This was posted on my personal social media site in the days following the announcement of the death of Usama bin Laden (UBL). I was amazed that I got more comments than on almost anything else I’ve ever posted, and more amazed that most people liked and agreed with what I said.
Over the past week and a half I’ve watched the arguments in various news sources and social media about Usama bin Laden – not as much about bin Laden’s death or whether he actually deserved to die (even the Dali Lama weighed in on that, to my surprise), but whether we, as Americans, had devolved to the level of animals or “the enemy” for visibly and boisterously celebrating it in the streets.
I’m not the sort to actually take part in such celebrations, but don’t begrudge those who do, because I don’t think it demeans us or makes us “just like them.” I agree that celebrating death and an act of killing isn’t normally a good thing. If people were out there yelling “kill all Muslims” then I’d be really upset, but I think that people aren’t celebrate the acting of killing itself. They’re certainly not celebrating the end of terrorism, for bin Laden’s killing was, realistically, purely symbolic – of both the fight against terrorism and the resolve of the United States. I think people are actually just celebrating the act up waking up from a long bad dream.
Remember Fall 2001? For days after September 11th the nation was effectively locked down. For weeks – in some cases months – people wouldn’t leave their homes or neighborhoods out of fear. For years afterward people wouldn’t go to cities or national monuments on major holidays or attend major sporting events out of fear, or even go out to dinner on Sep 11 (and I know, because it’s my wedding anniversary and for several years we never had trouble getting a reservation anywhere).
As children, we all had our little rituals for hiding from or exorcising the monsters in the closet or under the bed each night, whether it was a song, having a parent check, leaving the door cracked open a few inches, leaving the closet light on. But what if you’d had a way of banishing the monsters altogether? I think that’s what has happened here in the national psyche, to a degree.
People aren’t celebrating the action of killing in itself. But they’re happy because we’ve finally killed the Boogeyman that really did torment us: who limited our lives by day, kept us awake at night, and invaded our dreams while we slept; the Boogeyman who took the lives thousands of family, friends, acquaintances or fellow citizens from us. The threat is still real, but its most visible symbol is gone, and the closet is empty.
Or to put it more flippantly, we were the munchkins, and ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.