I was in Mrs. Wolf’s 2nd period science class when I first heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11. Our principal announced over the PA system that the World Trade Center in New York City had been struck by a large airliner. We as students didn’t know exactly what to make of the announcement. At first, I think most of us failed to comprehend the magnitude of what we were being told. But judging from the disquieted expressions on our teachers’ faces, we began to understand that this would be our JFK moment, a day we would always remember, and certainly for the wrong reasons.
Like many other schools across the country, ours prohibited us from watching the events unfold on TV while we were in school. But as soon as I arrived home, I (along with the rest of my imagined community presumably) had my eyes glued to the news coverage.
I remember a mixed wave of emotions sweeping over my 14-year-old self. I felt confused, I felt angry, and I felt uncompromisingly patriotic. Looking back, my initial reactions were a combination of rationality and irrationality. Innocent citizens (of numerous nationalities) had been murdered, and the US mainland had been attacked for the first time since the early 19th century. I, as a citizen of the United States, felt reasonably indignant. This was and continues to be a rational feeling, in my opinion.
At the same time, I immediately jumped to thoughts of becoming a military officer (true story) or perhaps becoming a Navy Seal (the same group of people who assassinated Osama bin Laden this week). At the young age of 14, these were admittedly rash and irrational reactions, given I had more pressing things for an 8th-grader to worry about, like football practice.
Yet all of these reactions are why nationalism could not be more important to this issue. The horrible events of September 11 created a bond between American people of all political, social, racial and religious backgrounds. It created unity in a country of many divisions. And after that day, the primary ‘other’ for US citizens became Osama bin Laden.
Nearly ten years later, Osama bin Laden is dead. The political world has welcomed bin Laden’s death and labeled it the greatest achievement in the ‘war on terror’. Meanwhile, news stations show videos of American citizens parading in the streets while waving American flags and singing the Star-Spangled Banner. And it is exactly here where it gets tricky.
Surprisingly, I find myself again experiencing a mix of emotions. If I were to tell you that I was not at some level satisfied with the death of Osama bin Laden, I would be telling you a blatant lie. The atrocities committed by the man, along with the passion I feel as an American after the September 11 attacks, prevents me personally from being able to mourn his loss. I can actually say I am glad he is no longer alive.
To be fair, there is something off-putting about watching crowds celebrating the death of another human. In fact, I think it is a detriment not only to the American character, but also more practically to American foreign policy, to parade the streets of Washington and New York while overtly rejoicing in death. Regardless of the man’s monstrosity, we as American citizens should use discretion in how we treat this significant development.
President Obama decided against releasing photos of Osama bin Laden, claiming that it would be unwise and arrogant to “spike the football”. Citizens should reflect on this attitude and understand that the dignity of our country and the safety of our troops and perhaps ourselves is at stake in the way that we handle the death of another human.
Having said this, the reaction of American citizens is much more complex than the shot of street-takers we’ve seen across the media. This event has first of all brought a sort of psychological closure to the grief that many Americans experienced after 9/11. At this point, many would remind me of all the casualties that have been caused by the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I completely sympathize with this viewpoint; while my 14-year-old self would have supported such wars, I have come to denounce the war in Iraq for numerous reasons, civilian casualties included.
Whether this development strengthens or weakens al-Qaeda and whether it will shorten or lengthen the American presence in the Middle East is yet to be seen. Therefore, I do not treat Osama bin Laden’s death as a justification for these wars, but simply as closure for the American public, and specifically the families that lost loved ones almost a decade ago.
After talking with friends and family back home, I also believe that the passion shown by Americans in the last few days has been a result of a larger uneasiness gripping the country. By no means do I represent every American citizen, but I do believe that the current economic climate, the mortgage crisis, the failing dollar, the continued political divisions, the desire to see our troops come home, the rising power of China and India, and the overall weariness of the average American citizen seem to have caught up with the public. And however insensitive it may seem to others, many Americans needed this victory. It is a defeat of America’s ‘other’, and I believe I am rational to welcome that. And while I welcome it, I will not celebrate it. As comedian and liberal satirist Jon Stewart said the day after Osama bin Laden’s death:
“I suppose I should be expressing some ambivalence about the targeted killing of another human being. I am way too close to this whole episode to be rational about this in any way, shape or form. Last night was a good night.”
If ten years from now I look back on this blog and judge it to be irrational, so be it. But for now, something tells me there is reason in my reaction.