My long silence is broken (albeit temporarily, since I must resume writing my thesis for another month) by the breaking news that Osama bin Laden has been killed by a US raid on a building in Pakistan. So tonight, eight years after George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished,” another president took another podium and announced to the American people a success in the war. He told us that he made killing Osama bin Laden a top priority and reminded us that bin Laden was the mastermind behind the worst attack ever upon the American people. He told us that “justice has been done.” He told us that bin Laden was a terrorist and was not a Muslim leader, but a mass murderer of Muslims. And there was much rejoicing; from the crowds outside the White House, to the fireworks I can hear going off outside in Columbia, Missouri.
The events of 9/11 were of the sort that those who saw them will never forget. The smoke from the Pentagon, one tower smoking while the second plane lazily came in to the second tower, then both towers coming down. The backlash afterward and the vastly changed tenor of the dialogue. Since that day the United States has entered into two different wars, ostensibly to kill one man. Yes, al-Qaeda is a large organization, and the parameters of the war have always been rather hazy, but bin Laden has, for the most part, always been the target. We targeted the Taliban in Afghanistan because they harbored terrorists. We attacked Iraq because they might have had weapons of mass destruction and/or al-Qaeda ties, despite evidence to the contrary. In those two conflicts at least 919,967 men, women and children have died as of August 10, 2010 according to the lowest credible estimates.1 And just today a twelve year old suicide bomber killed four people and wounded another dozen. So, in all probability, in excess of a million people have died in a conflict ostensibly to kill one man.
Moreover, the changes that have happened, have happened. As many have pointed out, the Patriot Act (among other limitations to civil liberties) is not likely to go away, and the troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq are not likely to come home any sooner. It is also entirely conceivable that this incident, coming on the heels of a bombing attack that killed Saif Gaddafi will only encourage aerial involvement around the world. In any case, justice seems like a stretch and if this is justice, I’d almost rather live with the injustice.
That is an exaggeration, but not by much. Part of the problem is that after 9/11 people wanted blood. Well, we have it now. The blood we wanted and a million times more.
Another thing to recall is that the United States as part of Cold War Policy supported radical Muslim fighters in Afghanistan at a time when Osama bin Laden was fighting in Afghanistan. It is unclear whether or not bin Laden received direct CIA aid and training, but it is certainly far from impossible. Later he was actively involved in radical terrorist attacks around the world, including the 1993 bombing on the World Trade Center. The 9/11 attacks were the largest and most awful among the attacks, but I can’t help thinking that 9/11 was simply a clarion call that shocked Americans into global awareness in the most terrible way possible. As a side effect everything became radicalized.
And now there there has been justice, but tomorrow is Monday morning. We will wake up and nothing will have changed.
ADDENDUM: There is another thing I have been dwelling upon, and since another friend noted this as well, I thought I’d add it. Millions of people are celebrating tonight because we killed on person. Nobody I know likes or is even sympathetic to this man, however he is still a person and we are still celebrating the bloodshed, not the fact that he is no longer able to attack anyone else. It is possible to say that in fact we are celebrating his death in order to celebrate that he cannot directly cause any more attacks, but that seems to be more of a rationalization and an explanation in hindsight than truth. To quote a friend, “the blind glee and fanatical patriotism that such deaths incur in objectively rational, liberal people absolutely horrifies me.”