Celebrating death

Celebrating death shows lack of decorum

by Alex Edelman

On Sunday night, when the press and then President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden's life ended in a Pakistani mansion earlier that afternoon, the U.S. began to celebrate. From Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between, people took to the streets to wave American flags and cheer. Former CIA director Michael Hayden, speaking on Fox News, proclaimed it a "proud day for America."
The news was unofficial at first. It sat in the gray zone of rumor for about an hour until President Obama appeared in the White House's East Room to confirm it. Steely-eyed and confident, and perhaps reminding us of why we elected him, the president gave an appropriate and reassuring speech to notify us, in short, that an opening now appears at the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list. The president spoke in a clipped and even tone. He made the decision to go ahead with the operation sound like the right decision, made it sound like the no-brainer that it was. Though the speech was appropriate, the celebrations it spurred seemed somehow out of place. We should remember that a man is dead.
Yes, he certainly deserved to die, and it is good that he can harm no more people. Yes, he surely was a horrible man. Yes, it perhaps provides a small dose of comfort to those who still feel the loss of loved ones on September 11, 2001. But ultimately, we should be sad because a man's life has ended, and the reason we should hate that man is because he forced us to take the action to end his life. We should not rejoice in his demise because it is not something to celebrate; it is something to mourn. We mourn that it had to be done and that we had to do it and that President Obama and his team of smart and brave men had to think about taking a man's life, even if he was evil man. Do we really celebrate death? Any death? I understand that the circumstances are very different, but isn't that kind of celebration the same thing we shake our head at when we see it happening in the Gaza Strip or some nearby Arab country? Some decorum, the high road, would have been nicer.
On Twitter, in the hours after bin Laden's death, a Mark Twain quote was mentioned often: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." Sure. OK. Maybe we should take a measure of grim satisfaction in America's ability to do this, to achieve some narrative closure and justice, but that satisfaction should be tinged with the understanding that Osama's worst sin is that he made us killers. Even more apropos then the quote from Twain is a quote from former Milwaukee housewife-turned-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who told Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on Israel's behalf, "We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."
It's good to know that I'm not the only one uneasy about bin Laden's death. When the planes hit the World Trade Center, I remember watching footage of Afghani citizens, smiling... celebrating...jubilant. We Americans were exactly the same when we were notified of bin Laden's murder. We popped champagne bottles in Union Square and chanted, "Obama got Osama" in Times Square. Is execution something humans praise? It's unsettling to celebrate death, to resort to killing for protection, to think about how the world has become what it is now. 
The whole thing is really just sad.


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