I've been out of the world attending a company retreat for the two days. Yesterday, as the conversation at the breakfast table was flagging, I pulled out my phone to "read the paper" (i.e. look at Boston.com and Nytimes.com's apps.) "Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces?" I said aloud. "Oh yeah. Didn't you know that?"asked the guy next to me.
I found the whole thing not only shocking but odd. The lead story was about Osama bin Laden's death. The next story on nytimes.com was his obituary. Huh? Do we normally print obits for people we hunt down and kill?
Before I continue musing and navel-gazing let me say this--Osama bin Laden got what was coming to him. He claimed responsibility for terrorist acts against the United States. Either he was involved with the acts with the acts (the bombing of the USS Cole and the 9.11 attack on the World Trade Center, for example) and took responsibility for them, knowing that this would make him a legitimate military target or he was not involved and took credit which still makes him a legitimate target. In the latter case he was a fool. In the former case he knew what he was getting into.
Also, he blew a giant hole in my hometown and in doing so, changed the world--and not for the better. He opened a door, and through it strode fear and jingoism. We haven't recovered from the effects of 9.11.01 and I don't feel like the death of Osama bin Laden makes things any better. I don't mean to be whiny about this, but as we're all sick of hearing "September 11th changed everything." We've changed the way we think and the way we behave. We don't like taking our shoes off or being X-rayed (or patted-down) to fly, but we put up with it. We don't like discovering that that there is warrentles wire-tapping, but we put up with it. I personally don't like the idea that someone may be tracking my Google searches, my phone calls, my personal e-mail, my text messages or my facebook account, but I put up with it.**
The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't change any of that.
I am a little put off by the rejoicing at his death, I must admit. Although I've been out of the world, I've had brief moments to look at facebook. I've seen ambivalence, jokes in bad taste (which are still funny--if we cannot laugh about something we are no longer human) and blood-thirsty GO TEAM USA comments. The last comments bother me a bit. I would have preferred that they brought Osama bin Laden to trial, but I recognize that this was not a likely outcome. It could have been politically embarrassing in many ways. But, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, even if one hoped that bin Laden would be captured and tried, if he put up resistance was killed in the process, no one can argue that he was simply assassinated. And, as I mentioned above, even if he was simply "taken out" he was kind of asking for it, so it shouldn't have come as a shock to him. This is not a case of some 18 year old kid pulled off the streets of LA because he had family in Afghanistan and took it into his head to go home in the Spring of 2002 and got hauled off to Gitmo for it. As I said before, he got what what was coming to him.
I am not sad for him. I am not even particularly sad for his family--they must have known what he was doing and what the consequences might be. I am sad for us--the rest of the world who wonder if our e-mail is being examined, or are harassed at the airport because we're carrying breast milk in a container, or have our bags checked at Back Bay T station, by TSA employees. I am sad that people--including our president--are pointing the death of one bad man out as one of the greatest American accomplishments--personally I'd prefer the telephone or even the atomic bomb--any medieval lord/lady given enough time can track down an enemy and kill him/her. But it takes more than that to develop a computer, a telephone, the Internet etc. These are the kind of things that make me want to shout"Go USA!" not the finding and killing of an enemy.
In Assassins, by Stephen Sondheim, the narrator says about John Wilkes Booth "Damn you Johnny you paved the way for other madmen to have their day.."That's kind of how I feel about bin Laden. He was a bad man--he was an asshole. He got what was coming to him, but the rest of us are still dealing with the after-effects of his actions.
*The dead body of an enemy always smells good. A Dumas, La Reine Margot
**There's no reason why anyone might be tracking any of these things. I'm a thoroughly boring individual as far as National Security is concerned--I don't even belong to a book group, but I feel that if anyone wanted to put me or anyone else under surveillance it would be easy to do so now.