Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden's strangely exhilirating death

As I write this, it is technically Monday morning, still Sunday night by my standards. News of Osama bin Laden's discovery and subsequent take-down is still less than 4-hours-old. It is impossible for everything to have sunk in yet, or to have looked at this from every angle, but I feel it is important to take down these thoughts as people in Washington D.C. and New York City -- both places to which I am deeply tied -- take to the streets in celebration of the news.

Osama bin Laden indirectly shaped the lives of what I can easily speculate as millions of Americans over the last 10 years, a number that can only continue to grow as time passes and his actions continue their ramifications. He inspired patriotism and bigotry, sorrow and relief and united the nation in a way that no one else in my lifetime has, and never before have I felt the combination of emotions that I now feel because of the death of another person.

The death of bin Laden could not have happened any other way, or at least in any better way for me. He was found in what the television news has been calling a "mansion," and was reported to have been taken down by living Navy SEALs -- not a drone plane or a sheet of dropped bombs -- as directed by the United States President, with cooperation from Pakistan.

The "mansion" makes me feel like he was living in "better-than-cave" conditions during his hiding. I had talked myself into believing that "at least he is stuck in some miserable dank lightless pit" was good enough while he was on the run, but knowing his conditions were better actually made his death feel even better. (Which feels a little weird.)

I also enjoy the idea that there is a man out there in the SEALs who pulled the trigger for an entire vengeful nation. It was not a mindless machine who did the job, but someone who embodies that which so many otherwise completely sane people wanted to do.

On top of all that, our president and national spokesman came out looking good and strong for being on top of and approving of the raid that resulted in the take-down. All this came with the help and support of Pakistan, whom so many of us had been weary about.

Yesterday, I did not want bin Laden dead. I felt like I needed an explanation, or to see him without the power that comes with being an evil specter. This would have made a difference, much like Lee Harvey Oswalt's testimony would probably have made a difference in our historical opinion of him and his motives. I hate black and white, absolute good and evil, yet with bin Laden being dead, he is the most complete large-scale embodiment of that within the culture of my generation, and I think I am fine with that. I guess I just needed it to be concluded.

There is also a part of me, a part that I want to suppress but will not pretend is not there, that feels really good that bin Laden went down in a firestorm. I like it from a military standpoint, from a pride standpoint and from a vindication standpoint.

In the early days of my own military career, I wondered what it would be like to have the opportunity to be the one who could deliver the message to bin Laden that so many had for him. I never came close to getting the chance. That mission would clearly be reserved for better Marines, or as it turned out, the Navy SEALs. Regardless of who accomplished it, the celebrations suggest it was something that we needed to be done more than we had previously let on.

The violence seems fitting though, as bin Laden is best known for orchestrating violence of his own, for (what seem to me) to be worse reasons than revenge. A firefight in this case wass an equal-ground fight that bin Laden knew was coming. He had 10 years to prepare, and we killed him on his own turf. There initially appears to be no back-stabbing or rule-breaking on the part of the American forces, and that also makes his death feel better. I would have been disappointed if, as I first assumed when I first the news, bin Laden had been killed in a carpet-bombing because we guessed that he was in a particular area. That would have been more impersonal, and not fitting for the end.

There I mentioned "the end", but I guess it is not. Tonight, I called Tyler Ogden, a local veteran with whom I served, for a reaction quote for the printed Saratogian coverage. Were it not for an outing a few weeks ago, I hadn't seen him in almost four years. I called Dan Ollies and Jason Huggins, guys who saw much more of the tragedy of human existence than myself. Huggins is still active duty, and because I was unable to get in touch with him, I do not know what the day's events mean for his future deployment schedule. I scoured Facebook to get reactions from Marines I haven't talked to in what feels like forever, and all of them, between their humor and confidence, still gave off the same underlying sense of happiness and relief.

Yet this does not mean that the active duty guys will all be called home tomorrow. If anything, there is more reason to be on the alert, as the news has told me that vows from followers have been made to retaliate in the event of bin Laden's death. Today feels like a win, and we should celebrate, but tomorrow is business as usual. The world does not actually change overnight.

Before I joined The Saratogian, I had been an after-school counselor in Salem, Ma. While there I worked with kids mostly ranging from 2nd to 5th grade. Many of those kids were born after the towers fell, and all of them are too young to remember the tragedy. To them, bin Laden had always been perceived as some evil man, filled with hate, and they did not have the same grasp of what the nation went through together, since they weren't really there. Other counselors had shared the sentiment with me that they felt that the kids had been raised in a completely different plane of being, and perhaps that is true. I hope that those kids are in touch enough with the collective emotions of the older people around them to feel, albeit perhaps vicariously, the heft of the weight that feels lifted for the rest of us.

Tonight has been a bit surreal, and in the hour that I have been writing, I have felt myself think on a few occasions, "Did that really just happen?" The news broke late during an innocent Mets-Phillies game (which became a patriotic event in its own right), while Zach Wallens and I were neck-deep in computer problems, trying to put together the sports section. I immediately called our online editor, Emily Donahue, and the night was run on adrenalin from there on. At one point during the excitement, I told Zach, "When I grow up, I want to be a journalist."

There was simply no better place to be in Saratoga Springs than the news room tonight. Barb and Angela came in and oversaw the new cover, and Zach and I became overly eager to do anything we could to help and be a part of the night's bustle. In the end, we probably didn't help make the news that much, but shared the feeling of being a small part of something that united the nation.

Later it was drinks and collecting our thoughts. I thought that for all of its pitfalls, I was glad to be a member of the media tonight, as it will be a night that I will never forget.


Blogger Eli said...

Thanks for all of your candid thoughts Matt, it was really great to read.

May 2, 2011 at 8:00 AM 

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