Monday, May 2, 2011


"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

Mark Twain

The announcement yesterday of Osama bin Laden's death was a unique moment in contemporary history — unifying, in fact, and I felt compelled to share it with people so I stayed up later than I normally would on a Sunday night and listened to a few conversations on Facebook — even contributed to a couple.

When I went to bed, I was experiencing mixed, even conflicting, emotions over an event that should assure every living American that we have now heard what Paul Harvey might have called "the rest of the story."

There should be satisfaction in that.

Practically a decade ago, America was plunged deep into an abyss of shock and grief, and bin Laden was responsible for that. He did not hijack the airplanes nor did he crash them into buildings — but, in the language of the space age, he activated the launch sequence.

I know people who have been living for this moment for the last 10 years — and, judging from some of the comments I saw last night, many of them realize, albeit belatedly, that bin Laden's death is not the end of it, as they long had hoped it would be.

And that is a bitter revelation for those who believe in peace.

Violence only begets more violence, I read several times, and I have been thinking that that must surely be true of people like bin Laden, who live to inflict pain and damage on others. His followers are sure to be looking for some way to retaliate, and, if I or anyone I knew happened to be living abroad, I would be very concerned.

What's more, the world's experience with bin Laden and al Qaeda tells everyone how patient and calculating these terrorists can be. Those who possess bin Laden's discipline and dedication won't mind waiting years to avenge this — perhaps on a sunny autumn day in 2021.

In my lifetime, I have seen men of peace who died violent deaths — and, in the process, sparked even greater violence. Bin Laden definitely was not a man of peace.

An eye for an eye isn't merely a biblical passage, and the ones who openly speak it are not the only ones who believe it.

The comments I saw on Facebook last night came from people who occupy every inch on the political spectrum, from extreme left to extreme right and everything in between.

The ones on the left were eager to give Barack Obama all the credit and seize the opportunity to kick George W. Bush for failing to rid the world of bin Laden during his eight years in office.

The ones on the right were defensive about Bush and more prone to give credit to the guys on the ground who actually did the dirty work.

Both were right, I suppose, and, even though neither side appears to be terribly eager to give so much as a centimeter to the other, there is some common ground to be found.

The fact is that it is satisfying to know that the man who was responsible for the deaths of so many, for the pain and suffering experienced by so many who survived 9–11 and will never forget the horror they witnessed, is now dead.

But it would be naive to think that this is the end of it.

I'm not sure if I agree with Obama that this is justice — although, as I wrote last night, this may be as close to justice as we were ever likely to get.

But it wasn't the kind of justice I would have preferred to see — the kind where the guilty must answer for his crimes before a judge and jury.

Perhaps, since bin Laden eagerly acknowledged his involvement in the 9–11 attacks, that wasn't necessary.

I don't know. I am left with my original question.

Was it justice or vengeance?

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