This is what one sign read at a street side revelry celebrating the news that at long last, Osama bin Laden was dead. After 10 years of searching, he’s finally dead. After 20 years of organized terror, he’s finally dead. After 100’s of thousands of deaths, he’s finally dead. So why am I not ecstatic?
“Ding Dong, Osama’s Dead.” In Gregory MacGuire’s “Wicked”, he creates a sympathetic portrayal of Elphaba, the wicked witch of the West. He gives her feelings and motives and an impetus for evil. She is at the core, a well-intended but misunderstood villain. The townspeople revel and dance in the street at her death, knowing that finally, a fearsome evil has been undone and they can live in peace. But because she has been humanized for us with a back story, it is easy to feel melancholy at her death.
Far from this evil-by-accident characterization stands a real-life villain in Osama bin Laden. He has no redeeming quality. He cannot be justified or vindicated by a back story because his was an intentional, calculated path. So why do I find myself melancholy at his death?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he’s been disposed of. There was no good end that could come, so this is by far the best case scenario. But for me, it broke the dam. It brought back the last ten years and the heartbreak of 9/11. It brought back the images that flooded the nation, and the world, following the collapse of the towers. I remembered the smoke and dust, the gaping hole torn in the Pentagon and the bravery of unintentional heroes that put Flight 93 into the ground instead of another building.
I have felt overwhelmed by the numbers of empty chairs at tables, babies born without fathers, little ones forging on without a mother’s guidance, confused teenagers who can’t make sense of the absence, young men and women who will never marry or know children of their own, mothers and fathers crippled by the sight of their own child’s grave. I remembered the frantic days that followed 9/11 as we scrambled to account for everyone we knew who might be connected. It made me think of the friends and family I have that have served in this “war” on terror. I remembered spending a year and a half scouring the D.O.D. Casualty lists whenever I heard of a Blackhawk crash because of my best friend’s husband who was flying in Iraq. I remembered the memorial service that Chris went to for a fallen classmate and how he watched the young man’s two children throughout the service, while thoughts of his own girls sat like stones in his heart. I remembered the thousands of names and pictures and biographies I’ve seen and heard over the years, all gone for this great “cause.”
Like so many, I supported the invasion and subsequent occupation in Iraq. It seemed the right thing to do. I cannot say whether it was. I supported the friends and family that so readily and bravely stood in the gap to defend my nation, my family and my security.
Reality is not a game where we can play our “what if” scenarios until we find one that suits. I don’t know if the outcome of today is better than the outcome that could have been. But I do know that I am sorry for the deaths of so many men and women, for the deaths have extended far beyond the ranks of soldiers and the lives lost have caused immeasurable grief in the U.S., in Iraq, in Afghanistan and throughout the world. And I am intensely, immeasurably grateful for the sacrifices they have made for me and my children.
And now, ten years after the gauntlet was thrown down on 9/11, Saddam is dead. Osama is dead. Many of their henchmen and family have been eliminated. Many of their cells have been fractured and unmanned. And yet, what of the seeds they planted? What of the destruction that has already been done? Osama’s death does not bring to back to life those who have been lost. He cannot be humanized. His atrocities and cold-blooded calculated hatred was a corrosive force that could only end in death and bloodshed – and fortunately, the blood shed this time was his. But it is not the end. I do not feel that this gives a justification to the means…yet. Maybe I will one day. I hope I will, because it’s hard to carry the weight of so many dead without a justification, without a reason or cause.
Yes, it is good that Osama is dead. But the fight has just begun. Now it is time to look to the future and learn from the past. The lesson is not that you don’t mess with the U.S. or you’ll get yours. The message is that no good can come from hatred. The lesson is that evil is a principle that destroys and decays in and of itself -- that it is a self-destructive force that bleeds out from the heart that harbors it and destroys the beauty around it. For the fight to be won, the hatred must be undone. Until the next generation is taught that violence and retaliation against ideals that differ from their own is not the way, we remain lost.
This piece is not intended as an argument or a political tirade. This is just my heart. And I am glad that a major step has been taken. I am glad that Osama’s death undoubtedly will serve to undermine an empire of subversion and terror.
But think about it. How much power did this man wield over the lives of hundreds of thousands? Through his actions, events have been set into motion that will change the course of history. Imagine if he had been a force of good.
Who says that one man cannot change the world?