In the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, the American public reacted in two general ways. One group of people was ecstatic and partied wildly over the fact that the U.S. avenged the 9/11 attacks against a man whom they passionately hated.
The other group of people saw the partying of the first group and somberly denounced celebrating the death of a fellow human being. That second group viewed Osama’s death through the context that an “eye for an eye” doesn’t make anything right, and that when we cheer someone’s death we’re stooping to the level of the terrorists.
However, I celebrate Bin Laden’s death for a different reason, a sort of middle-ground between the views of those two groups. I view his death as the fall of a supreme symbol of evil, the death of an epitome of everything in the world that stands against freedom, love, and tolerance. Bin Laden’s death restored my confidence—confidence stolen from me at a young age—that when someone does something horrific, that person will get what they deserve. I also celebrate our government leaders’ handling of his death because I believe their response reaffirms the values of our country.
When innocence disappears
For better or worse, most American children grow up in a bubble of innocence. We live in one of the safest countries in the world, with our closest enemies thousands of miles across the oceans. For decades, a majority of American children have grown up with the luxury of choosing to learn about the violent reality of the world when they’re emotionally prepared for it. That was a luxury that I and many others of my generation never had.
I was in 6th grade living in McLean, Virginia, only a few miles from the Pentagon, when the attacks occurred on 9/11. I had just moved to the DC area from Philadelphia, and I was sitting in a classroom at a table with four of my new classmates. When our teacher heard about the attacks, she immediately turned on the television. The class sat, stunned, as smoke billowed from the World Trade centres. Then, the network turned to an unforgettable image of the burning Pentagon. The girl across from me burst into tears. Her father worked in the Pentagon, and for all she knew, he was dead. The sight of her pain made me feel awful, and yet I felt helpless to do anything. Parents came early to pick up their children, and on my drive home, I realised the world I had always known was changing.
For the first time in my life, the innocence that’s so precious in a child left me. I found it deeply disturbing that some people in the world would stop at nothing to kill innocent people, like, for all I knew, that girl’s father—just because they disagreed with the way they lived their lives. For a 6th grader, that was pretty weighty. It changed my entire paradigm of how I viewed the world and humanity.
On another level, I was always taught that when someone did something bad, justice would prevail. Or, that karma would come back to haunt them. In my eyes, Osama Bin Laden represented the face of the most evil and perverted part of the human spirit: he epitomized a hellish landscape where love ceased, intolerance reigned, and unprovoked murder was glorified by hijacking the teachings of a peaceful religion. I thought that if anyone would and should be brought to justice, it was him.
Time passes, but hope returns
One year turned to three years, and three into nine. With each passing year, I became even more disheartened that Bin Laden eluded capture. Even though our country had rallied and moved on, whenever I saw his name, the fact that “justice” had apparently decided to sit this one out stabbed me like a thorn in my side. Like many others, I gradually came to accept that Bin Laden might never be captured, or that he’d die on his own terms. With this acceptance, the part of me that believed in “justice” withered.
So, when I heard that U.S. special forces killed Bin Laden, I celebrated. That withered piece of my soul that lost faith in justice bloomed and revived. I wasn’t celebrating the death of a fellow human being, but rather the return of hope that the world “worked,” and that good would always destroy evil no matter how long it took. On a deeper level, I think it’s part of the human condition to need to feel that type of hope, because without it, the world appears too bleak and chaotic.
Proud to be an American
Finally, I was proud of the way our government leaders handled Bin Laden’s death. Obama delivered a powerful, yet reserved speech about the significance of the occasion, while also firmly reiterating that we’re not at war with Islam. Our leaders’ decision to give Bin Laden proper burial rites in accordance with Islamic tradition showed shocking respect for a fellow man who arguably deserved none. However, I was glad that our leaders were strong enough to ignore the controversy and prove to the world that the United States’ standard of human decency is far above our enemies. Obama’s final decision to not release the gruesome photos of Bin Laden’s dead body was a tactful and wise decision because it surely would’ve caused unnecessary outrage and potentially endangered Americans’ lives. Overall, I haven’t seen such unity in purpose among our government leaders since 9/11.
I understand that Bin Laden’s death does little to solace the family members and friends who lost loved ones in 9/11. However, I believe we can all rejoice in the downfall of an embodiment of purest evil, and the return of hope that this intangible thing we call “justice” still flies high in a world that appears more and more out of control.