Saturday, May 14, 2011

Osama bin Laden Never Scared Me

Last night I came across part of an episode of This American Life. It's a conversation with a college student, Lexi Belculfine, who was one of thousands of Penn State students who took to the streets in celebration after announcement of Osama bin Laden's death. This celebration is something the interviewer, and myself, have struggled to understand. The student explained that people currently under thirty experienced 9/11 in a very different way than people over thirty today. To them bin Laden was the boogeyman who convinced a generation that they weren't as safe as their parents said they were.

I'm under thirty and I didn't have that reaction. When my wife called me and told me they found Osama bin Laden, I couldn't wait to watch the trial. To see what I saw when they captured Saddam Hussein. A sad old man who lived in a hole with his tired eyes and shabby beard. But when my wife called me the second time to say they killed him I was a little disheartened. I didn't understand why until I listened to the Penn State student's story. Unlike Lexi, I was never scared of bin Laden. I think it's a combination of 1) being in a mid-sized southern town, far away from NYC, DC, and the eyes of terrorists and 2) my general lack of empathy. For me, 9/11 was sad, in the same way the earthquake in Haiti was sad and the tsunami in Japan was sad.

And I wanted that for everyone else. I wanted them to see just how sad, tired, and foolish bin Laden was. I wanted the world, east and west, to agree that he was a terrible man whose plan on 9/11 actually failed miserably at it's goal of getting America to stop meddling the affairs of the Middle East. He was not a shadowy figure, but a self-righteousness propagandist. I'm not convinced the vengeful feelings of satisfaction are helpful. I don't think we should celebrate the death of America's scariest enemy. I think we should recognize that he was never that scary to begin with.

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