Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Meaning of Osama bin Laden’s Death

This post will be a little more serious than the usual fare in this virulent little corner of internet space.  So forgive me if this one is more philosophical and soul-searchy than entertaining.

Just as those who lived it remember where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor, just as my generation will remember where we were when 9/11 happened, we’ll all remember where we were when Osama bin Laden was finally brought to justice.

Being a gigantic nerd, I was playing Minecraft with some friends of mine when a good friend of mine texted me and told me to watch the news.  I nearly shit myself when he told me what was so damn important that I had to turn away from hacking away at stone with my diamond pick.

I’m 27, so it wasn’t long ago that I was part of the military.  I signed up on August 16th, 2001, when I was 17.  I had to get a waiver from my parents and everything because I was under age.  That should also indicate to you that I signed up before 9/11 went down, so I was not part of the wave of youth who joined because they were incensed over the attacks.  I was in 2nd period English class when it happened.  Someone woke me up (I always slept in that class and somehow still managed an A), and of course we were all in disbelief.

My classmates and I were watching TV when the second plane hit, and once our confusion was dispelled as it was revealed that it was not some ridiculous freak accident, that the nation had been attacked by Osama bin Laden’s ilk, an odd feeling came over me.  I joined the Navy in a time of relative peace, and in an instant I realized that I was going to be fighting a war.

For ten years, all we’ve thought about is “why can’t we catch him?”  “He’s just a boogey man!”  “He’s already dead in a cave somewhere!”  “We’ll never find him!”

Well, we did.

If you run into these guys, you are most
assuredly fucked.

Although people cheered at the news of his death, I didn’t.  Killing is never a good thing, a moral thing.  No matter how legitimate it may be, no matter how just the killing blow, it’s never a good thing that a human life has to be extinguished, even one as repugnant as his.  I think it was in a bit of bad form that people cheered in jubilation that their bloodlust had been satisfied, and I could not join in that.  I am not criticizing those whose lives have been directly affected by his horrifying schemes, as the grieving process is their own, and they deserve the peace of mind of knowing that he is dead.

The machinations of this man shaped my generation.  The world we will soon inherit is very different than it once was.  Two wars were launched in the name of 9/11, some people’s liberties were violated, and we even tortured people over it.  Bin Laden, at once, showed us how horrifying the dark side of humanity can be.  He made us look at ourselves for what we are.  Even though his life brought out the worst in humanity, perhaps his death has done the opposite.

Justice is important.  Aristotle understood it as “rendering unto each that which each is due.”  Crudely interpreted, that means that everyone should get what they deserve.  I cannot judge whether or not he deserved to die.  I’m a human, and I don’t believe that I have the right to determine another man’s end.  Fortunately, I have the luxury of leaving that decision up to others.

Bin Laden dead is not going to change much.  The war on terror will not stop; humans will still be killing other humans in the name of God, Country, or Principle; and the world will go on being its usual horrifying self. 

But since he has been brought to justice, at least now we can say, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that justice comes to us all.  We proved to the world and to ourselves that no one is exempt from justice.  We have showed the world that if you harm our citizens, if you declare war on our country and try to intimidate us with the death of our loved ones and the destruction of our way of life, we will find you.  And we will kill you if necessary.

The world may not yet be safe for democracy, but it damn sure isn’t safe for those who seek to destroy it.  In Osama bin Laden’s death, we have shown that justice is real and that it can be served, even ten years later.


Harrison said...

Tens of millions were liberated after 9-11 and 1 down, many, many more to go.

Karen Howes said...

I see what you're saying, I think, Jack. Technically, I agree-- we taking a human life, even when justified, is never a moral GOOD and shouldn't be cheered.

Still, I can certainly understand the joy at feeling that justice has finally been served.

Silverfiddle said...

Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

-- Meditation 17, John Donne

That's what came to my mind as I read this. Unlike you, I am celebrating at this, but it's not a giddy celebration, but a grim satisfied one.

I was in a Command Post on 9/11, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I really thought it could be the end. It was a very long day. I ended up deploying (as a support troop, not a door kicker).

I hate what this man did to our country. For me, there was before, and after. Us killing him fixes nothing, but as you say, it does satisfy justice.

Harrison said...

Yeah money doesn't buy happiness but would you rather be poor?

Having bin Laden won't improve my life but it certainly doesn't make it worse, either.

Jack Camwell said...

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be satisfied, relieved, or even pleased that he's dead. But a more somber satisfaction, like what you mentioned Silver, is what is most appropriate for this situation I think.

Osama was going to die, no matter what. Human justiced demanded that he pay with his life for the lives he's taken. But for those who were jubilant about it, those who were chanting "USA," I don't think they understand life an death in the proper context. I don't think they feel the seriousness of our existence.

I'm just advocating a more mature approach to it, which you all seem to have. As I articulated to some friends of mine over all you can eat wings tonight at Quaker Steak, I am not joyous, but rather satisfied that justice has been served.

But I've been all soul-searchy lately, so perhaps that's just me.

KP said...

I found this post interesting:


Always On Watch said...

Clearly, it is justice that OBM is dead and gone.

But we are not safer now that he's gone.

In fact, for at least a time, our national security (and possibly personal safety because of the lone jihadists) is at risk.

In my view, OBL wasn't directing anything anymore. His "successors" were.

Jack Camwell said...

Welcome back Always. I agree with what you've said. OBL wasn't really directing anything. He was, however, a major figurehead and symbol for their struggle. Him being blown away has hopefully had a sobering effect for them.

LD Jackson said...

I am late in getting to this discussion, but I have to say, well done, Jack. This is one of the best posts I have read on the death of bin Laden, and especially, one of the most thought provoking. Even though killing may sometimes be necessary, we should always remember how serious it is that the life of a human being has been extinguished.

Jack Camwell said...

THanks so much LD, that means a lot to me. This post is fairly steeped in Catholic thought and Aristotelian justice. I'm satisfied that he's dead, but I don't think it's right to celebrate death.