Politics & Media

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.

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