Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Monday, May 2, 2011

On Killing Osama Bin Laden

This is a long one. I had a lot to say, I guess…

Like many of you, I assume, I awoke this morning to the news that Navy SEALS had finally located and killed Osama Bin Laden. I was on my laptop computer in the kitchen, and I exclaimed (just being honest - no editing here), “Holy S**t!” My wife asked what I was referring to, and when I told her that we had finally killed Osama Bin Laden, we both shared a brief moment of celebration.

I then pulled up a few stories online to get more details. While watching a story posted by the Today Show, I was struck by a clip of several Americans out on the streets smiling, laughing, and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”; celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Celebrating death. It was a very sobering realization.

In a flash, I was reminded of a quote by President Roosevelt that I had included in a previous blog:

“I have a suspicion that when this war does end, we shall not be in a very celebrating mood, a very celebrating frame of mind. I think that our main emotion will be one of grim determination that this shall not happen again.”

I then remembered that in October of 1993 an American Blackhawk helicopter was shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia. I remembered watching on CNN as the people of Mogadishu stripped our dead soldiers of their uniforms and dragged their naked corpses through the streets, chanting and celebrating. At the time I thought, “You barbarians. I understand that you may hate the U.S. and our military. But how can you celebrate death in this way? How can you take so much pleasure in it?”

Are we any better than they as we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” simply because we don’t have a corpse to drag through our streets? And what if we did have his corpse? Can we honestly say we wouldn’t do the same thing? Tragically, I’m not sure…

Very quickly, I wasn’t in such a celebrating mood.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have pursued Osama Bin Laden, or that I feel any regret about US forces having killed him. I, like many Americans, felt a sense of justice in the idea that we had finally “got him” after ten years of pursuit, and after the thousands of people his organization had killed or wounded over the years. I wrote in a previous blog that, while I support Peace, I also believe that there are times and places when we must fight for what we believe is right as part of our human experience. The fight against Bin Laden and Al Qaida, I believe, is unfortunately one of those times and places.

Interestingly – and not coincidentally, I suspect -- I recently received an email from a supporter of thegratitudecampaign that quoted Gandhi when he said that, “An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.” The hard reality for many of us Americans to accept is that, by killing Bin Laden, we’ve simply taken another eye. It is powerfully symbolic, but in the end it won’t solve anything. Al Qaida is still alive and well. And truth be told, killing Bin Laden will likely only fuel their fire. Someone will step into Bin Laden’s place and we will have to fight them, too. And because wars are ugly, and they tend to have collateral damage, we will only enrage more people in the region inspiring even more to join the forces against us. Remember – Osama Bin Laden himself was once an ally of ours in our fight against the Soviets.

Simply put, killing just begets more killing. It is a cycle that has no natural end... until someone makes the difficult and conscious choice to deny their instinct for revenge, and stop killing. Who will that be?

Gandhi’s answer was to turn the other cheek -- passive resistance. In the face of sometimes brutal oppression, he and his followers refused to fight. Would some form of that work with Al Qaida? I don’t know. My gut says no. Gandhi opposed an empire – a nation that had political and financial interests in controlling his country. Simply put, Al Qaida fundamentally hates who we are. They don’t have any political or financial incentives that I am aware of; they are not a nation that we can negotiate with. In this moment, I’m not sure that I possess the wisdom required to say how to stop the cycle. I just know I would like it to stop. So, while there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer at the moment I will continue to ask the question, even if only of myself.

What I do know is that, for me, today is not a day of celebration. It is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember the 19,629 people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan; the families that our fallen Troops have left behind; the wives without husbands; the husbands without wives; the children without parents; the parents without children, the untold thousands who have and will return home with injuries both seen and unseen… the terrible price that has been paid by the many in the pursuit of the one.

It is a day to remember that we are all human beings sharing life on this planet – including Osama Bin Laden. While I don’t agree with his opinions or his methods of spreading those opinions, I acknowledge that he was a fellow human being doing what he thought was right, just as we believe that we are right. I don’t know how we deal with the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of this world when they seem bent on killing or being killed. Perhaps when they set those terms, then killing them is the only thing we can do to preserve our right to live free. But I hope that one day we will find another way. And I hope that, in our determination not to yield to their oppression, we don’t in the process sacrifice our humanity and compassion by embracing their hatred. While killing and dying may sometimes be necessary, I hope that we learn to stop celebrating it. For as long as we celebrate it, it will never stop.

And so, while I’m not sure that Bin Laden left us any alternative, I take no pleasure in his death. His death brings a chapter to a close, but it does not justify the 1,566 US Troops we’ve lost in the pursuit of him, nor any of the remaining Coalition Troops or civilians killed in Afghanistan. It does not justify a single death, except to the extent that it may assuage the grief of the families of those who’ve died in his pursuit more so than if those Troops had died without ever achieving their mission of killing or capturing him.

One thing is certain. The killing of Osama Bin Laden has left a void in the world. Where there was once a hatred and a passion for killing Americans, there is now a vacuum. And Nature abhors a vacuum – it must be filled with something. Who will fill it? And what will we fill it with?


  1. I had to fight off feeling guilty for NOT celebrating.

  2. What a pointless commentary. While at first we were grateful that this day had come...it was followed by tears in rememberance of the thousands of lives he took or affected negatively. To say that we should not kill anyone is very naive and would leave us open to further attacks of the innocent and the eventual demise of free speech and freedom that you profess to cherish. I thought the Gratitude Campaign was something to support but apparently it's just a front to lay more guilt on those that fight to protect our citizens and freedom. You keep using the word "peacefully"...shall we act like sheep to the slaughter? It appears that you are promoting our demise! Are you really one of Bin Laden's followers? It would appear so...

  3. Wow, Jennifer. It appears that you completely missed my point.

    Perhaps you didn't notice the part where I said, "While I support Peace, I also believe that there are times and places when we must fight for what we believe is right as part of our human experience. The fight against Bin Laden and Al Qaida, I believe, is unfortunately one of those times and places." Or the part where I said, "While killing and dying may sometimes be necessary, I hope that we learn to stop celebrating it."

    Being willing to stand up and fight, or recognizing that it is sometimes required is a far cry from enjoying it and celebrating it. It's very sad to me that you can't seem to draw a distinction between the two...

    I did not say that we should not kill anyone. I said that I hope that we will one day find alternatives to killing, and that until then, when we do kill, we do not take pleasure in it.

    I've had the honor of meeting and talking to a lot of Service Members in my time, and I have yet to meet one who enjoyed killing. I hope that we (you) can appreciate the difference.

  4. Totally uncalled for, Jennifer. Maybe you should read it again so you can understand it like the rest of us. You should do something about that anger.

  5. I found myself struggling to identify how I was really feeling, then came upon a friends FB post that said this:
    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King JR.

  6. I'm sorry he was such an ass, but since he WAS such an ass I'm glad he's gone. He's been trouble since day one and has caused so much death, pain, suffering and horror. And now we have to be even more vigilant because of his legacy... I'm sorry it took so long to find him and I'm proud of our military that they persevered and did the deed. Those guys should get some leave for this! Gosh, even the munchkins were happy that the wicked witch was dead.

  7. Kill or be killed. Philosophical thinking is nice but when dealing with psychopaths it doesn't compute. Think of it...beheadings and such...and we're supposed to feel anything other than relief?

  8. I understand what you are saying and I agree that after my initial response of burn in hell, I too felt a sadness but not for his death. My grief is for all those lost in innocence, oppression and defense of our freedom. I disagree that there is no call for celebration. Just as America celebrated the end of WWII with parades, flag waving, singing patriotic songs, and prayer, people of all ages gathered at Ground Zero, the Capitol, ballparks, subways etc. chanting USA, waving our flag, giving thanks and singing the National anthem to celebrate but I see it as a celebration of life, an appreciation of our freedom and a remembrance of those lost. We are proud to be Americans and I do not see that as evil. Bin Laden was evil and brought his hatred to our shores and attacked us. His quick death was merciful compared to what he committed. There has been too much escalating division and hatred in this country and I pray that we can resolve to respect one another and continue towards unification with the beliefs and patriotism that make this Country strong. Kathy Phoenix, AZ

  9. No one is dragging corpses. Calm down.
    No one is dancing in the street either. My thoughts are with the families ofhe victims of 9/11 not of the person who planned the attack that killed them.
    He's dead. Good riddance.
    No celebration, go guilt.
    The commentary was too long.

  10. I don't think that the killing will stop till our Lord comes back.The world is a mess & he's the only one that will be able to solve the problem! I really don't think we lave too long to wait.

  11. I was in disbelief at first that our troops had actually killed Osama bin Laden. Then when it was confirmed and the whole world knew it, I felt relief. Then today a friend and I went to lunch and toasted his death. My Father was killed in WWII and my neighbor in Viet Nam. I will never turn the other cheek. I support our men and women in the military in whatever it is they have to do to keep America free. We all have opinions and this is mine.

  12. The one thing I kept thinking about all day was, when 9/11 hit, and the media showed the people of Al Qaeda burning our flag, and celebrating in the streets, etc....

    Well, as a civilized and "compassionate country", why did our media outlets show the same thing? I would think we would be beyond that...

    Death, in my opinion, should never be celbrated.....

  13. Am I glad Bin Laden is dead... NO. Am I glad justice is finally done... Yes. We will always do what's neccessary

  14. I believe it was Jesus that first said turn the other cheek.... but I'm happy Gandhi is following His teachings.

  15. A response to Annonymous on May 2 at 3:37 pm who left a quote by MLK Jr. Another friend, of our mutual respected friend, responded with this message and I have to agree more with his response as I am the wife of a retired Naval Officer and the mother of a son in the Air Force:

    "A measured response , but there is some intellectual dishonesty to comparing his death at the hands of american troops to his bad acts ---there is a great disparity between planning terrorist attacks on purely civilian targets and a military strike on an enemy of our nation(who is targetted purely due to his bad acts). If we were dancing in the streets to celebrate the deaths of iragi, paki, iranian citizens then I would agree that we mimic our enemies.

    Conversely, we cannot kill our way out of the terrorist threat, as has been observed by the incoming cia director. That being said, I do not begrudge anyone some light heartedness when the person killed would behead them if he could."

  16. Well Scott...it appears that many people missed your point and made more intellectual and heartfelt ones. I think you need to think again to resolve the apparent hypocrisy between your Gratitude Campaign and your commentary!

  17. Thank you for putting into (many) words the sense of hollow relief and sadness that killing someone is a success. Yes, he has different values and beliefs than we do, and by our standards a psychopath. I do not think there was an alternative at this time to killing him. And yet, its like cutting off the head of a Hydra, more will grow in its place...
    A relief, yes. A celebration, no.

  18. I turned the coffeepot and the radio on this morning at 0530 and heard the news. Suddenly, there were tears in my eyes and I wasn't quite sure why. Then I recognized the feeling: Relief. Like when you've been running on adrenalin for longer than you can remember and finally there's some reprieve and you can rest, and there's this split second when you realize how exhausted you are before you collapse and fall asleep. The killing of Bin Laden is not the end of a nightmare; I've lived through enough to know that nothing is so simple or so permanent. But it is a milestone, a marker in the darkness that gives us strength and allows us to grope our way a little farther forward. Nothing will ever undo the crimes of the past; nothing can bring back the dead or undo the scars for any of us, on any side. But we do have a choice, and this is what separates us from the animals. We know the rage and despair and bloodthirsty vengeance of the wounded animal; there is a dark corner in the heart of every man that does rejoice in the death of his enemy. But as human beings, we have the choice to be bigger than that, to bury our animal instincts, acknowledge our pain and our grief and our rage, and in spite of all that, still choose to be civilized. (And yes, civilizations do go to war, when it is necessary. Standing by and allowing atrocities to go unchecked is no less uncivilized than committing them yourself, just more cowardly.) Civilization is best tested, and best proven, when we can hold and check our pain and our rage, and choose to show humanity even when humanity is not shown to us. We each do this in different ways, in different circumstances. Bin Laden murdered thousands and shattered the worlds of millions of men, women and children. In response, a mostly anonymous team of countless American and allied servicemen and women and their families put their lives on hold and on the line in order to make possible the success of yesterday's operation. To be clear, the success was that a terrorist and horrific monster was cleanly and irrevocably removed from the world stage. There is no comparison between the death in the slaughter of innocent civilians and the death in the targeted execution of a self-proclaimed combatant and leader intent on destroying a way of life. Yes, there is a fine line between celebrating a milestone for civilization, and celebrating the suffering of our enemies, but such a line does exist, and it is our responsibility as civilized human beings to make our stand on the higher ground. I am relieved that this one particular monster no longer walks the earth. And I am hopeful that we as civilized human beings may embrace the long, slow task of filling that void with hope.

  19. Reading your post actually helped me to feel ok about the way i feel. I have seen so many celebrating his death and it makes me sad that so many lives were lost in persuit of Osama Bin Laden. military and civilians plus all the death and destruction of 911 the financial and emotional cost to this country is more than i can count, but they finally got him and all i can do is feel sad for all the lives that were destroyed because of his hatred and anger ,Meanwhile i feel that more vengence and killing will continue because of the celebrating that has been televised.

  20. http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/warPrayer.html


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