Politics & Media
May 03, 2011, 07:37AM

There Will Be Blood

And maybe that's okay.

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Two nights ago, thousands of Americans tuned in to hear President Obama deliver the news of the modern “shot heard round the world,” the brief and unexpected military operation that brought the age of Osama bin Laden to a bloody conclusion. I was asleep when a friend of mine called to tell me the news and I suppose (as many commentators have told me) I will always remember where I was when I heard that bin Laden had been killed. I was sitting in numb shock on my couch, unsure of what to think or feel as I watched the coverage play out on CNN.

Americans have every right to feel relieved at this news. Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly the ultimate symbol of evil of the past decade, responsible for the death of thousands and the sorrow, fear, and insoluble rage of thousands more. Before the flags rose and the nation greeted the difficulty of tomorrow, the September 11th terrorist attacks left the population brittle, broken, and powerless. Osama's death brought a sense of closure to these dark times, but is his death a reason to pop champagne?

In my home of Washington, D.C., hundreds of college students, mostly from George Washington University, flocked to the gates of the White House after Osama's death to celebrate what many saw as “a piece of history.” The overwhelming aura of this crowd, at least as depicted by local media, was one of celebration. Students at the scene described the event as “euphoric” and “refreshing.” One student, Caleb Depandaho, even boldly described the killing of bin Laden as “like 9/11.”

In a way, Depandaho is right; for many people, May 1st is the anti-September 11th. In both instances, human death was the catalyst for polarized, intensely emotional reactions. The fanfare that followed the final revenge was a way to bring the dark emotions of 2001 to a close and flip a middle finger to the man who evoked them. However, what the media fails to recognize in its coverage of the aftermath of bin Laden's death is that this celebration does not capture the true American reaction; it's the reaction of the youth.

Looking through the video coverage of the parties in Manhattan and D.C., one would be hard-pressed to find a reveler over the age of 22. The news of bin Laden's death was announced around 11 p.m. EST on Sunday evening, when most working adults are already in bed preparing for Monday morning. College students, in the period before final exams, will take just about any excuse to put off studying for an hour if it means making noise in a crowd and possibly getting on television. By spraying champagne in the streets, the gathering became more of a “happening” than a political event; the same way thousands of students did the same thing in 2008 to celebrate Obama's election, even though many had not even voted.

However, it would be entirely inaccurate to claim that the response of American youth was the result of boredom or too much free time. This reaction was what happens when someone takes down the Face of Evil.

The majority of college students in the New York and D.C. crowds were between the ages of nine and 12 when the Twin Towers crumbled in 2001. In this innocent and naïve period of these children's lives, a strange man from another country orchestrated a violent attack on thousands of people because he distinctly hated them. He then disappeared for a decade, leaving only the picture of his face on the front page of newspapers and eventually YouTube clips as a haunting reminder of what he had done to their country. Most of these children couldn't possibly fathom the politics or ideologies that contributed to such carnage. For this generation, Osama bin Laden was not a real person; he was a beast in the shadows.

In an excellent Salon article following bin Laden's death, David Sirota said:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history—the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
While this statement is wildly overdramatic, it does hint at a shift in the American youth's culture of violence since the beginning of the 21st century. In the brief period between Columbine and September 11th, Americans worried that young adults were beginning to glorify violence. Now youthful bloodlust doesn't seem to matter much as long as the good guys win in the end.

What should American's have felt after bin Laden's death? There is something deeply unsettling in watching hundreds of students cheer and dance in the street following an assassination, but perhaps this response is more justified than my paralytic disbelief. This war against terrorism is and always will be a war of ideology, and both sides will celebrate or suffer. Logic or reasoning could not have stopped Osama bin Laden. Though an incredibly intelligent man, bin Laden's hatred of America was driven by twisted ideas that diplomats or politicians could not control or suppress. When logic cannot trump hatred, maybe it's okay to dance on his grave because he certainly would have danced on ours.

  • The real troubling aspect of this celebration is what it tells us of U.S. youth. Yes, Osama was a bad man created by the U.S. military. Yes, he deserved to die. But how many of the celebrating kids can logically tell you why he should be public enemy number #1. Sure, I understand why he was public enemy #1 for the first few years after 9/11 but now? C'mon! Kim Jong Il may be able to land a nuclear missle inside the U.S. Isn't that more scary than a retired terrorist? What about Ahmendijad? He can certainly nuke Israel and has, on almost a daily basis, threatened to do so. Is he not a bigger threat than Osama? The steady decline in U.S. test scores and economy. I know that is a bigger threat to the American way of life than a retired terrorist. For the past 10 years, the U.S. has lived a bad movie plot. It has been distracted by paper thin hero's like Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, and Sara Palin and feared impotent threats like Osama (he's been hiding since 05 with no phone or internet access not involved in the daily workings of Al Queda); the manchurian candidate Obama; and an overall fear of everyone and anyone who disagrees with conventional wisdom espescially if he or she crossed the border illegally. Was killing Osama a victory, sure. But the bigger question in my mind is "was chasing Osama for ten years across three countries at a cost of over $1 trillion dollars plus distracting the U.S. from numerous current threats worth it or was this yet another pyric victory that will result in long term negative consequences that our youth are still celebrating today?"

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  • I think the celebration had a lot to do with how young the kids were when 9/11 happened, as Demian said. He was the Face of Evil, literally, for that age group. it's cathartic to have that purged

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  • That is part of my point. We have raised a generation to have an irrational fear. These kids are more likely to die from a crazed gunman on campus than by Osama. Here are a few more things that are more likely to kill them than Islamic extremists: car accident, plane accident, swine flu, and drugs. By the media and the citizens fears, Islamic extremists have become far more feared than effective. Not sure this is healthy. Mind you, I'm not saying this was not traumatic, especially for the kids who lived in Manhatten at the time. However, the majority who are celebrating are not from Manhattan

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  • One more stat for those about to attend college. According to the AMA, one is more likely to sustain permanent injury from joining a frat than being killed by an islamic extremist.

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  • one, two, three. a big round of applause to texan, the college guidance counselor.

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  • Thanks you for the applause. I'd submit however, this is good counsel for all, not just the young

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