Following Osama bin Laden’s death, a lively debate has broken out in social media and elsewhere about the propriety of the seemingly student-led spontaneous demonstrations that erupted in Washington, in New York, and on various college campuses. Inside Higher Ed covers a bit of the debate, with some scholars “surprised to see college students celebrating violence.” In Christian circles, there’s also been concern at the exultation, with the Vatican stating:
Faced with the death of a man, a Christian does not rejoice in anything, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.
Is there something unseemly about rejoicing at a man’s death?
But is that the right question? Let’s phrase it differently. Can we celebrate justice? Can we celebrate a great victory in a long and painful war? The answer to these questions seems to be an unequivocal “yes.” When American dive bombers sank four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific, was that not a cause for celebration, in spite of thousands of lost Japanese lives? When the 101st Airborne held the line at Bastogne, was that not a cause for celebration, despite the fearful toll in German soldiers?
I did not interpret the demonstrations outside the White House or in Times Square or anywhere else as symbols of American bloodlust (indeed, this has been the least bloodthirsty war in our history) but instead as cathartic and much-needed expressions of patriotic relief and joy. Were Osama bin Laden captured, I suspect there would have also been demonstrations of joy, but minus the hand-wringing.
That hand-wringing would have come later, as we fought a long national battle over the location and circumstances of his trial. I, for one, am glad that the SEAL team relieved us of that burden.