First, I am happy for the men and women who have fought so hard for the past ten years to make sure this day would come. I hope Osama bin Laden’s death means that they are steps closer to being brought home to their families for good, although I have lived in a nation at war long enough to be skeptical. I am happy that President Obama is able to announce this news, because he needs the confidence and the power it will bring him in the eyes of the American people. I am happy for the families of the victims of 9/11, who possibly feel a greater sense of closure with a little less evil in the world. I understand that many people see this death as a victory, but I have a hard time understanding how, as a nation now embroiled in three wars, we are victorious. Saddam Hussein was put to death nearly five years ago. We are still fighting in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden was one man. There are nations of people who hate Americans. He is a symbol of something deplorable that happened to Americans, but he is not the only man who unnecessarily harms his fellow men. His death is symbolic to the United States because it provides a sense of closure, especially to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, but I worry that in our polarized political climate, many of us have gotten carried away with symbols. We burn Korans and outlaw the practicing of the Muslim faith because many members of al-Qaeda are Muslim. We accuse our first biracial president of being Muslim as if it is a dirty word, because he looks different, and we cannot understand that he could be so similar to us. We are focused on revenge and on who will pay for what has been done to us – both emotionally, in our wars abroad, and economically, as we determine who will “pay” for our recession.
Over the last ten years, we have based most of our foreign policy on killing men for who they hate. We have become a vengeful, jingoist nation that fears outsiders and doubts people who look different than we do. I am weary of nationalistic displays that unite us through shared anger or shared fear. They make me nervous because they always seem to pave the way for less of the freedoms we trumpet and not more (we have been a nation at war for nearly ten years, we are living under the Patriot Act and we consent to being felt up at airports).
I don’t mean to diminish the success that this represents for the American people, but it did not end terrorism, nor did it end terrorism against Americans. To fight terrorism is not to fight a battle with a defined end or a defined victory. Osama bin Laden dragged the United States into two costly, unending wars that have crippled our economy and taken a toll on our national morale. His death has come at an extreme cost to the American families who will never be whole again. We can parade around wrapped in American flag leotards as much as we want, but it will never bring those men and women back, and it will never stop terrorism.
I do not mourn the man, nor do I have anything but disdain and disgust for the principles of any man who would wish death on an entire nation of people. Instead, I mourn for the failings of my own nation, a nation whose principles I sometimes believe I love. I wish that this made me as much an American as those who crowded the streets dressed in flags and cheering in the early hours of the morning, but as always, I wish there were more than one way to be a good American. I wish we were a country that always met the need for death with the reverence we expect from others. I long to live in a country where every death is considered one too many, instead of too little too late. I long to live in a country where war is the last answer instead of the first choice. I long to live in a country that attempts to understand its most despised enemies instead of demanding them dead or alive. It is this very taste for blood, this hunger for revenge that makes America so easy to vilify. We can search around the world for targets and take them out because they hate us, because they hate what we represent, but it is impossible to do this without asking ourselves, when we have become hunters of men, what we want to represent. Do we represent freedom? Freedom from what?