I made a special effort to listen to yesterday's broadcast of The World, my favorite radio program, as I wanted to listen to as much commentary and reflection on the death of Osama bin Laden as I could. Sunday night became a sweeping stretch: hours of news broadcasts, Twitter basically exploding with records numbers of tweets over a sustained period, and I was far too alert to go to sleep. But as I sped across some of my favorite blogs and news sites, there wasn't enough being said yet, enough valuable perspective to help digest all of what his death means for the world and our country and the wars we are fighting, so I headed to bed. But we are fighting two wars that began after al Queda sent two planes speeding into the World Trade Center towers back in September of 2001, as well as one into the Pentagon, and one that failed to make it to the White House, but still claimed the lives of its passengers. So this is a significant war-time event, as well as a reminder of the sadness and shock, and the anger, that arose from American people and the families of victims in the wake of the attacked ten years ago. It merits continued reflection now.
The most important reflection to make is that this is another, a continued, act of war, and bin Laden is another body added to the count. He was a man with extreme views, and who inflicted an immense amount of pain upon others during his lifetime, and that is never acceptable. As a wanted enemy of the United States during wartime, he has been in hiding for nearly a decade, because he knew his fate, and he has received it. But he is another dead, and it is more important, to me, to think about the American lives that have been lost in waging this war against the extremists that bin Laden represented--as he was indeed the personification, the face, of the enemy we have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for ten years.
So on The World's broadcast, the first show to air after the news of his death, several things brought about the kind of sentiment that best reflects what I am feeling at this time, only part of a wide spectrum of emotions across the United States. The first addresses the issue of killing bin Laden, rather than bringing him to trial. Who better to ask than a lawyer, and one who has stood as a top legal figure for the United States.
Show anchor Lisa Mullins interviewed Ted Olson, former solicitor general under President Bush, whose wife Barbara died on American Airlines Flight 77, the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Lisa Mullins: You're a former solicitor general, under President George W. Bush, a man who respects the rule of law and justice. Do you think it would have been better to apprehend and bring to trial bin Laden, versus killing him outright?
Olson: No I don't think so at all. I think that the courageous individuals that went in there in this operation, they had to move quickly and execute quickly. Secondly, this isn't a matter of a criminal trial, this was a matter of a declaration of war against the United States and United States citizens, and you bring that war to a conclusion as quickly as you possibly can. And there wasn't any doubt about what Osama bin Laden had done, there was never any doubt about his goals for continuing to inflict that kind of devastation and misery upon, not just the American people, but people all over the world. It had to be brought to and end.
His answer echoes sentiments I have, as in high-stakes war situations, I want our military men to do what they need to carry out their mission and protect themselves to the extent each case allows. This does not mean sacrifice is absent, but I trust the training they have received to respond with their best judgement in extreme and critical situations.
The same feeling comes from later remarks from former army captain Matt Thompson, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, when he spoke to Lisa Mullins. It has been a long war for our men, in the desert, searching for an enemy and trying to bring resolve, and no matter your thoughts on our intentions, our motives, our involvement, or invasion in the Mid-East, you have to think of our military operatives doing their job--staking out complicated nations, that comes down to spending a lot of time in the hot desert with sand permanently in all crevices. And for those who have served there, I imagine this is exactly how they reacted to the news that Target Number 1 has been apprehended and taken down.
Lisa Mullins: I wonder if there is a part of you, when you heard the news about bin Laden, that thought, well, you know, why couldn't that have happened when I was in Afghanistan?
Thompson: Right, no, absolutely, I mean, I think all of us wish we were on that mission. I think everyone that puts on the uniform wishes that they were on that mission, and had a chance to take the shot, especially people like me, that have been, you know, spent countless hours searching him out in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A death is a death, and it is no small measure to remember that every life is a human soul, one that harbored potential for good and evil both. I am barely able to look at photos of bin Laden now, as they flash all over the news prints and websites and televisions, because I see into his eyes and despair over the evil and hatred that exists in this world, and that pervaded his mind and lead him to commit terrible acts against others. I have complicated emotions about his death. But it is, as Olson said, "a matter of a declaration of war," and so I am happy that we have moved forward, closer to resolution, as a nation who has been battling in, and over, the events of September 11 for ten remarkably tricky, confusing, complex years. My own ambivalence towards our battles continues to grow more gnarly and fills with greater inherent contradiction.