It’s been almost an entire day since the bin Laden news broke, pretty much an eternity as far as the 24/7 news cycle goes. I can’t offer any original commentary, so instead I’ll just share my personal experience.
I went to sleep early last night and found out about the raid this morning, so people had already been reacting for roughly eight hours as I was just processing it. First and foremost, I was deeply confused by and uncomfortable with the scenes of cheering across American cities and campuses, and then – though I’m ashamed to admit it – I felt fear. We in the U.S. are always vulnerable, but the raid and the response instill new vigor into those who wish us harm and will act to that end.
The exuberant cheering, to me, was clearly reminiscent of bin Laden sympathizers behaving the same way in the wake of 9/11. This Salon article summed up my feelings, and as such, I posted it to Facebook with the accompanying quote ”This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory — he has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed.” About a minute passed before someone responded with this piece from the Washington Post, along with the quote “Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order. We got him.”
Of course, it’s nothing new for citizens to call each other out on patriotism (and I assume that was the intent of the aforementioned response) when we disagree. But I don’t think I will ever be someone that can celebrate violence, regardless of its purported justification. I was a senior in high school when 9/11 happened, and I remember the deep hatred I felt for Osama bin Laden viscerally. Still, I could never picture myself killing him (and that actually is something I asked myself to think about at the time). I don’t count myself toward the “we” in “we got him.”
In a culture that undeniably glorifies violence, I understand why people feel patriotic about successful special ops missions of this ilk. It’s sexy. It’s the stuff of million-dollar action movies. It’s the good guys versus the bad guys, and the good guys are always right and they always win.
But I can’t relate to that patriotism. My patriotism concerns the boring stuff of everyday life, the stuff that makes America a generally pleasant place for me to live. Good schools. Paved roads. Parks and green spaces. It’s decidedly unsexy. Still, I wish these things got more attention than a gory shootout. Maybe if they did, more citizens could share in the relatively privileged experiences of my American livelihood, and they would cease to be privileged experiences at all.