I had the opportunity to witness the Washington, DC celebrations of Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of US military forces. Watching the news on television, I felt it important to experience first-hand what was going on outside the White House. Here is a video I put together from the scenes there:
Strangely, despite the enthusiasm of others, I personally felt no sense of elation. This in spite of the emotionality of the events of September 11, 2001 and the change they brought to our country, and having served in numerous locations directly related to these events . These include ten trips to Afghanistan ranging from a couple of weeks to six months, between 2006 and 2011, and numerous other projects related to the so-called “War on Terror”. We had lived through painful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had struggled with the questions surrounding Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and constant changes in “threat warnings” – and yet for nearly a decade we had been looking for the mastermind of the attacks, questioning over the years whether we would ever catch him. And after an eloquent speech by our President, we may have found some sense of closure.
Yet there was something faintly disturbing about the celebrations. Most in the crowd were college students – who had been maybe 10 or 11 years old at the time of the attacks. The majority of their sentient lives had been lived amid the “Global War on Terror” – and they likely had little understanding of how America had changed in mood that September morning. In the wake of thousands of deaths caused by those 19 terrorists and their sponsors, here we found ourselves, in effect, celebrating the death of another, almost like you’d see people celebrating a World Cup victory. I wondered whether this is the America we were before September 11th.
I don’t begrudge others’ need to express themselves how they see fit, or judge them, whether they choose to wave flags and chant “USA, USA” – or simply to reflect on all the lives that have been lost or irrevocably damaged over the last decade. But I think it bears considering how we as a people have changed throughout all of this.
And I don’t look forward to how we will continue to grapple with the events of the last few days. Already the conspiracy theorists, and the cynics, and the critics have begun probing and questioning. No doubt we will be hearing about whether the killing of bin Laden was morally correct; whether he was actually killed as there is no body; whether his burial at sea was consistent with Islamic law, the timing of the operation in relation to the re-election campaign, and Pakistan’s role in all of this. Maybe the best thing we can do is to accept bin Laden’s death as the end of a chapter – blowing off some steam if that helps – and try as best we can to try and move forward. After all, there is much work left to be done in Afghanistan and elsewhere. While there will certainly be scars, maybe we need to try and resist continually picking at the scabs, and let the wounds caused by September 11 heal.