Osama bin Laden's dead. Why so glum?

The scolds tell us not to party. What's their problem?

Crosscut archive image.

Osama bin Laden justified terror as a religious act approved by God.

The scolds tell us not to party. What's their problem?

Happy about Osama bin Laden's death? For many people, it's "Yes, but..."

I think Americans should allow themselves to take some satisfaction in his death. It's a good thing.

No, it doesn't fix all the problems of the world, nor end terrorism, but it's a victory. Enjoy it while you can.

That doesn't mean you have to celebrate on the streets like sports rioters who've won a soccer championship. But take some time to feel the pleasure of justice served, of a mission actually accomplished. Let it be a little uncomplicated.

There are many who are determined not to enjoy victory at all. 

On the right, the Birther crowd is joining the Arab street in giving birth to the Deather movement: Show us the head of Osama Bin Laden before we'll believe (not that we ever will). 

It galls the American right wing that Obama did what George W. Bush could not. For them, the death of bin Laden is a defeat in the greater war of sliming their political opponents. Obama is supposed to be an alien Muslim mole, not an effective Commander-in-Chief. When the president fails to follow the script, twist the facts and change the subject!

On the left, we get hints of moral equivalency. Check in with Democracy Now for downer commentary that runs along these lines: Bin Laden killed civilians, the U.S.A. kills babies every day. Don't celebrate until the world stops killing babies. And to stop the baby killers, we need a revolution: America, make like Tunisia!

If the standard for celebrating is that you can't do it until all the world's woes are solved, you might as well put away the confetti. By then the ice cream will have long melted, or hell will have frozen over.

Many commentators believe we should react to bin Laden's death with a somber demeanor. It's time for moody reflection because:

Gitmo is still open…

The war on terror continues…

The Caliphate is in the offing…

More terrorists will rise up in his place…

We're still in Afghanistan…

Obama's just doing the work of empire…

And what about the national debt?…

CNN asked religious leaders whether it's right to celebrate bin Laden's death. (Answer: No.) If you have to ask whether it's OK to celebrate, the air is already out of the balloons.

Over at Salon, the commentators are not only somber, but they think the celebrants are a sign that bin Laden has in fact already won. Says David Sirota:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. 

And Glen Greenwald:

Does hunting down Osama bin Laden and putting bullets in his skull really "remind us that we can do whatever we set our mind to"? Is that really "the story of our history"? That seems to set the bar rather low in terms of national achievement and character.

Can you seriously argue, looking at American history, that we showed no signs of bloodlust before Osama bin Laden turned us into a population that has hit a new low by celebrating a clear military victory? I guess the folks who cheered the ending of WWII were actually just cheering the end of the summer. So too the bell ringers who celebrated Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

Indeed, Americans have celebrated victories that weren't even victories. Unless those weren't Americans applauding the slaughter of innocents at places like Wounded Knee, or who crowded to watch lynchings and public executions.

Some commentators apparently yearn for an America that never was, and blame bin Laden for shaping the American psyche centuries before he was born. American history — world history — is full of violence, and acts of self-defense. Some are celebrated, some are reviled, many are lost to memory. But there is nothing particularly unusual in feeling good about defeating enemies, let alone seeing a confessed serial mass murderer — one who was proud of what he did and fully intended to do it again — get his just deserts.

Executing Ted Bundy didn't put an end to serial killers, but it did happily end the career of one really sadistic one.

Bin Laden has paid the price, and that success has helped justify the sacrifices so many others have made.

It's not the end of the story, but it's a part of the arc of history that deserves more than scoldings, somber brooding, and denial of reality, at least for a few days.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.