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?