Dancing in the Streets
May 2, 2011 3 Comments
First of all, if you were in New York or Washington on 9/11, I won’t begrudge you one bit if today you hoist back a couple — or a couple of dozen.
And if you lost family or friends that day, I won’t mind one bit if you’re walking a little taller and feeling a little lighter.
But I’m not sure where I stand on the folks climbing trees in front of the White House or spontaneously breaking into “The Star-Spangled Banner” on subway trains.
Someone responsible for a horrible thing has paid the ultimate price, and for that there should be no mourning. But as I see crowds gathering waving flags and dancing and cheering, I can’t help but think back to those same images coming from the Middle East in the wake of 9/11, and how it incensed us, how we wondered what sort of people would take such glee in the suffering of others.
I mean, I get it. We as a country haven’t had much to celebrate lately. Sure, there were plenty of us who rejoiced when Obama was elected, but that victory has dimmed in the harsh light of partisanship and sheer stubbornness. So I can understand the need to cheer something, anything, that makes us feel good about ourselves. And if you break it down to a pure operational level, this is nothing but pure win for our special forces. They found their target, created a plan, and executed it to precision. Kudos to all those involved, and may you never have to buy a drink again in your lives.
But the celebration isn’t really on that level. It doesn’t feel like an appreciation of American skill and ability, but pure glee in the bloodletting. We’re not celebrating what the death of Bin Laden stands for, but simply the death itself. It’s the kind of cheering you do when Rocky is beating up Drago at the end of Rocky IV. I’m not quite sure I’m okay with that. And I wish the reactions I’m seeing were just as conflicted, instead of being so black and white in their red white and blue.
Some will point to the massive celebrations at the end of World War II, but this is completely different. We haven’t been rationing gas or collecting scrap rubber or buying war bonds. In fact, despite having American troops overseas for the better part of ten years, we haven’t really sacrificed here at home the way they did during WWII. There’s been no real “war effort” on our part. And honestly, Al Qaeda is nowhere near the threat to the world Nazi Germany was. V-E Day was a true victory over the forces of evil, a dark shroud being lifted from the world. There’s no such finality here. It’s one man whose despicable act pretty much guaranteed he’d never be able to show his face again, and whose own organization admits he hasn’t been in a real leadership role for years. It’s a symbolic victory, if an undeniably cathartic one.
I’d love it if people would watch Munich today. That’s another story of a horrible act and the horrible justice meted out for it. Of how that justice, while satisfying on some primal eye-for-an-eye level, is just another turn of the wheel that’s been turning for far too long. And now maybe some angry young man somewhere in Asia is watching us celebrate our victory, and seeing it as a great evil, and wondering how to bring justice to us for what we’ve done.
Clarence Darrow said, in a quote that’s sure to reach critical mass over the next couple of days, and which is widely mis-attributed to Mark Twain, “I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”* I’d like to see added to that, “And then wondered why.” Let’s at least take the time to consider why we’re celebrating, and what those reasons say about us. And if that’s a message we want the world to see.
*This was originally written attributing the quote to Twain, but a friend on Facebook mentioned Darrow as the source, and after some research, it turns out he was right: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Clarence_Darrow