Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Victory, But Few Spoils

Well, it's over.

The War on Terror finally achieved it's main goal last night. Osama bin Laden, international terrorist, orchestrator of the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil, and international face of evil, is dead. Killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan last night. It's a strange feeling. He's dead. He's gone. The dragon is slain. The bogeyman banished. The mission is finally accomplished.

So...now what?

In a weird way, I almost wish he were captured alive. I'm not sorry he's dead, by any means. An enemy of my country has been dealt with, and that is satisfying. But part of me wishes he'd been caught instead. Brought before an international court to answer for his crimes. That is the way civilized countries deal with their enemies, after all. But perhaps his crimes made him beyond redemption. Or perhaps the risk of making him a martyr, proselytizing from a prison cell, was too great. But that argument is moot now. What remains now is to ponder what this means, and where to go from here.

I remember where I was when the Twin Towers fell. I was working at property management office in Watertown. We'd just opened for business, and then down came the word. There was so much confusion; no one was quite sure what had happened. Was this an accident? Was this an attack? An attack from whom? And would there be more to come? It was a scary time, not feeling quite real. In a way, ten years later, it still doesn't feel quite real. Maybe because I was fortunate enough to not have lost any loved ones; I was able to distance myself emotionally from the tragedy. Maybe it was just too BIG to get my head around. The World Trade Center of New York City. Very much a symbol of America's wealth and power. Three thousand people. All gone in a matter of minutes. It was hard to accept. Why did this happen? Who could hate us so much?

Of course that was what the 1990s were all about: dealing with the aftermath of the Cold War. Coming to realize that the world had just gotten a lot more complicated. Instead of one great evil empire to haunt the American imagination, now we had dozens of small, unfriendly states, about which we frankly knew little. That had always been America's greatest weakness: our self-importance. Our willful ignorance about the outside world. We had been a fortunate nation, after all. We had a long history of isolationism, and we could afford it too. North America is a continent, in large part, divided up among nations that are geographically large, politically stable, and relatively friendly toward one another. There hasn't been a major conflict in North America since the Civil War, really (unless you count the Spanish-American War, which was largely fought on the sea). We were spared the horrors of war that Europe and Asia saw for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. We were permitted to grow, culturally and economically, largely unmolested, only being dragged into World Wars as a last resort. We could afford to choose NOT to fight, because we were geographically isolated from the rest of the world. In a way 9/11 was a wake-up call. This wasn't the 20th Century any more. The United States could no longer be an island unto itself. It shook us out of our complacency.

And now, ten years and a few drastic missteps later, that act of terror has been avenged. Again, it's hard to know how to feel. To be honest, I had given up hope that he would ever be found. He would probably die in a cave in the mountains and no one would ever know. That he could be found, and killed, had never crossed my mind in the slightest. Again, maybe it's because I was never affected personally by the attacks. Or maybe I just don't feel right taking pleasure in the death of another human being, no matter how evil. I don't feel joy, or even relief. Just a cold satisfaction, knowing he will never hurt another soul on this earth. And I cannot denigrate that. But I can ponder what comes next.

It's naive to think, of course, that now the war is over. That the snake will die with its head cut off. There are many snakes, and they have many heads. The fact that bin Ladin managed to remain hidden for so long - and the fact that he was found, not in a cave, but in a nice house in a Pakistani suburb - is proof enough that the job is not done. So many people admired him. So many people hate America. And the death of this symbolic leader will not change that. The consequences of this act remain to be seen. Will there be a resurgence of terrorism in revenge? Or will the Al-Qaeda network finally fall apart without its leader? It's too soon to know.

But what is known now, is that a victory has been won in the War on Terror. It may only be a symbolic one, but it is a victory nonetheless. And I shall not denigrate it.

God Bless the Troops. God Bless America.