By Bryan Hyde
“Raise their heads on gilded poles! Roast the fatted calf! We need a rousing song–summon Toby Keith!” – from The Onion on the killing of Usay & Quday Hussein by U.S forces in 2003.
The past couple of weeks have revealed a great deal about the character of the average American. It’s not exactly good news either.
When the news broke that 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, it took mere minutes for an orgy of celebration to break out across the nation.
Even the news media, which used to at least try to be circumspect in its coverage, couldn’t help but allow a bit of gloating to surface in the headlines including these gems:
- “Bin Laden Demise: America Rejoices After a Decade”
- “Rot In Hell!”
- “We Got the Bastard!”
- “Got Him! Vengeance at Last: U.S. Nails the Bastard!”
- “Justice Has Been Done”
Look, according to the Law of the Harvest, Bin Laden reaped exactly what he sowed as a murderous religious fanatic. No sympathy here. I can even understand the relief and emotional closure that many feel at this time.
But what about those who celebrate Bin Laden’s death with cheers, chants, chest bumps and high fives? Does his killing at the hands of our military really prove once and for all the that greatness of this nation resides in its ability to terminate despicable individuals with extreme prejudice?
Consider how John Quincy Adams summed up America’s greatness in 1821:
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit…. [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. [emphasis mine]
At the risk of being extremely unpopular, I suggest we take a step back and see what the joyful celebration of any bloodshed actually says about us as a people.
Muslims are often characterized in our media as blood-thirsty, vengeful people who dance in the streets when their foes are killed or maimed. Thank goodness we’re not so crass, right?
Remember how outrage in America hit a fever pitch when a video was shown purporting to show Arab people celebrating in the streets following the 9/11 attacks?
The footage was later revealed to be video of a wedding celebration. Yet few Americans ever knew they’d been played like a fiddle at a barn dance. The current reaction of many U.S. citizens to a man’s death halfway around the world shows that we’re not immune to the effects of official propaganda.
This type of misinformation inflames emotions and whips the crowd into the type of frenzy where facts simply don’t matter. What really counts in the minds of too many Americans is that Bin Laden’s death supposedly validates our nation’s inherent greatness.
The official line is that “justice has been served.” But that may not strictly be the case.
Vengeance has certainly been served. But justice usually involves a modicum of due process; a cornerstone of our legal system that serves to limit government and protect individual liberties.
Though the official version of events has changed several times since the story broke, it’s clear that whatever justice Bin Laden will receive will be administered in the hereafter.
Bob Higgs has zeroed in on the inconsistency of what separates us from the kind of mindless blood lust that characterized Bin Laden and his minions:
No matter how much one may believe that people must sometimes commit homicide in defense of themselves and the defenseless, the killing itself is always to be deeply regretted. To take delight in killings, as so many Americans seem to have done in the past day or so, marks a person as a savage at heart. Human beings have the capacity to be better than savages. Oh that more of them would employ that capacity.
Yet we can see that many Americans have enthusiastically fallen for this trick, dancing in the streets in celebration of a man’s death in faraway Pakistan. Such unseemly behavior is not the stuff of which true greatness is made.
Joseph Sobran long ago observed that there is a degree of tragedy involved even when someone is crushed by the enormity of his own evil actions. Is it unreasonable to think that even the Creator grieves at the loss of one of his children?
Salon Magazine’s Glenn Greenwald dares to pose the vital questions that need to be addressed:
But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden’s head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we’ve started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?
And then there’s the notion that America has once again proved its greatness and preeminence by killing bin Laden. Americans are marching in the street celebrating with a sense of national pride.
Our situation hasn’t changed because one man was waxed by our military. We are still less free as a people, more entangled as a nation, and far deeper in debt than we were a decade ago. Are those facts worth celebrating as well?
We aren’t less free today because Bin Laden succeeded in personally wresting our freedoms away from us. We are less free because we’ve allowed our own government to take them from us, incrementally, in return for the promise of protection from our official enemies.
Our greatness as a nation depends more upon the quality of our individual character as citizens and less upon which official enemy we’ve just annihilated.
Bryan blogs at Hydeologue.com. He and his wife Becky are raising their six children in Cedar City, Utah.