One year ago, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan at the hand of US forces. Read this New Yorker piece for the best account of that mission. In light of this event, Americans took to the streets. One of America's greatest tactical military victories was celebrated with some of the worst intentions. Here is an essay filed a year ago today, discussing the celebrations that sprang up on hallowed ground. Republished with permission from Mike-Anton.com.
Crowds gathered last night outside the White House and the former site of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in jubilation, echoing other famous military-based fêtes throughout our history. I’m sure people of an older generation saw the photos in their newspaper today (as it's doubtful the majority were giving a late night check of their Twitter feeds) and were reminded of V-J Day, when throngs of war-weary Americans took to Times Square to celebrate victory over the Japanese and with it the conclusion of World War II. Brian Williams saw all of the kids flooding college campuses across the nation as an inverted callback to the anti-war protests during the '60s and '70s.
To me, the footage of all those young kids in large groups reminded me of baseball.
My freshman year at Boston University coincided with the first Red Sox World Series victory in 86 years. But before they slew that historical demon, they first had to get past their hated rivals -- my favorite team -- the New York Yankees. The Sox did so in grand, historic fashion, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win four straight games, take the seven game series, and head to that aforementioned World Series win. For many kids -- a good number from the New England area -- this was a huge, epic event in their lives, one their grandparents had waited their entire lives to see. They took to Kenmore Square, a busy intersection just outside Fenway Park, to celebrate en mass.
But for a good deal of others, it was merely an excuse to go outside and riot. And yes, I mean "riot.” Upon returning (I did not go out; I was in mourning) my friends, coincidentally fans of both the Sox and destruction, regaled me of stories of broken storefront glass sprinkled all over the streets, people climbing street lamps and falling onto heaps of their fellow revelers. They even bragged about how one tear gas canister actually hit one of them in the foot!. All of this was captured on their digital cameras, a binary replica of their involvement in the Great Riots that they could proudly show off to their grandchildren on their future Facebook profiles.
Last night, scores of college kids emptied out of their dorms to congregate outside the White House and near Ground Zero, looking to quite literally dance on a man’s grave. It was a striking visual, all of those people out there celebrating the death of another, bizarrely mirroring the footage of people from an Arab country that I cannot for the life of me remember (but, for these purposes, does not exactly matter) celebrating the attacks on 9/11 by dancing in the streets. It was one of those indelible images -- like the second tower getting hit in profile or the stanchion for one of the towers barely left standing -- that sticks in my craw. Thinking about it right now gets me raw all over again.
In years since, the veracity of that specific piece of footage has been challenged, but someone was happy that America was attacked. And it wasn’t because they hate our democracy or our constitution or our freedom. They specifically hate our culture. Our sex-crazed, binge-drinking, Jersey Shore-loving, godless culture. They view us as a monolithic social and political machine that batters down all other cultures through military or financial measures, pushing these edicts of debauchery-as-freedom on others, regardless of how they feel about it. We mistook bin Laden declaring war on “America” as our country. Instead, he called for a jihad on all that America stands for culturally: a godless cesspool that holds nothing sacred.
Our reactions last night did little to challenge this idea to his followers. Around 2:00 AM, MSNBC threw to a live remote at Ground Zero, the hallowed ground baptized with the blood of nearly 3,000 victims, from civilians to firefighters, EMTs, and police officers who died while fulfilling their civic duty. And on that ground had gathered a large group of people, mostly college-aged, congregating at the site of the attacks to celebrate the death of the man responsible. Wonderfully apropos. The reporter decided that it was a good time to interview some of the revelers.
The video can be found here. People behind the reporter scream. He tries to explain the atmosphere which is shockingly ebullient. As he tries to find the proper words to describe what’s going on, he stumbles out “it’s really a very…an unusual night that’s…that’s that’s very bizarre for Ground Zero.” He turns to address the crowd, asking, “you’re all students, right?” and they, in unison, cheer “YEEEAAAAHHHH!” as if they were tweens waiting outside a Justin Bieber concert. As he turns to interview one specific girl, the crowd cheers and “WHOOOOOOs” their little hearts out. He turns to one girl, adorned in a Pace University sweatshirt (they have to love that), as various others try to crowd the shot.
The girl is asked, “how do you feel about what’s happened here?” evidently making light of the actions at Ground Zero, not about Osama bin Laden’s death. But no matter. With her arms gesticulating up and down (a cell phone in her right hand, no doubt warning friends and family members to turn on MSNBC in 3…2…1…) she responds, “I feel GREAT right now!” reminiscent of many a drunken college girl I’ve encountered in my educational travels. Also, on an early Monday morning during finals week.
Someone bum rushes the mic and offers, “America needs this!” as the reporter asks a simple follow up of, “Why [do you feel great right now]?” She gives a perplexed look, as she somehow did not see this obvious follow-up question coming, and with her arms all akimbo, says, “…It’s AMERICA! It’s time to party right now! He’s DEEEEEAD!” before lifting her arms and letting loose with yet another “WHOOOO!!!” as the crowd happily cheers in chorus.
One can only imagine how clips like those, newspaper headlines like this, giddy, rapturous dance songs like this one, or reactions to being among the revelers like this wearing shirts like this will be digested across the world, specifically amongst those most in line with bin Laden’s perverse teachings. This goes beyond fodder; it actually confirms to them that they’re right. If we can’t treat Ground Zero like the hallowed ground it is, what the hell can we respect?
Last night was a celebration, and for the life of me, I can’t think what it was for. It seemed like we were at a victory parade, as if killing one prominent member of one specific terror group that still has thousands upon thousands of active members wins the “war on terror.” It seemed like justice had been served, but the towers are still gone and families are still torn asunder. It seemed like vanquishing a boogieman, as President Obama claims “that the world is a safer place,” even though I’m infinitely more scared now than I did 18 hours ago, hell, then in the last couple of years combined. [Ed. note - phew.] It seemed like a triumph, that we had somehow drawn even, the scoreboard reading US 1 – 1 TER, as if the cycle won’t start anew.
But that score does not matter compared to other numbers, like the roughly 3,000 people who perished in the attacks on September 11th. Or the 1,500 US service men and women killed overseas fighting to avenge those deaths. In doing so, some 30,000 Afghanis have perished as well, a mix of innocents, maniacs, women, children, and warlords. After last night’s events, add four more men and one women to the count. Oh, and the war drum to go into Pakistan was being beaten as of 2 AM last night, as its government was harboring known terrorists, much like the Taliban were in Afghanistan. Not to mention the potential world-wide response to bin Laden’s death.
Now I know what we’re celebrating: a larger pile of bodies.