Ugly Vengeance

May 02, 2011 By: erik Category: News, Politics, USA 345 views

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Celebrations outside White HouseI woke up this morning to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US troops in Pakistan. I turned on the news and found a bunch of non-journalism time-filling fluff with a pretty Spanish woman with a microphone going around Madrid asking passersby for their opinion on the news. I turned to the internet and learned that there were parties in front of the White House and Ground Zero with mobs of Americans shouting “USA! USA!” and waving flags. My Facebook feed was full of comments like “From now on, May 1st will be known as Vengeance Day!! Booyaah!” Later, when I went to the local grocery store, where I am known for my nationality, I was greeted with salutations of “Congratulations!”

Call me a bleeding heart Liberal, but there’s something about a mass celebration of a human death that makes me feel more than a little queasy. Is Humanity better off without that one particular individual? Sure. Was he my generation’s Hitler? Hardly. There are people, some that I know personally (not you, dear reader!), for whom I have such distaste, that their deaths would be met with less sorrow on my part than that of a stranger killed by a tornado or tsunami. That’s as close as I’ve come to hatred. Bin Laden was on that list, for sure, alphabetically right before Dick Cheney.

But doesn’t dancing in the street over someone’s death make us no better than the Muslims who danced in the street on 9/11? Granted, they killed innocents and we killed one guilty (lots of evidence, but no trial) individual and four other people, the innocence of whom is unknown…ignoring, conveniently, the hundreds – or thousands? – of people killed to get to within bullet range of Bin Laden. Do we think that they won’t feel the same even-if-it-takes-ten-years vengeance that we felt? What ever happened to “turn the other cheek”?

The proper response to Osama’s death is a sigh of relief, that his genius – and it took genius to pull off 9/11 – will never again be used against us. But I feel shame for the level of jubilation shown by my countrymen. You disappoint me. I thought we were better than this.

  • You’re not a bleeding heart liberal. You are human. And you are right.

  • erik

    Another Facebook friend just said he’s going to fire his gun today in celebration. Sigh… There really is no difference between Us and Them, is there?

    • aquariumdrinker

      I’m going to post a general response below, but this seems the place to take exception to your “Us” (Americans, I presume, or maybe Westerners) and “Them” (Arabs, or maybe Muslims) thing. Of course there isn’t much difference. Can you explain why you were thinking that Americans were better than Arabs?

      • erik

        Us = Americans
        Them = anyone who would nod at calling the US “The Great Satan”.

        It was irrational, optimistic, naive and tribal of me to pretend that we might be more civilized about the death of an enemy combatant.

  • I’m an atheist and I’m shocked at the amount of christians and other religious denominations who keep saying how they “prayed for his death for so long”…no, there’s no difference at all.

  • Josh

    I agree with everything in your post except for the ordering of your list. “Bin” is a prefix meaning “Son of” (cf “Mac”, “O'”, the Spanish suffix “-ez”, etc.), but my understanding is that convention would have us ignore it when addressing a person. For example, if speaking with a man named “Mohamed ibn Hassan”, we’d call him “Mr. Hassan” rather than “Mr. Ibn Hassan”.

    By this logic, and due to his slimy behaviour, I’d place Cheney higher on the list than Osama. It’s moot now, but a point of information nonetheless.

    I too had hoped that we’d be better than the image our compatriots are currently displaying.

    • erik

      How delightfully pedantic of you. Thank you.

      • Josh

        Should you be asked for input when the time comes to engrave a phrase on my tombstone, please keep “A delightful pedant” in mind.

  • Lee

    I just got called “sanctimonious” on another blog for saying what you did. Sigh.

  • aquariumdrinker

    The guy hit us, and hard. When we finally get the chance to hit him back, it feels good. This is all very simple. If you’re arguing that a more complicated framework is called for, I should think the burden is on you to justify it. If such a justification is the OP, I don’t see it.

    • Lee

      Here we go.

    • erik

      Both sides have their arguments. It seems evident to me that:

      A) It feels good to punch back.
      B) Celebrating an assassination is on low moral ground.

      Whether you agree with the original post (is that what OP means?) or not depends on the individual weights you place on those two statements.

      • aquariumdrinker

        It’s no more apparent to me that celebration of any assassination is on low moral grounds than it is that assassination is always wrong. So I can’t really assess the argument in your post by simply weighting those two sentences. You’re making a comparative point about “Us” and “Them”, but you don’t spend any time on why you feel that there are no relevant contextual differences between “Our” scenario and “Theirs”. Makes it hard to evaluate your argument when you push all of the important moral reasoning into a sentence that you drop into comment #12 as a flat statement of fact.

        FYI, I had a reaction similar to yours when I heard the news of celebrations this morning. It made me feel icky. But I chalked it up to confirmation bias – somewhere not too far below rational thought I believe that I’m better than other people, so when I feel one way and everyone else feels another, I assume that everyone else is wrong. And then I reject the whole thing at a conscious level and move on to breakfast. You seem to be saying that I was right in some more or less objective way. But I’m not seeing the support.

        • erik

          What are you, a lawyer or something? Statement B seems obviously correct to me, but I don’t really feel like trudging step by step through the moral landscape to explain how I got there. If someone had a particular attack against its validity, I could maybe defend that, but you just admitted that your gut feeling is to agree with me.

          I don’t think I ever claimed to be objectively correct. In my comment above, I stated that there are good reasons for choosing either side, and I implied that it was a subjective decision.

          • aquariumdrinker

            Just a guy.

            I think that it’s hard to dismiss out of hand the assertion that one can celebrate without guilt when: (a) a guy (an outsider, no less) is killed (“assassinated”, if you will, though I think the official story is that he was resisting arrest); (b) that guy orchestrated the murder of thousands of innocent members of your cohort; (c) he has vowed to do the same again if ever he gets the chance; (d) he is the leader of and a symbol to a criminal conspiracy that holds the destruction of your culture as a founding tenet; and (e) the guy was almost certainly not interested in being taken alive.

            All of those points are more complicated than I’ve described them, but this is the narrative as most Americans understand it. Anyway (and I’m speaking now as a has-been philosophy major, not an attorney), I think that trudging through the moral landscape is the only basis (weak though it may be) for claiming that we’re talking about anything more than our opinions and gut reactions.

    • erik

      Not to sound as sanctimonious as Lee, but…

      I would add that A is a more base, instinctual, id-level feeling that even a toddler understands, and that B is a philosophical, mature, super-ego-level comprehension that some adults never attain.

      That makes me sound like a pompous ass, but they are true statements about the two sides of the debate.

      • Lee

        What gets me is the not only the bloodlust out there, but the level of rage at anyone who disagrees with the them. This thread is civilized, but I’ve seen some scary stuff on blogs where I would expect better (from people I’ve read/communicated with for some time). What the hell? Sunspots? Allergies? Gas?

      • aquariumdrinker

        So by “comprehension”, do you mean it’s the outcome of a process of moral reasoning? I’m just trying to get a look at that moral reasoning. I think it’s a lot more complicated than you realize (or have been willing to spend time typing out on this page).

    • ScottW

      It’s all “very simple,” eh? So–is the moral of the story if a Nation/leader hits you “hard” you are justified in retaliating with any force necessary to take that Nation/leader out? Nixon bombed Cambodia for 2 years without telling Americans. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed and maimed, yet nothing happened to Nixon. The Cambodians–were left with Pol Pot who ravaged them. What response was the appropriate one for Cambodians who were killed by American bombs? How were they supposed to “feel good” after enduring American bombs? If we could only put ourselves in the shoes of those we invade, occupy and bomb, we might look differently at whether to invade, occupy or bomb in the first place.

      Sadly, American exceptionalism carries the day with the vast majority of Americans who sadly view others’ lot in life a lot less valuable than their own.

      • aquariumdrinker

        if a Nation/leader hits you “hard” you are justified in retaliating with any force necessary to take that Nation/leader out?

        That’s not at all what I wrote, but I do agree that it is much simpler and easier to refute!

        I just scrolled through this thread again and am embarrassed by how many of the comments are mine. I’m letting it go now. In all seriousness and without snark, my default assumption is that Erik’s disappointment with his fellow Yanks is based on some rational process rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

  • aquariumdrinker

    Lost a comment I typed sometime between your 9:07 and 10:11 comments. Just assume it was awesome.

  • ScottW

    The obnoxious, USA celebrants of OBL’s death are the same folks who forget everything that happened between 9/11 and May 1, 2011. Almost ten years has passed and the U.S. has killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the World. From a statistical viewpoint, we have killed more innocent civilians than OBL did on 9/11.

    So how do we cope with this dissonance as Americans? Wipe out all history after 9/11 and pretend that US forces killed OBL on 9/12, or shortly thereafter. No innocent lives lost, no American/foreign war casualties, no expenditure of trillions of dollars in never ending war–all started because of what OBL did.

    And for those who let history creep slightly into their consciousness, all misdeeds perpetrated on innocent civilians was for the cause of good against evil–ergo–collateral damage for which we apologize to the families and friends of the fallen. What this Country needs is not a National day of celebration, but a National day of contemplation and reflection on what we have done since 9/11, and where we plan on going as a Nation.

  • Thanks for showing me that I’m not the only one who feels this way, I’m getting pretty sick myself of all the fb celebratory comments. I would have greatly preferred to see Osama captured and tried in a civilized manner. How does assassinating him make America any better than any other terrorist nation? I really don’t think his death will solve anything, since violence just begets more violence. If we really want an end to terrorism, then we have to set an example and go about things in a legal, civilized manner, otherwise we’re just adding to the flames, not putting them out. Great post Erik!

    • Michael Ventura

      A trial would have been a pointless carnival. The assassination was the right thing to do. But it was supremely distasteful, and all of these people celebrating need to understand that having to murder anyone is a delay of our moral progress.

      And still nobody understands that this entire situation is due to our tolerance of religion and magical thinking as well as our entirely bankrupt foreign policy of supporting oppressive dictators against the will of the people.

      • erik

        As rarely as I feel this sentiment, I agree with everything the US government did in this case, with a raised eyebrow accompanying my nod about the corpse disposal. Capturing Osama alive would have been a thousands times harder than killing him, and look how long it took us to accomplish that.

        Everyone is so skittish about actually calling this a war between Christianity and Islam. Even I admit to biting my blogger tongue on that one in the original post.

        • Sally

          I (reluctantly) agree with the way the US government has handled it as well.

          Rut regarding your original post, I feel shame and disgust at the reactions you describe. Salon has a piece about it that reflects my feelings exactly.


          • erik

            I almost posted a link to that article here when it came out, Sally. I did share it on my Facebook wall. It’s basically the same as this post, but written more eloquently.

  • Lee

    I can’t remember how to post an image in a comment box, so here’s a link to a Tumblr with an interesting graphic about casualties in the war on terror:

    Civilian Casualties Iraq Afghanistan 9/11
    [image embedded by Erik, click image for more graphs]

  • Paul

    We did what we had to do this week, and good choices were made, especially the decision to send in men in choppers instead of destroying the whole block with a drone, but I see nothing to cheer about. Instead I feel regret because of the opportunity we lost to really make America a great nation. On 9/11/01, before I went home sick, I told my co-workers that what happened was a crime – possibly the worst ever in America – but I was afraid that instead of going after, capturing, and prosecuting the criminals, America would probably declare war on a country. Instead, we declared war on a concept, but by declaring it a “war” we justified killing people who had not been convicted of a crime. I understand that governments sometimes assassinate people, but I always wanted MY government to be above that. How proud I would have been to be an American if the US had refused to be intimidated by 9/11, had captured and returned the criminals to New York, had tried them quickly and honestly, possibly convicting them and sentencing them compassionately to life in prison.