Sunday night was a strange night for us. I might even be so bold as to say it was a weird night for most of America.
I'm talking about, of course, the news that the US military found and killed Osama Bin Laden. I hadn't heard or thought of that name in quite some time and it brought back all kinds of old feelings, stuff that I hadn't felt or thought about in a long time.
Like the rest of you, I remember where I was on 9/11. I was just a wee grad student in Indiana at the time. It would be four months until I moved to Las Vegas, five months until I met Brian, and almost eight years until the birth of the Bear. Most notably, my hair was still red and my nails had never seen a professional polish. (Oh, to be so young.)
I think we'd all agree that as a nation, the sights and sounds of that day are seared in our collective conscious. I didn't know anyone personally who died in the attacks; I didn't have any personal connections to servicemen and women who were subsequently sent overseas. I watched the news religiously, gave blood several times, and just hoped fervently that our nation would get through this terrible time.
9/11 melted into the war in Afghanistan, which turned into the search for weapons of mass destruction, which then somehow morphed into the search for Saddam Hussein...I'm certainly no expert on foreign policy or even recent US history, so I'm going to refrain from commentary, but I will say this: the death of Osama bin Laden didn't make me happy. I did not feel any joy.
Relief, maybe. Surprise, definitely. But joy? Not at all.
As Brian and I sat watching the breaking news, I kept repeating, "This is big." (Thank you, Kim Obvious.) The heroism and bravery of that team of Seals needs commendation, as does all of the military who has worked tirelessly to restore order in the Middle East. But the nagging feeling of why I wasn't jubilant over bin Laden's death bugged me. I mean, there were crowds gathering in front of the White House, spontaneously breaking into song. What was wrong with me?
I told Brian, "I guess I must not be very patriotic," but that wasn't right. I love the US. The fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays.
I just felt...weird.
Not to mention, that 2007 movie, "The Kingdom" with Jaime Foxx and Jennifer Garner kept rattling through my brain. For those of you who haven't seen it, a team of government agents is sent out to investigate the bombing of an American building in the Middle East. Through the course of the movie, there's lots of bloodshed on each side. When a US agent is killed, Jennifer Garner is sad about it until Jamie Foxx whispers something in her ear. You don't find out what he whispered until the end of the movie (::spoiler alert!::) when the same thing happens on the other side, and Middle Eastern people are killed. A dad whispers to his son the very same thing that Jamie said to Jennifer:
"Don't worry. We'll kill them all."
Yeah...kind of unsettling.
I was finally able to pull together my emotional reaction on Monday when I saw a quote on Facebook. The first sentence was written by a 24-year old English teacher in PA and the rest is Dr. King. I feel like this summed up my emotional landscape pretty well:
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.
My very smart and very wise friend Jill had published it on her page. And then, like a stroke of pure luck, another very smart and very wise friend Leah published a link to an article on Psychology Today titled, "The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating bin Laden's Death." Interestingly, both are clinical psychologists.
Whew. It's always such a relief when others echo your own feelings, but more eloquently than you ever could.
So I read this article and a few others as well. And through an ethical, moral, religious (eek!) and psychological lens, I was finally able to formulate this thought:
Who are we to celebrate the death of another human? Doesn't that make us just as wrong as the guy we just killed?
Don't get me wrong; bin Laden was a mass murderer. He was a sociopath through and through. He was absolutely the personification of evil on this earth, if you believe in good and evil. I truly feel the world is a better place with him not in it. And though one part of my brain worries that his death will martyr him to his followers (which actually makes us more unsafe than when he was living), the other part of my brain is saying, "We need to rise above this. Sinking to the same level as our enemies simply means they are in good company." A more appropriate reaction? Somber reflection, perhaps. Quiet retrospection. I mean, the celebrators outside the White House were college-aged kids (which means they were 8-and 9-year old kids at the time of 9/11) doing cheerleading moves. I am pretty sure I saw a girl do a herkie in the crowd. They looked more like students trying to blow off some pre-finals steam than countrymen or patriots. Yet these are the images that are being projected back to the folks in the Middle East, the same people that are so intent on hating Americans.
Probably not the image we wanted to convey.
I hope that everyone who lost a loved one to the War on Terror finds some sense of closure with the death of bin Laden. I hope his death causes confusion and disorganization within terrorist cells. I hope his death signals the beginning of a new chapter in this war, one that finds the tides turning in favor of democracy, peace and justice for all. But I hope, too, that we realize celebrating another human being's death only makes us sink to the level of the very people we have declared to be "the bad guys."
After all of that, I finally came to the conclusion that I don't think I'm anti-American...I think I'm just pro-human.