The Corner

The Dumbest Reaction to Bin Laden’s Death So Far

Admittedly, I haven’t been reading all of the punditry so there may be something far worse out there, but I think David Sirota at Salon certainly opens the bidding for ahistorical b.s. nicely. He writes that the war on terror changed America into a more cruel and bloodthirsty country. Or something. An excerpt:

But in the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.

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. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say hat we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn’t cause for any positive feeling at all — it most certainly is.

But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.

When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.

Perhaps Sirota can give me a date when this nobler, better America existed? When were we the kind of country that quietly mused on the futility of violence in the immediate aftermath of a huge success in a war? Did we contemplate somberly the death of Hitler?  It seems to me that we have always been the sort of country that celebrates victories and comeuppances of this kind. That doesn’t make us like al-Qaeda or Hamas, that makes us human.

If anything, what’s different today is that we live in a country which produces more and more people like Sirota who see the killing — in battle! — of an implacable foe and murderer as a time for quiet reflection and sadness. If Sirota cannot see the difference between the myriad Islamic death cults we are at war with and our own society, it is not because there isn’t one. It is because he suffers from a nihilism all his own.


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