A perverted celebration
Ask anybody where they remember being on the morning of September 11, 2001, and they'll likely tell you a story that bares remarkable similarity to the stories of millions of American lives.
Ask someone in my age bracket, and they might tell you how at the break of dawn, their mother came rushing into their room to wake them up, telling them, "something has happened; come quickly!" How there was barely enough time to prepare ones' self for the panic, dread, and disbelief that would ensue.
That ineradicable morning is burned in our collective consciousness like a marring scar. It became clear soon after that 9/11 will forever represent one of the indelible events of history that tainted our innocence.
In the days that followed, with a relentless stream of media showing the tragedy that ruined countless lives over and over again, we learned of the truly sinister and malicious nature of that day. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, added insult to injury, taunting and prodding us in our mourning. He claimed responsibility, and gloated over his perverted glory.
On Sunday evening, May 1, nearly ten years since 9/11, word quickly spread of a quite unexpected, and nearly unimaginable progression in the story of The War on Terrorism. Osama bin Laden, the shadowy figure that had become an American household name, elevated to the status of evil personified, was dead.President Obama was due to make a speech. Delay after delay, Americans turned on their television sets and waiting, eager to hear if the rumor was true, if the vague reports would be confirmed. With everything that's happened in the years past, Bin Laden slipped through the backdoors of our minds, and we forgot.
"I was watching T.V. with my girlfriend when I first heard the news," said Christopher Wells, 21, a Santa Monica College student and Air Force Cadet. "I didn't believe it. But then a friend called me and said you have to watch this; I still didn't believe it, but the next day when Al Qaeda confirmed it was bin Laden, that confirmed it. He was dead."
"I knew it was true. I trust Obama so much that I just knew he wouldn't make a speech on a Sunday night if he weren't positive," said Caely Widger, 36, sitting with her two children, Townes, 2, and Kirby, 9 months, at SMC.
President Obama explained to the nation that with the help of Pakistani intelligence, "a small team of Americans" had killed bin Laden, and that no Americans were killed. As the president's speech echoed across the world, we felt a chapter in this terrible saga was finally closed. And though the story of terrorism and war isn't over, at least we could finally say, in the words of our president, "justice has been done.""It opens up a lot of questions," said Trevor Simpson, 23, an SMC student who served with the 1st battalion, 5th Marines in Afghanistan. "What's next? What does this answer? He was the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place, but he sure as hell won't be the reason we leave."
With the news of bin Laden's death, we saw the gathering crowds collect outside the White House gates. "U.S.A! U.S.A!" they ecstatically chanted. President Obama was right to hearken back to those dark days of the aftermath of 9/11.
"And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people."
Though relieved by the revelation of bin Laden's death, many could not bring themselves to celebrate it. "I have mixed emotions seeing people cheer," said Simpson.
"It was a good thing for the world, but I have trouble celebrating the death of anybody; celebrating death of any kind, even for a terrorist," said Widger.
The hardest truth about this horrendous history of violence is that even in death, bin Laden holds a mirror before us. A public celebration for assassination should not have been our way to react, and in doing so, a great deal of our moral compass has been lost. Indeed, the figurehead of worldwide terrorism may be dead, but the war is far from over.
Widger, holding her son's hand, reflected on the end of this story called bin Laden. "He drifted to the back of my mind. But his death, it might make people feel happy, like things are different, but nothing is different."
It's a perverted reprieve.