The Corner

Justice, and Our National Character


Having spent a blessed Sunday off the grid, I woke to the wonderful news. And it was wonderful news in so many ways — that justice was done against one of the great criminals of our time (he was not a “soldier” in a “war”; he was a murderer of innocents, and thus a common criminal, whose misdeeds were great enough to merit for him the end of a noose); that, in a time of poisonous political hate here in the U.S., all Americans can unite in a common celebration of that justice; and that the president of the United States took this great occasion to remind us all of some deeper American values, echoing President Bush in telling us that we are not at war with Islam, and that “[Osama’s] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

Most Americans, myself very much included, have been unhappy with President Obama’s performance in office in a number of regards. But on this day, I join everyone in saying, “Good work, Mr. President, thanks — and we’re proud of you.”  

Some well-chosen words from Ross Douthat:

This is a triumph for the United States of America, for our soldiers and intelligence operatives, and for the president as well. But it is not quite the triumph that it would have seemed if bin Laden had been captured a decade ago, because those 10 years have taught us that we didn’t need to fear him and his rabble as much as we did, temporarily but intensely, in the weeks when ground zero still smoked.

They’ve taught us, instead, that whatever blunders we make (and we have made many), however many advantages we squander (and there has been much squandering), and whatever quagmires we find ourselves lured into, our civilization is not fundamentally threatened by the utopian fantasy politics embodied by groups like Al Qaeda, or the mix of thugs, fools and pseudointellectuals who rally around their banner.

They can strike us, they can wound us, they can kill us. They can goad us into tactical errors and strategic blunders. But they are not, and never will be, an existential threat.

FDR told us we have nothing to fear but fear itself. He was right, back then — but in recent years there has been cause for worry that we might no longer have the strength of character to resist the forces of fear. Yesterday, America proved that we still have, deep within, that strength of character; is it too much to hope that we can call upon that, in our struggle with problems that are more prosaic, but actually pose a greater threat to our survival than the bin Ladens of the world?


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