It's like, bin Laden was the gay rapist, and Bruce Willis is America (obviously), and the motorcycle is oil, and The Gimp is, uh, stem cell research or something. I didn't really think this one through.
There have been a lot of wise words on the Internet recently regarding the moral implications of rejoicing at another human’s death. There’s been some intelligent debate and a lot of profoundly unintelligent debate on the Facebook status updates in my news feed. Pundits and columnists have been weighing in on America’s jubilant reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden. In this spirit of discussion, I’d like to make my opinion known:
I am fucking elated that Osama bin Laden is dead. Thrilled. Overjoyed. I had more fun learning that he’d been shot through his left eye at close range than I’ve had watching most episodes of The Office this season. During class today I spent a lot of time trying to imagine precisely what kind of ‘Oh shit’ look he was wearing on his face right before a bunch of American commandos straight up killed his ass.
Is that barbarous? Is that monstrous? I suppose it probably is. But it’s how I truly feel, and I’d much rather be up front with the world about what a bloodthirsty revenge loving son of a bitch I am than post some sage philosophical quote about the futility of war in hopes of looking deep.
9/11 is something all Americans share. I’m not going to say that any one class of people in America got more or less hurt by that disaster. What I will say, though, is that my generation experienced 9/11 differently from any other generation before or after.
On September 11th, my Mom woke me up for school differently than she ever had before – instead of flinging open the curtains and telling me that breakfast was in ten minutes, she walked into my room, turned on my radio, and said, “Something is happening,” before leaving to continue making breakfast and watching the live feed of the Twin Towers smoldering on TV. I was watching when the first tower collapsed. The second came down while I was in the shower.
My friends and I, raised on a diet of A-Team reruns and action movies, had to come to terms with the fact that the country we lived in was A) Not invincible and B) About to change forever.
Our grandparents had Pearl Harbor to shake their faith in their nation’s might. Our parents learned cynicism from Vietnam and Watergate. We watched 3000 people get murdered on national television. I was twelve.
I hope the Navy SEALs weren’t using hollowpoint rounds – for those of you who don’t live with a Republican gun nut, hollowpoint rounds make your head explode – because while Osama bin Laden’s head exploding is undeniably awesome, it means he would’ve died instantly. I like the idea of him spending at least a few seconds on the bloodstained floor of that mansion, half of his skull scattered around behind him, wracked with pain and the knowledge that he won’t live to see the rest of his jihad play out.
One statement I’ve seen popping up a lot among the people taking a more somber view of bin Laden’s death is, “This isn’t going to make things any better.”
I completely agree. They don’t call Afghanistan ‘The Graveyard of Empires’ because it’s known for cut and dried solutions to complex, messy, expensive problems. Me being overjoyed at Osama bin Laden’s death has little to do with foreign policy and everything to do with me loving it when bad people get killed.
Another statement I’ve seen popping up a lot is, “Killing bin Laden is only going to put us in more danger.”
I respectfully disagree.
After ten years of the War on Terror, I wasn’t getting the impression that the terrorists were on the verge of burying the hatchet with us Western infidels before us killing bin Laden reminded them of their old warlike ways. Religious fanatics don’t strike me as terribly forgiving people. I mean, come on – their catchall slogan is ‘Death To America.’ I feel like they would’ve kept on spending every waking moment trying to destroy our society whether we killed Osama bin Laden or not.
I don’t think us killing Al Qaeda’s leader is going to make them all that much better at being terrorists than they were before. Osama bin Laden’s martyrdom will likely serve as a short term propaganda tool, but it’s not going to imbue suicide bombers with any special properties that make them immune to metal detectors or bulletproof.
Hell, disregard all that and answer me this: Do you think we were safer while he was alive?
One last statement I want to address: “One more death just perpetuates the cycle of violence. It’ll never stop.”
I wrote a 100-page research paper a couple of years ago about the American prison system and, by proxy, the War on Drugs. For better or for worse, I’m probably more qualified to talk about international corrections policy than I am about journalism.
What I learned doing that project was that the least sexy solution to a problem is usually the best one. Building hardcore inescapable prisons and fighting drugs with SWAT teams and flamethrowers is both kickass and sadly ineffective - Shawshank style prisons have recidivism rates of around 70% and generally just teach mediocre cons to become better ones by putting them together with thousands of other bad guys, while taking a hardline stance against drugs simply makes drug dealers richer and puts more minorities in jail.
Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, have significantly lower rates of recidivism and imprisonment, largely because their prisons, which are arguably better appointed than my high school, center on rehabilitation of prisoners through vocational training, education, and leisure activities. Likewise, the RAND Corporation has proven on multiple occasions that providing free drug treatment is 23 times more effective than drug busts.
So why do we keep sending people to dangerous, overcrowded prisons and wage military campaigns against drug dealers?
Because, as previously stated, while the way we’re doing things now isn’t terribly effective, it looks awesome on the news. A politician who builds a new maximum security prison or authorizes a strike on a Columbian drug lord is far more likely to be reelected than one who supports a corrections system where thieves and drug dealers can take carpentry lessons and go horseback riding, no matter how much cheaper and effective it is.
Apply this thinking to the War on Terrorism. Predator drones and Navy SEAL raids are fucking awesome, I’ll be the first to say that. But these methods are also making us lots of enemies in the Muslim world. It has been suggested that a better way to fight terrorism would be one based more in diplomacy, education, and foreign aid – aimed at reducing the number of people who hate us enough to kill themselves and us – would be more effective than a strictly militaristic approach.
Based on what I’ve read, I’d say that’s probably true. Based on what I’ve read, I’d say that probably won’t happen, for the same reason American prisons are still veritable warzones overflowing with people serving 20 year sentences for cocaine possession.
Killing Osama bin Laden is the closest we’re ever going to get to winning the War on Terrorism. He was the single highest profile target and the man responsible for this war starting in the first place. The equivalent in the War on Drugs would be Nancy Reagan strangling the guy who invented crack.
But killing bin Laden won’t end terrorism. Nothing will – not even diplomacy and building schools and all that wimpy looking stuff. We can reduce terrorism to varying degrees, depending on our tactics, but no matter what there will be crackpots who hate America and want to kill us all, and from time to time, in spite of the remarkable diligence of the military and law enforcement, they’ll be able to do it, Osama or no Osama.
This, more than anything else, is why I’ve been so unabashedly happy about Osama bin Laden’s remarkably violent end. For better or worse, it’s good news from the War on Terrorism. Sure, the Afghan Army is a corrupt illiterate nightmare and one of our major allies may be a supporter of terrorism, but we killed Osama bin Laden. We accomplished one of the main things we set out to do, with all the bravado of an episode of 24.
So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend as much time as I can being happy that a fellow human was shot in the head in front of his wife and 12-year-old daughter. Sooner or later – probably sooner – something is terrible is going to happen that’ll shake my confidence, but right now I’m having a blast feeling like America is invincible again.
I think that I should be allowed this much.
Truman Capps promises a return to comedy in the near future.