Sunday night I sat in rapt silence watching President Barack Obama tell the nation that Osama bin Laden was dead, killed in a U.S. ground forces operation. Even now, a day later, I’m still stunned and unsure how I feel. It’s still hard to believe that the man, whose terroristic actions shaped a decade, is really dead.
I should be writing about football and the Minnesota Vikings’ draft choices, but this strange turn of events is all I can think about. So, I’m doing what I do, writing to try to purge all this from my head.
Nearly ten years ago I first learned the name of the name of Osama bin Laden. September 10, 2001 I had flown home to Minnesota from school in California, a short vacation between the summer session and the start of the fall quarter. My parents met me at the gate, we collected my bags, and left the airport bound for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. The next morning I slept in, enjoying that decadent feeling of being on vacation and having nothing more pressing to do that day than to get a haircut. But the phone rang and my sister left a vague and concerned message on the answering machine–she wanted to know if I’d gotten home alright and if we were watching the news. That was the first word we had that something was wrong.
We turned on the television and were suddenly confronted with images so fantastically horrible that, even though I knew I was watching the news, I hoped it was some kind of elaborate hoax. Airplanes crashing into buildings, buildings bleeding black smoke into the sky before crumbling into the streets. People, so many people, killed. I don’t know if my naivete was the result of youth, but I struggled to understand that such an massive act of arbitrary violence was even possible.
It didn’t take long to learn who was claiming responsibility for this heinous act. A man named Osama bin Laden, head of an organization called al-Qaida, took ownership of the plot. With calm brown eyes this member of the Saudi royal family looked into a camera and taunted America’s grief while first responders rushed to Ground Zero to pull bodies from wreckage.
Those shattering acts of terrorism ushered in a new age in America, an age of fear, apprehension, and war. Young men and women joined the American military and marched off to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq. A new reality emerged in the airports, metal detectors, pat-downs, bag searches–our shoes became a potential hazard, finger-nail clippers were now considered weapons, only ticketed passengers could approach the gates.
Scared people eyed everyone with an even remotely unfamiliar accent as a possible terrorist. I remember being at a mall when the guy behind the register looked up with wild eyes and said, “I feel like Osama bin Laden just showed up with his whole family.” I looked where he was gesturing, and saw a family of Sikh from India. All it took was a tan and a beard to make people worry in post September 11 America.
And all the while, like the Phantom of the Opera and his notes, bin Laden continued to release taunting videos and plotting more violence.
It began to seem like bin Laden had a limitless amount of money to supply his terrorist training camps and his hiding. Not only did he have money, but there also seemed to be an equally limitless supply of disenfranchised young men willing to kill themselves in his acts of terror. Whether due to an allegiance to al-Qaida or a hatred for America, no one seemed inclined to turn him in despite the $25 million reward.
But now, thanks to an operation by the Navy SEALS, he’s dead and Osama bin Laden can’t hurt anyone else.
I wish I could feel that sense of rejoicing that some Americans have expressed at news of bin Laden’s death. While I feel a slight sense of relief knowing bin Laden’s days of planning attacks are definitely over, so much suffering was set in motion by his actions and it cannot be undone. There are so many lost lives that can’t be restored, so many broken lives that can’t be put back together.
Osama bin Laden’s death dredges up so many things I felt after September 11, 2001–fear, disbelief, defiance, loss. That event started the wars that have been killing and maiming people my age and younger for a decade. I wish the death of this one man could undo all of that misery, but it won’t. It won’t even end this interminable war on terror. The best this death can do is let Americans feel justice has been done and receive closure.
That may be the best we can hope for and yet, justice and closure shouldn’t be minimized either. So many times there is no justice in life, no closure.
America is a different place in 2011 than it was in 2001. Hopefully, with the death of bin Laden, 2011 America has recovered a little of what we lost nearly ten years ago.