It has been a week now since President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. I have been hesitant to write anything about it for fear of unintentionally entering into the convoluted argument about the morality of killing. But as the week progressed and I was confronted by the reactions of my friends, colleagues and the media, I have continued to return to my initial response, which I recorded in a journal. I want to share it here not because I think it is absolutely right, but because it reflects a kind of ambivalence that I think more people should own up to. I think it is okay not to lean heavily into extreme positions in every moment of significance.
May 2, 2011
Good morning, Notebook. I am writing while on bus number 9, the Ashland bus, on my way to work. It is Monday morning–the worst kind, am I right?
But today is a very particular day. Last night at 11 pm, I watched the President announce from the White House that Osama Bin Laden was killed. I was alone in my room folding my laundry and getting ready for bed.
I was, in some ways, relieved by the news. It has been nearly 10 years since the 9/11 attacks and it seems like that single piece of news is all anyone has been waiting to hear: We got Osama Bin Laden–we, us, US did.
When I say “got,” though, I don’t necessarily mean killed, I don’t mean we have only been waiting to have killed him. Many are thrilled precisely because he is dead, many were celebrating in the streets of DC and New York last night because a nation defeated one man.
Admittedly, it is probably easier that he was killed in the attack and not somehow taken prisoner. What would we have done with a captured Osama? Our country may have been fractured more severely through the probably long process of trying to decide what to do with him. Yet I have to say I don’t know how to feel about high-fiving all my friends and neighbors.
But I won’t deny that I am relieved. I am relieved to hear the most relevant (at least to our national psyche, though not to the average American’s daily life) piece of news in 10 years.
Of course we might never be able to call the War on Terror over, so I would warn those waving madly their star-spangled banners today. I have been proud to wave my American flag on road trips, at baseball games and in my small room when studying abroad, but I would hesitate to wave it now to celebrate our mighty Country’s victory over one particular person. We have to think what we want our symbols to represent.