Why I’m Celebrating   Leave a comment

Today is a good day for America. Last night something important happened. An event that allowed us to put aside our partisan differences and celebrate as unified Americans. As the sun rose this morning, it rose over an American people more spirited and united than in quite some time. That’s not just soaring rhetoric — that’s actually what happened. And that takes something with tremendous symbolic power. Simply killing one man could not accomplish this, and indeed more than that was accomplished.

We do not celebrate that a man’s home was invaded and that he was shot to death; America could not celebrate such a thing. Yet we do celebrate, after a man was shot to death in his bedroom, doing whatever it was would usually do on a Sunday night. Maybe he was brushing his teeth, reading a gun magazine, or asking his wife about her day. He was, and this is for certain, dreaming of the destruction of America, hoping to mastermind attacks on innocent civilians, and torturing the souls of 3,000 families while fleeing justice.  What was eliminated wasn’t simply the flesh of Osama bin Laden, but what he’s done and continued to do until the bullet tore through his retina. Being a murderer, a living inspiration for murderers, and a symbol of terror. The destruction of these things is what we celebrate. The triumph of good over evil.

Last night’s eruption of celebration was ignited by a powerful symbolism. A wound on the American psyche began to heal. Anyone insisting that celebrators are simply glorifying murder fails to note the symbolism and fails to see the way Americans see it. This is not a celebration of violence and revenge; this is a celebration of justice and freedom. Violence was committed and there would be no celebration had not a man at least been forcibly captured, but to end the conversation there is nonsensical. To end the conversation there is to insist that all a man is is his flesh and blood, not the ideas he holds or the actions he executes. To believe this man didn’t hold a special and haunting place in our minds.

We heard that Osama bin Laden was killed, but what we celebrate is that 3,000 families received justice, that we have one less guy out there who wanted us all destroyed, that millions of dollars and a worldwide network of fanatics cannot keep a murderer safe forever. A man’s death was deliberately taken, but in its essence, that’s not what we’re celebrating. What’s really being celebrated is a victory over everything that evil man stood for. To believe that the American people are focusing on the violence and not the symbolic victory speaks of narrow vision and over-distilled pretentiousness. We know there’s more work to be done and that the war on terror is not over, but that it’s a war of ideas as much as of weapons. The ideas most prominent in light of eliminating Osama bin Laden are justice and freedom. That our lives are freer and safer today than yesterday. That’s worth celebrating.

So people took to the streets in New York City and Washington D.C. (at least). They chanted “U.S.A.” and sang “God Bless America” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They climbed streetlights and popped champagne and ignited the tips of products that are meant to be lit on fire for pleasure. And none of them were thinking “I like killing, spilling blood is good.” They were thinking that justice was done, that good prevailed, and that even in our worldwide world, a murderer can only hide for so long. I say “thinking” but what I mean is feeling. It’s emotional, there’s a warmness that swells up inside. A warmness filled with feelings of justice and victory. In America, joy like this does not come from a focus on killing, even if a killing occurred.

Yet opinions differ. Some critics have noted the so-called “hypocrisy” of joyfully celebrating the murder of a man who joyfully murdered. As if the killing itself is what’s being celebrated. From an objective point, yes, a guy was killed and many people find that cause for celebration. But that’s not how we see it. That lazily refuses to understand or simply ask a celebrating American what this means to him or her. How it feels to be proud to be an American in an America that can accomplish its goals, even if it takes longer than expected and hope seemed at one point to have been lost. To be provided with reassurance that enemies and obstacles that provide huge challenges are capable of being overcome. The triumph over a long and difficult struggle is a major theme in this celebration, and it’s seen as expanding outwards toward other conflicts, not as an end all to all major problems. To think the war on terror is now over and done with is stupid, but no less than thinking this is merely a celebration of killing.

Some people even compared the street celebrations of last night to celebrations in the muslim world on 9/11. I think that’s not only an inaccurate comparison, but a despicable one. Enlightened minds are going to point out that 9/11 celebrators were just as symbolically and ideal-driven as last night’s crowds in NY and DC. I don’t subscribe to such moral relativism, but that’s another post. To compare the death of 3,000 innocent people to the death of the man responsible for their deaths just doesn’t come off as very thoughtful or honest to me. I mean, really? It’s a shallow comparison, overwrought and contrived. I cannot accept that the death of one murderer is the same as the deaths of the 3,000 people he had killed.That’s apart from the street celebration culture of the muslim world being different than that of America. Some people shouldn’t need to be lectured about cultural differences and how a type of event in one culture has different meaning than what looks like a similar event in another.

In America, street celebrations are saved for huge events. The triumph of good over evil, even if anecdotally, is cause enough. There’s plenty of footage out there of people chanting and singing and getting a little rowdy; there’s also footage of crowds holding a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 at the Ground Zero site. All of this, I’ve read at various places on the internet, is going to incite terrorists to attack western targets and recruit more Islamic radicals to terrorist organizations. Americans shouldn’t celebrate the way they culturally celebrate because some bad guys are going to collect even more bad guys and they’re all going to come attack us now. In claiming a victory over a terrorist, you should be scared that your actions are going to piss off more terrorists. That doesn’t sound like the way for regular civilians to fight terrorism to me. That sounds like acquiescence to terrorist demands.

But yes, vigilance need remain as strong as ever at least. I have much appreciation and admiration for our armed forces, their bravery and the job they do to protect us, which I trust they’ll continue to do. This spirit of bravery is embodied by the Navy SEALs who executed the mission to terminate Osama bin Laden. They faced extreme danger in carrying out their mission, putting their lives on the line to infiltrate a heavily protected compound and eliminate a dangerous target. Their bravery and skill is incredible to me, they’re heroes. Part of what America is celebrating is that we have American military members with the courage and skill to complete such a mission. We can honor bravery without glorifying violence and we can steer away from arguments that assume bin Laden was sitting at home innocently not trying to hurt anyone.

Americans are celebrating in the streets. They aren’t celebrating death and killing, but bravery, justice, and freedom. The symbolism embedded in the idea of finally finding and killing Osama bin Laden is undeniable and extremely powerful. It overwhelms the violence and murder aspects. It’s good triumphing over evil. That’s what we celebrate. It’s justice being done after 10 years of being undone. That’s what we celebrate. It’s the bravery of the Navy SEALs risking their lives on a dangerous mission and triumphing over the cowardly bin Laden hiding away in a luxury complex and (reportedly) behind a woman when the SEALs came. It’s the confidence, pride, and spirit renewed in an America that fulfills a decade old mission that for which hope had all but been lost. These things cause Americans to dance in the streets, not the idea of killing. We hear “Osama killed” and we think “good won, justice done = celebrate” because it’s in the American spirit to symbolize and interpret and find personal meaning. To interpret the American celebration as “Osama killed = killing good = celebrate” is a grotesque distortion that understands nothing. Because in the end, we aren’t celebrating the idea of killing, we’re celebrating the idea of living. The American way.

So even while in Paris, I’ll stand on the street, have a drink, remember the victims of 9/11, salute the bravery of our armed forces, and be proud of America for this victory.


Posted May 2, 2011 by Wada in Uncategorized

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