Justice served: A worthy celebration
Late Sunday night, the White House announced to the press that President Barack Obama would make a surprise address to the nation within the hour. With the topic of the speech unknown, speculation began to swirl. It was rare for a president to call an unannounced national address so late on a Sunday night, so it must have been big. Some declared he would talk about an issue of national security, likely Libya. Then, as a whisper, a different rumor began to spread, first on Twitter, then on the national news networks: Osama bin Laden is dead.
By the time Obama appeared on broadcasts across the nation at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, many knew what was coming. Retribution had finally caught up to the most wanted man in the world. Killed by Navy SEALs eight hours before at a fortified compound in Pakistan, bin Laden had been shot twice in the face after a firefight and using a woman as a human shield. The covert mission had allegedly taken only 40 minutes. Multiple tests confirmed his identity, and within 12 hours of his death, his body had been buried at sea after being handled in accordance with Islamic law, according to officials.
The founder of al-Qaida, the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks, had eluded capture for more than a decade. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands from around the world. Eerily enough, the announcement of his death came 66 years to the day of Adolf Hitler’s in 1945 and eight years to the day of former President George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
After Obama’s address, thousands began to pour into the streets across the country. Celebratory crowds surrounded Ground Zero in New York and the White House, chanting “USA! USA!” Students at this university flocked to Route 1 and lined the streets. One student played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a trumpet; others lit cigars and waved American flags. And while at least one idiot decided to light a hay bale on fire, it was a largely peaceful celebration by members of a generation who have lived most of their lives in a nation at war.
Seniors at this university would have been about 12 years old when the deadliest attack on American soil occurred; freshmen would have been about 8. This generation, perhaps more than any other, has been permanently molded by 9/11. The death and destruction, the closing of schools, the looks of horror on our parents’ faces have all been ingrained in our memory. The way things changed after that September day — the indefinite state of scrutinizing those around us in airports and train stations, waiting anxiously for what many believed to be the inevitable next attack — has diminished in recent years but remained nonetheless. There have been no other al-Qaida-led attacks on American soil since that day, although there have been scores of thwarted attacks and likely many more that have gone unknown to the public.
And so it seems fitting that the faces in the cheering crowds, from College Park to Washington and New York, were so young. The generation bin Laden tried to break, frighten and exhaust into weariness and a lack of resolve celebrated his death like no other. Some will describe the cheers and revelry in response to the death of another human being as disturbing or uncouth. They will say that unity derived from death is shameful and that the patriotic fervor that erupted yesterday is the same demon that has caused numerous foreign policy blunders. Perhaps that’s true, but there are some things beyond forgiveness. Neither I nor many others would wish ill on a fellow human. But Mark Twain is often attributed as putting it best: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”
Bin Laden’s death does little to change our world. The war on terror will continue, and what’s left of al-Qaida, which has become more of a movement than organization, will find a new figurehead.
But for this generation, which had its childhood interrupted by terror and war, his death brings closure. There is relief that despite how feeble he may have become, we now live in a world that is brighter and better without him. The monster that terrified a generation is no more. And that, it seems, is well worth celebrating.
Justin Snow is a senior history major. He can be reached at snow at umdbk dot com.
Originally published in The Diamondback.