Further Readings


MAY 2011

On May 1st, the President announced that U.S. Navy Seals had landed deep inside Pakistan, penetrated an Islamist enclave in Abbotobad, and killed Osama Bin Laden. News of this announcement set off spontaneous celebrations. Jubilant crowds gathered at Ground Zero, outside the White House, and several college campuses chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Monday morning media coverage continued the theme: The death of the 9-11 instigator was a celebratory story and the spontaneous patriotic eruptions represented a “coming together” of Americans in these hyper-partisan times.

I don’t question the necessity of killing Bin Laden or downplay the tremendous bravery and skill of the Seals who carried out the mission. But there is something creepy about celebrating the death of a person—however evil his past acts. Watching crowds exult in the death of Bin Laden made me uneasy, even as I struggled to know why.

I searched for someone, anyone, who shared my unease with the way Bin Laden’s death was celebrated. To my surprise, I found only one prominent voice that shared my concern. On May 3rd, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi released the following statement regarding the death of Osama bin Laden:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose. In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

The Vatican nailed it. Bin Laden was a warped man with an evil ideology. Sadly, killing him was necessary. But this should be treated as a grim and solemn task, not celebrated as if our team just won Super Bowl.

A few pundits cautiously suggested that images of Americans partying on news of Bin Laden’s death could be used against us in the Mideast. Maybe this is true. But these pundits miss the point as much as the chanting crowds. The wrongness of celebrating the death of a person is not dictated by whether a foreign demagogue exploits the video.

Days after the Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the Japanese surrendered and the U.S. erupted in celebrations. We celebrated our victory in a war, the end of a long period of self-sacrifice, and, above all, we celebrated the cessation of killing. We didn’t celebrate the deaths that our superior war machine inflicted upon the enemy.

No one believes that Bin Laden’s death means victory in the war against terrorists. Sober analysts have stated for years that Bin Laden, largely because of U.S. efforts, was already cut-off from Islamist-fighters in hot-zones like Afghanistan and Yemen. His death might be a blow to the morale of our enemies, but Bin Laden’s death doesn’t alter the battlefield or Al Qaida’s desire to execute new acts of terror. The War on Terror is not over; celebration is premature.

Bottom line: We are, or at least should be, better than blood lust. Being the world’s cop is lonely work and there’s always some kook somewhere plotting our harm. As 9-11 proves, some of these kooks are very dangerous and they must be defeated. It is regrettable that we must engage in violence in the pursuit of policies premised on advancing democracy and prosperity across the world. As Dwight Eisenhower once observed, “America is not good because we’re great, America is great because we’re good.”

But there is no goodness in celebrating a person’s death.