Preference for a More Confident Nation
There’s been some conversation in the comment sections suggesting that there’s something contrary to American culture in street celebrations over Osama bin Laden’s death, particularly to the extent that they involved effigies and burning pictures. Acknowledgement that a milestone has been reached and justice meted in an individual case is certainly appropriate, but the attitude that ought to underlie it, to my mind, is of steely resolve tinged with regret that the world has come to this. The death of bin Laden will not bring back those lost on September 11 and after, in the war on terror. And it’s unlikely that, of itself, it will prove all that significant to the defeat of global terrorism perpetrated by radical Muslims.
This sentence, from an analysis by Liz Sidoti concerning the crass political repercussions of the killing, is downright chilling:
Now, in the early days of his re-election campaign, Obama is in a clear position of political strength as Americans finally are able to savor the death of the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
My understanding of America’s approach to war was that it was consciously devoid of blood lust. Whether our intention is to pursue dire national interests or help to resolve atrocities (and whether or not one believes the latter justifies our involvement in wars), we view combat operations functionally, as dirty work that must be done.
I think back to the iconic images of ticker tape parades and dancing in the street at the end of World War II, and two key aspects jump out. First, the hardship and austerity of the war were decisively over from that moment, and the troops would be coming home. Neither really applies, in this case.
Second, the emphasis of such celebrations appears through the lens of history to have been “we’ve won,” not “they’ve lost.” Burning images and savoring death are of the latter attitude, and it would be a very sinister development for it to dominate, not the least because it bespeaks a cultural insecurity. A confident nation doesn’t need revenge and isn’t so haunted by individuals who’ve done it harm that its people must dispel their ghosts with public rituals.