First Person: Childish joy is subsumed by national pride

As bin Laden’s demise sinks in, simplistic "Ding dong, Osama’s dead" gives way to deeper sense of justice done, challenges ahead.

situation room watching bin laden raid_311 reuters (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
situation room watching bin laden raid_311 reuters
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
NEW YORK – The killing of Osama bin Laden has brought twin surges of emotion and contemplation to Americans, with responses to the news ranging from jubilant optimism to self-scrutiny and the contemplation of an uncertain future.
The most simplistic reaction to the news that the mastermind of the September 11 attacks had met his end has been one of childish joy. “Ding dong, Osama’s dead!” played in the background at a New Jersey Dunkin’ Donuts, for instance, to the tune of the Wizard of Oz’s “Ding dong, the witch is dead.”
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To many, word of the al- Qaida chief’s killing seemed similar to that news from the mythical Munchkinland: as though it were a miraculous event that had simply fallen from the sky, since the American public had been largely unaware of the years of intelligence work that went into the raid on the Pakistani compound.
The childish joy has been somewhat subsumed, although not entirely, by a collective surge of national pride. The horrible events of September 11, 2001, brought Americans together as well, but quite differently. As New Yorkers especially, we were united in our weeping and in our desperate hope that there was something that we could possibly do to help those who suffered. We lined up to give blood that turned out to be unneeded. We went downtown to prepare meals for rescue workers. We stood up with pride in defiance of those who wanted us to lie down and die.
In contrast, the events of May 1, 2011, bring us together with a more simple pride, rather than pride brought on by pain. Of course, we also must grapple with the fact that those who seek “closure” for the evil murders of 3,000 innocents will never find it: The wound of their loved ones’ absence, and of the violence that caused it, will always be an open and painful one.
“Justice” has proven equally visceral vigilante justice. After all, bin Laden will never know a trial before a country that prides itself on a system of constitutional law. But pride – pride in our servicemen, in our intelligence and in our leadership that made sure that bin Laden would pay for the terror he wrought on our country – is providing a conspicuous spring in the nation’s step.
Expressions of pride, of course, vary dramatically. Simplistic chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and fist-bumps are fairly juvenile. While they are timid expressions of deep emotion, surely even the chanters and fistbumpers themselves are aware that they are inherently inadequate, even outside the White House or at Ground Zero. They don’t reflect well on the dignity of our nation.
Equally importantly, such expressions don’t adequately reflect the ambivalence of many in celebrating a death of any kind – even the death of someone so evil. One caller to an NPR radio show in New York said she wanted to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death, but then was reminded of her own horror at hearing of Palestinian children dancing and celebrating in the West Bank upon hearing of the September 11 terror attacks, and felt a keen wave of revulsion course through her instead.
As Americans, many of us feel there is something inherently “off” about celebrating over having killed a man; that reverence for the value of human life, after all, is what differentiates us from the terrorists. But, in a paraphrase of the great American jurist Clarence Darrow, we read bin Laden’s obituary with great pleasure. Many fear that reprisals will follow, but the prospect of reprisals, if attendant with the United States not succumbing to the terror of terrorists, may be inevitable. Hopefully, our national resolve, strengthened by bin Laden’s death, will help us stand straighter in the face of those who would murder innocent people and spit in the face of democracy and human rights.
Hopefully, our new surge of pride will help us to rededicate ourselves to being the best of ourselves as a nation, and to remember what being American truly means.
Or, as Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles posted on his Facebook page: “In some ways evil is more potent than good: One traffic accident jams the freeway for hours; one cruel act destroys so many painstakingly built lives. So we must rededicate ourselves to what Wordsworth called ‘The best portion of a good man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.’”