The extraordinary U.S. operation in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden was an amazing military feat. Given that framework, it is cause for national gratitude insofar as we honor the men and women who volunteer to defend our nation and its interests. It was also a testament to the considered intelligence and courage of a president whom many have called indecisive, passive, and lacking in experience. To the extent that it impacted the so-called War on Terrorism by removing its central symbol, it is to be welcomed and applauded.
There is no doubt that the world is a better place without Osama Bin Laden. Nor is there any doubt that this was an awesome act carried out by a country the world looks to for decisive leadership. It was an extraordinary moment in American history and it will find its place in the annals of significant events shared by the world. No doubt it will, like 9-11, become part of our collective unconscious.
Nevertheless, I am among those people (and commentators) who feel deeply uneasy about the way many Americans -- and perhaps others -- responded to the event. There was something alarming if not macabre about the (mainly male) young folks who ran to the White House or Times Square waving flags, singing the National Anthem, clowning before the TV cameras, and basically acting like the whole event were a keg party at a frat house. As one young woman put it to me, "It's a man's world and it always will be."
What she was putting her finger on was the machismo inherent in war games and in that kind of celebrating in what many of us felt should have been a somber moment of reflection and remembrance for the thousands of victims of 9-11.
Sure, the nation needed to feel a sense of unity and a modicum of relief. But were cries of "We got him!' really appropriate? Was this the time to flaunt pride and power? Wasn't there something disturbingly nationalistic about that kind of xenophobic response?
Dr. David Gushee blogging on Huffington Post (5/2/11) from a somewhat spiritualist perspective said this: "For those of us who embrace a version of just war theory"our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news."
Some people may find his words a bit too passive or pacifist, but I find them to be a gentle reminder that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to thinking about what kind of world we wish to leave our children, and what it is we want to teach them while we are still around. One lesson, it seems to me, is that there is something wrong about dancing in the streets over death.
President Obama struck the right tone in sharing with the country news of what had taken place, and he was right to emphasize respect for Islamic tradition in the way that Bin Laden's burial was handled. (I shudder to think what his predecessor might have said.) He set an example for how we could all react to this monument event.
But beyond that, it seems deeply important that we think about what happened in serious, substantive ways, and that we reject jubilation in favor of considered reflection. In the jargon of the day, we need to "process" what the death of Bin Laden, and the way it was handled, really means for us as a nation of values and vision. Military history can record the event in its own way; our task is to understand it in humanistic terms and to think about how we react, individually and nationally, to such a significant event.
My hope is that we will not respond with thoughtless jingoism and demonstrations of nationalism that seem one step removed from goose-stepping demonstrations of pseudo-superiority and smugness. That would render the demise of a true villain trivial and if you think about it, would represent a terrifying statement about who we are as a country and a people. No keg party could possibly be worth it.