How do we appreciate that Bin Laden is gone without celebrating the act of killing? In fact, it is not as hard as it might seem. We have to, first, take into account that there might have actually been little other choice given the circumstances. Those who would question what happened last weekend in Pakistan seem to imagine that we live in a perfect world, that we can arrange all necessary options to make certain our actions not only are justified, but they are some how pure and beyond any questioning.
This was a hostile action in a hostile situation against a man who was recorded on video tape bragging about 9-11, 2001. As such, he proved himself to be a man without any concern for human life, even that of his fellow Muslims whom he participated in killing on 9-11 and on other occasions. What were American forces supposed to do, knock on the door and ask him politely to come out? Drop leaflets inside the compound telling him to surrender?
There was no perimeter of force around the compound. There were no police cars surrounding, waiting take him into custody. The greatest fear had to be that he would escape and then record dozens of taunting messages inviting more attacks on Americans and other westerners. There was also no telling what he or anyone else in the compound would do if allowed to move about. It was a safe assumption that the house could have been wired with massive explosives designed to kill everyone, including his apparent wives and children, instantly.
War is about killing, or have we lost sight of that fact in the urge to question everything, often merely for the momentary power a question can bring? It is not a pretty business, nor is it a happy one. Let's not forget this: terrorism is a "no front" war, which means that the terrorists have opened themselves to being attacked in the same manner that they attack: anywhere, at any time.
No one would question Bin Laden being shot on a battlefield. Why should we question him being shot inside his battlefield command station? What principle, moral or otherwise, gives him any sort of immunity from attack? The only principle I can imagine applying would be the right to peacefully surrender and he gave up that right over the last nine years. He showed he had no intention of surrender. The United States, on which he declared unlimited war against civilian targets, would have accepted his surrender at anytime. He chose not to surrender.
The new video tapes of Bin Laden released by the U.S. government Saturday make clear that he had met one of the worst fates of a young man with radical intentions: he had become an old man, aged in every way, locked inside a prison of his own making, even while he yet dreamed of another big strike and relived 2001. Let me see: which channel am I on? Oh, not that one. Okay, here's something about me. No, I think I will watch another one. Maybe they have more about my plots and planning. Like half the bored male population of America, channel surfing.
A failed radical is a terrible thing to behold and you can see that in the video where bin Laden is switching channels, his white haired beard sticking out the side. In video recordings made to intimidate and “inspire”, his beard is dyed a phony shade of black. Of course, he rose to a degree of prominence in the Arab world as a young man and it can’t be easy changing into an old man in hiding from the people he bragged he would destroy. It makes one wonder why the U.S. government got away with conflating the threat of terrorism for so long with so few dissenting voices.
Doug Terry, 5.9.11
A footnote: Throughout world history, the business of killing and war has been celebrated by the victorious and mourned by the losers. General Patton, of WW II fame, praised “the white hot joy of taking human life”, just as have many military men before and since in different words. The truth of killing and the pleasure men often take in it is among the secret truths known to the military and its adherents and generally kept away from broader public knowledge.
Historically, the most celebrated figures have been those who defeated others by killing, taking and destroying. That we should, in the first decades of the 21st century, decide to question the killing of a man dedicated to killing us and destroying our nation is a rather strange turn. It reflects, perhaps, how uncomfortable we have become with our role in the world of the imposer of order, a role the U.S. has tried to play since the end of WW II. It also reflects, I think, our national immaturity and the wishy washy thinking that occurs when people are very comfortable and believe they can live well without making hard choices. It is this kind of weakness of mind and action that bin Laden thought he could exploit, in fact, to destroy us.