binLaden was simply a demented murderer.

Posted by: michael at May 4, 2011 10:59 AM

People who murder innocent people as part of advancing a cause for which they believe is just are not confined to one country or region or religion. Celebrating death and destruction does nothing to change the regrettable human tendency towards violence. Paul Mitchel wrote that "the weak are the meat that the strong eat". I find nothing to rejoice in the killing of Bin Laden. The world is rid of one murderer.

Posted by: Phil at May 4, 2011 6:09 PM


Even if I were to accept your view wholesale, what's wrong with rejoicing about being rid of an unrepentant murderer?

Posted by: Andrew at May 4, 2011 7:09 PM

I'll tell you what's wrong, "Never dance on anyone's grave", that's what's wrong.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at May 4, 2011 7:46 PM

" A confident nation doesn't need revenge and isn't so haunted by individuals who've done it harm that its people must dispel their ghosts with public rituals."

Well put, Justin.
P.S. Most of the people dancing in the streets never danced up to a recruiting station.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at May 4, 2011 7:57 PM


It's not that I don't recognize the pain that Bin Laden has caused, but I'd like you to reflect on the pain and loss inflicted on so many by those that deal out death and destruction in the name of peace and just war. If Bin Laden was born to another set of parents his body could well have been buried at Arlington instead of being dumped in the ocean.

Posted by: Phil at May 4, 2011 8:32 PM

Good post, Justin.

As I looked at the celebrants, I was reminded of a few "Kentucky Derby Parties" in my early 20's. No one there knew one end of a horse from the other, it was just a reason to party.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at May 4, 2011 8:48 PM

I personally don't see the necessity of people acting like their team just won the world series-it was a good and necessary operation.Now there's more work to be done.
Phil and OTL-you two like to play the moral equivalency game.Enjoy yourselves.
You're real citizens of the world-never miss a chance to infer "we're just as bad".
Well,we aren't.
I know it's "beneath" you two to support your country doing something right.
We could've just dropped some 2000 lb bombs on the compound and taken out
half the neighborhood,but we didn't.
You two sound like mirror images of the "conspiracy"people,except you come from a different angle.
Do you guys have Ward Churchill trading cards?

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 5, 2011 11:09 AM

You may have a point, or you may not. However saying "Well we aren't" is an assertion that is not worth considered response. Say something of substance and I'm sure you'd receive a reply in kind.
Your fellow veteran, US Army, SP5,

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at May 5, 2011 1:04 PM


I regretted posting the comment about Arlington almost as soon as I hit the post button. I certainly understand the range of emotions expressed by this person's death. I was only expressing my own and in no way being critical of others. My thoughts were not expressed as clearly as I had hoped. I too think that the effort and mission of killing Bin Laden was justified.

Posted by: Phil at May 5, 2011 6:55 PM


I was just getting ready to post a response to your earlier comment that I just finished writing ,unaware of your latest comment, and that I no longer feel the need to post.

Posted by: Andrew at May 5, 2011 8:30 PM

I'll mention that I was trying to find the right word to replace "rejoicing" with in my comment from yesterday, for describing an appropriate reaction to the death Bin Laden, and can't really find something that wholly captures both parts of the idea of "solemnly celebrating" something.

Posted by: Andrew at May 5, 2011 8:36 PM

Andrew-maybe "relief" instead of "rejoicing"?
The psychological impact is far and away greater than the actual physical one.
Killing OBL didn't suddenly make us "safe",but it lifted a cloud of frustration and a sense of helpless rage at this individual who has become the face of terrorism to the West.He became a phantom menace(wasn't there an SF movie with that title?)always promising destruction and he couldn't be pinned down.
Conversely, to a certain segment of the Islamic world he was the face of defiance to Western values and the USA in particular.
Therefore,his killing has emotionally uplifted one camp and injured the other.
the actual planning and execution of terrorist acts will continue without the "chairman of the board"(apologies to Sinatra)and we will have to continue to stay at it because this conflict isn't ending anytime in the forseeable future.
OTL-we have had to do some bad things in wartime,usually in response to atrocities by our enemies.The reason we're better is that I don't believe we,as a nation,enjoy the results of Hiroshima or Hamburg.
Al Qaeda revels in mass death and destruction.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 5, 2011 9:02 PM

Now, if the FBI can just find Whitey Bulger, my faith will be restored.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at May 6, 2011 8:26 PM
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