03 May 2011

On Not Celebrating Death

I thought I would be able to scrape by without commenting on the most significant current event to hit the news this week.  I speak, of course, of the death of Osama bin Laden.  I thought I could wait for it to pass, but then I realized I can't do the dance of joy, like so many others seem to be overjoyed to do.

I had and have no sympathy whatsoever for bin Laden and his partners-in-crime in Al Qaeda. What he planned and what they implemented ranks among the all-time most heinous crimes in the history of the human race.  By all but the most pacifistic of viewpoints, it is hard to say he did not get what he deserved.  If there is any truth to claims that abhorrent criminals will be dealt with appropriately in an afterlife, then he is a prime candidate for an eternity in hell.  Ultimately, his life ended in the only way that seemed possible given the circumstances in which the termination of it originated.

One problem:  accounts of the afterlife differ, in generalities and specifics.  It is those differences that underpin some of the most violent disagreements ever experienced in human relations.  While many would like to believe he is now in for never-ending torment, by his lights (and those of many others) he may be receiving a hero's welcome.

I think it would be most fitting if his soul (assuming such a thing existed) simply faded away into nothingness, no torment, no reward.  Then it would be as if he had never been.  This is perhaps the best that could be hoped for in the case of someone who deliberately put themselves so far outside the realm of human empathy and human kindness.

Terrorism did not originate with bin Laden, and it will not end with his death.  The circumstances that allowed him and his ideology to flourish still exist, and nearly 10 years of American empire-building and backhanded fence-mending have done not nearly enough to mitigate them.  That mitigation is perhaps ultimately an impossible task.  The change has to happen in the hearts and minds of all citizens of the world.  Al Qaeda may wither away, dying like a snake with its head cut off.  But the ideas that drove bin Laden and his ilk will not.  The ideas will mutate, like a virus, and the people who take them to heart will find new and terrible ways to slaughter innocents in the name of fanaticism.

Extremist will not forget.  Even without a body, or a fixed landmark around which to gather, the circumstances of bin Laden's death will give fuel to the myth-making machinery of both sides in this conflict.  That he died in a battle with U.S. forces only serves to increase his status as a warrior hero.

It would have been much better to have captured him alive and put him on trial.  Ultimately, his fate would almost certainly have been the same, but it is the rule of law we supposedly subscribe to as Americans, and justice is what the law demands.  In this case, what was served was vengeance, not necessarily justice.  Vengeance usually breeds more violence, and that seems a likely outcome in this case.

Our military has shown themselves to be tough, perseverant and capable of incredible accomplishments in the worst of situations.  I think the reward for them now should be our gratitude, but more importantly, I think they should come home.  This is a "Mission Accomplished" in truth, far removed from the farce of that perpetrated under the same name in Iraq.  There is no longer any sense in keeping them in harm's way, with the goal achieved.

Surely a great evil has been removed from the world.  Truly this is the only way the story could have ended.  Still, I cannot bring myself to celebrate death.  This whole terrible mess originated in death, nearly 3,000 innocent people.  Since 2001, American casualties in Afghanistan have amounted to about 1,465 deaths.  Total coalition deaths are around 2,340.  Total wounded estimates are in the tens of thousands.

In the name of the pursuit of one man, we have lost:
Nearly 10 years.
Over $400,000,000,000 estimated cost (and rising) of the war to date.
1,465 Americans killed.

That is why I cannot bring myself to dance and clap my hands with glee.

His was a death that had to be, but celebrating it makes me feel too much like the very killers we claim to abhor. The best that I can manage is a certain grim satisfaction, and a hope that his like doesn't plague the human race ever again.


  1. I've been in a bit of a dazed state all day, Gumbo.
    Thanks for your thoughts. They help.
    No parties here.
    Someone said they were going to party because it defies the fear that so many a hater tries to plant in our minds and hearts. I got that reason too.
    Dunno where I'm at.
    I do know your line, "...hope that his like doesn't plague the human race ever again.", is too true.
    Later, Gumbo,


  2. Beloved and I were completely disgusted with the cheering and celebrating in the streets. I remember, all too well, the video and images of those in the Middle East doing the same thing in the wake of 9/11 and being horrified by it, along with everyone else in this country. So, we stoop to that level ourselves and it's okay? I think not.

    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -Martin Luther King Jr.


  3. I've had this same conversation four times yesterday.

    You and I are in wild agreement, IG.


  4. You are right. The death of bin Laden is no reason to celebrate. It is just an event in a long, twisted, road called human evolution. His death will be seen as a martyr's death. Though his burial at sea robs the fanatics of a shrine, they will find another, or others, at which to worship his evil memory.

    We should have made the announcement as an aside at a White House briefing. Treat it as less significant than Qaddafi's son being killed in a NATO air strike.

    We grant the power of fear to terrorists, we ought to stop doing that.

  5. I find it difficult to "celebrate" anyones death. I was glad he is gone, but there was no celebration, merely sadness at all who died because of his acts and his being .. I hope that reincarnation is possible in his case, I would like to think of him as a bug, constantly on the run, scurrying around hiding and trying to find food .... much like his life before .. and that this continues forever. Never finding peace can be a perfect hell .

  6. I agree with so much except for the celebration part. What happened on American soil, we took personally. How could we not? Celebrating justice served is a natural reaction. I don't agree with the level or crassness and in your face attitudes being shown on tv, but that's my own taste. Let's also not forget he is responsible for so much more than just 9/11. America is not the only country celebrating..

  7. I saw a quote yesterday... something along the lines of "don't celebrate the death of a man but the deaths he can no longer cause." That's not quite it, but close enough.

  8. I agree with your last line, completely.

  9. I posted something similar. I felt solemn thinking of so much waste of human life and billions of dollars to exact revenge. It did not make me want to celebrate but to think about how terrible a price has been paid.

  10. I understand everything here and agree with almost every all of it; especially the cheering over death.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...