Musings on the Death of a Terrorist


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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0 Responses

  1. Dear Jeanie…
    Again, touching my heart with your words. I felt much the same when the news was broadcast…and after watching shows like John Stewart and Colbert Report (which I usually enjoy) I was uncomfortable about glee, joy and “football game cheering” and joking that accompanied the somber news of an assassination. Indeed, death should always give us pause!

    1. Thank you, Beth. I totally understand the ego’s need for revenge, but I think that for the soul, it is far more bitter than sweet. Likewise, the long-lasting solution to violence is not more violence. If we are ever to attain world peace, something in us will have to change. Love, Jeanie

  2. Good post, Jeanie. I haven’t thought this one through but it seems to me the world has become one big sporting event where there’s always one winner, one loser, and millions of fans cheering each side on. Further, the terms used to describe sporting events are often militaristic in nature–blitz, warrior mentality, fight to the death, in the trenches, etc.–and the news programs constantly describe the news with sports metaphors. There is little difference, it appears, between nationalistic fervor and sports fanaticism. They seem to be born of the same mentality.
    When I watch crowds chanting USA USA, I don’t know if I’m watching the US playing Russia in hockey, a political convention or a news event; it seems they are all one and the same now.

    1. Thanks, Charlie. You’ve hit on something important here. As I was composing my response over breakfast I realized it was long enough for a new post, so will try to get it written for publication this Saturday! Thank you for the inspiration. I so love the technology that makes this exchange of ideas over such vast spaces possible!! My best, Jeanie

  3. Justice is a kind of is symbolic of the most genius’s thought ,which always find ways to martyr itself anew that he is compelled to take such self-tormenting,brooding,rigorous pains in making repeated attempts to solve the problem::how justice (theoretical and moral)is possible?-for it has to be possible .and there is somthing moving after the constantly renewed struggle with the problem of justice over the course of many centuries , in still encountering words such as…
    what is justice?and is it possible and if it should not be possible,how then would life be tolerable ?justice becomes an ineluctable question and decision to this degree and in this tone of severity only when a danger is present ;where life itself ,where the will to self -preservation and self overcoming enters,with its inherent injustice,into the ancient,tragic contradiction with the ingrained need for justice that is both inherited and acquired .where the thinkers desire for justice,the scholar’s circumspect conscience encounters the need to be unjust in the artist, in the prophetic person who wants the future because he is the future .but the future is always and inescapably somehow unjust and wrong with regard to the form of any present..the question of conscience-how is justice possible ?is first in theoretically pronounced form;the problem of justice and of the theodicity of great crime in the aeschulus’s prometheus….and the already unstoppable will to vital injustice of the artist and prophet,who must see what shall be .but even here, the willful passion as an advocate of life and of the necessity for perspectival injustice against the purely objective historical or historically packaged mere justice of his all too historically aware century,even here he still makes great efforts to remove the concept of justice from the dangerous dilemma,and yet at the same time somhow to give it precedence over that seemingly inescapable antithesis:life or jusstice.a basic sentiment, a basic need of it is expressed in this glorification of justice,which still clearly betrays the influence of ancient moralists and the looming shadow of it

    1. Thank you for the fascinating observations. There’s much to think about here and I enjoyed the mental exercise!
      In Jungian terms I see the dangerous dilemma to which you refer as the conflict between justice from the perception of what Jung called the “spirit of the times” — the complacency of the conventional old morality which considers any change to the current regime to be unjust, i.e. the Old King archetype — and the passionate insistence on life’s rule of continual growth that comes from the “spirt of the depths” which considers the old frozen morality to be unjust and passionately envisions a new order based on a “more just” morality, i.e., the New King. If the Old King still has enough vitality and power, then yes, the artist and prophet become martyrs, not just to inner torment, but to their passion for life which is victimized by the spirit of the times.
      The problem enters when the New King gains power and then reverts to the Old King’s ways to maintain it. I think of Stalin and Chairman Mao and Pol Pot and Fidel Castro, and yes, Osama Bin Laden, each of whom thought of himself as a rebel speaking for new life and brazenly glorified justice while killing dissenters, and in the case of Mao and Pol Pot, artists, intellectuals and prophets. In doing so, each betrayed the unconscious influence of the Old King’s ancient morality.
      Ultimately, the conflict is between the unconscious and conscious aspects of the individual psyche, and the only solution is expanding consciousness on a global scale. Only when we see the shadow of our own moral codes and have the compassion and determination to overthrow our own Old Kings will the concept of “liberty and justice for all” have a chance.
      The most important question any of us who celebrate the killing of Bin Laden can ask ourselves is this: Can I see the looming shadow of my moral code?

  4. insisting that there is no eternally present origin or author.Being is known only in its absence.if there is no thing simply or eternally present,everything should be regarded as a trace of something that is no longer there that will itself be gradually erased or conceald.Ido not think this insight into the essentially transitory phenomenon of all things is the result of a lenthy historical development .on the contrary,the traces of the essential in decidability of all issues are to be found from the very beginning .and if history has no begininng or origin ,it does not have an either

  5. I agree with the essentially transitory phenomenon of all things. In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha tells his followers: “As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space / an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble / a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning / view all created things like this.”
    But, sorry. I don’t understand the connection you’re making between this view of life and your belief that there is no eternally present origin or author, and the theme of this post. Can you explain?

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