Spoiler alert: The United States has killed Osama bin Laden.  Interesting post on the viral nature of that news from The New York Times here.  It also includes this terrifying thought on the inexorable march of time:

One Twitter user in California said her whole family was watching, including her 9-year-old child. “We’re explaining who Osama bin Laden is,” she wrote. Her child was born several months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Yeah, it’s been a while.  And I am old.  Also, newspapers now grab quotes from Twitter.  Let’s pause to let that realization sink in.

But anyway.  Here’s my take on this whole deal: yes, it’s good we got him.  But it took ten years, two wars, billions of dollars, and untold human sacrifice — to kill a man who, yes, planned the most dastardly, most deadly, most despicable attack on this country in its history; a man who, yes, founded a disgusting ideology of hate; but a man who, in recent years, was hiding.  A man who was removed from the leadership of al Qaeda, who I honestly find it hard to believe was involved in the day-to-day leadership of the organization in any meaningful form.

It’s symbolic, people say.  Symbolic of our country’s supremacy, our might, our tenacity.  We never gave up, never ceased in our vigilance, and hunted down this murderer — and even if it did take ten years, he was living in flight and (presumably) terror the entire time.  I understand that.  I really do.  It is a powerful message.

But last night, students were setting off fireworks in White Plaza.  I heard echoing chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” long into the night.  There were joyous celebrations in city streets.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, because our military just killed a man and we’re cheering like a Roman gladiatorial audience.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

‎I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.  Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

He’s right, as always.  Now, John F. Kennedy:

We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient; that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse every adversity; and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.

Not that Osama bin Laden was a problem America shouldn’t have tackled.  I think it was right to hunt him down, to bring him to justice.  I think it sets a strange precedent to have done it in Pakistan, with no to questionable involvement by Pakistani government/intelligence.  But I think that, in the wake of the current turmoil in the Middle East, this administration has realized and demonstrated JFK’s message.  We are not the policemen of the world.  And we have to use our might — military, political, economic, whatever — to help those we can, to right the wrongs we can, to do as much good as we can, while also accepting that military action is not always the right action.

The question now, as it’s been for the last decade, is what happens in Afghanistan.  Obviously I don’t have a right answer.  I think it’d be silly to leave immediately.  I think it’d be stupid to stay another ten years.  The US has to come to terms with the fact that it’s not omnipotent, and hopefully that happens sooner rather than later.  Al Qaeda is still very much a problem, very much an organization that stands for things no human being should stand for.  But does that continue to justify a war that has no real criteria for victory short of a complete annihilation of an entire ideology?

A final — and admittedly not quite fair — parting shot:  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted ten years and cost probably over a trillion dollars.  The Apollo moon landing took effectively eight years and $24 billion (starting from JFK’s speech calling for a manned mission to the moon in 1961).  Which was better for the United States?  For humanity?  For progress?



Fact checking correction – apparently the MLK quote is only half true. The real quote appears to be:

Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Similar, but less perfectly apropos. The sentiment of the quote I posted originally rings true, though.

[Thanks to Reddit and this blog post]



One comment

  1. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/05/misquotes-martin-luther-king-bin-laden-twitter.html

    “A little digging found that the second half of the quote, “Returning hate for hate…” was King, from a sermon and later from his book “Strength to Love.” But the first sentence was that of Jessica Dovey, a twenty-four-year-old American teaching in Japan. Her initial post marked out King’s words with quotation marks; early on in a global game of telephone, the quotes shifted to encompass the entire paragraph. Sometimes just the first sentence was posted—and, of course, misattributed to King.”

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