One morning in May of 2011 I awoke to screaming headlines, “OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD!” This news, and the media frenzy that followed, elicited some complex feelings.
Am I glad this obviously twisted mind with no respect for human life will no longer mastermind terrible disasters that kill innocent people? Absolutely. Unequivocally.
When I heard interviews with those who had lost family and friends on 9/11 — the woman whose husband died when the towers collapsed, the father who lost a son, the fire chief in charge of the first-responders who never returned — did I feel pity for them? Yes. And I shared their relief at finally having some closure. Their lives have been agony since 9/11. I can’t imagine the suffering they’ve endured as a result of this horror.
When I watched President Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s speeches announcing the mission’s success, did I feel grateful for their balanced and intelligent leadership? Glad I live in a country where the rule is liberty and justice for all? Proud that our forbears fought for freedom and that we continue to defend liberty and help others do the same? Yes. I felt all these things. I know what a privilege it is to live in a democracy, and I hope I will never be so ignorant and foolish as to take this extraordinary blessing for granted.
When I saw the soldiers and firemen watching this news on television, the crowds celebrating in the streets of New York and at Ground Zero, some of them waving American flags and chanting, “USA. USA,” I understood their joy and, like them, I felt justice had been served. And I sympathized with them and everyone who has ever experienced a threat to their life or freedom, or lost a friend or loved one to terrorism and tyranny.
I do not grieve the death of Osama Bin Laden. I have no doubt he was guilty of unspeakable crimes and deserved punishment. Yet I feel some sadness. And I wonder, how is the knowledge that our leaders authorized taking a life sitting with them today? Do they feel only pride in their actions and country, or do they feel some sadness too?
And what about the courageous young men who carried out this killing mission? What’s going through their minds now? No doubt they’re celebrating a job well done. But will this experience make them more aware of the miracle of life and the necessity for defending it no matter who, or what form it takes, or where? Or will their certainty of being on the side of good dull their sympathy for the “otherness” they don’t quite understand over there? Will they grow in compassion or will they fall back into prejudice, intolerance, and nationalistic fervor? Will they come to appreciate the sacredness of life or will they look forward to another opportunity to kill the enemy, even if they don’t know all the facts, or if the lines between good and evil are not so clearly drawn, or if more innocent people on both sides will suffer?
Yes, as the wise writer of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:…A time to kill, and a time to heal;…A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” But, as Martin Borosin, Author of One-Moment Meditation, asks, “Is ‘USA USA!’ an appropriate response? Death should always give us pause.”
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