Americans celebrate in the streets as the news ofOsama bin Laden’s death is announced. (YouTube.com screen capture)
Newscasters, state officials, and citizens were equally gleeful this Sunday night, when it was announced that Osama bin Laden was dead. It was the moment that was to justify our actions in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the past decade; here was the butcher, a living symbol of our own impotence, delivered into our hands. Here at last was justice for the families of those murdered on 9/11. And yet in that time-span we have proven ourselves to be equally monstrous. The death of bin Laden has been rendered meaningless by our own crimes.
It is during times of national unity that dissenters are most vilified, and I cannot imagine that this sentiment will be very popular, but it needs to be said: in our quest to destroy a man who stood against American hegemony, we have murdered tens of thousands across the world, left hundreds of thousands homeless, and become a nation that holds detainees indefinitely and tentatively approved torture. In chasing after a murderer, America has twisted into a grotesque, a dark parody of our own ideals. We created a monster, were shocked when he acted monstrously, and then acted monstrously in response.
It should be impossible to feel any joy or satisfaction in bin Laden’s death. How can this be justice when the legacy of our response, the war in Afghanistan, has made us butchers far beyond anything he ever planned or executed? 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. But we have been directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, and have created refugees numbering in the millions. Our special forces teams regularly raid the homes of unsuspecting villagers and kill innocent women and children. Our helicopters slaughter Afghan children collecting firewood, mistaking them for militants. Our bombs land in the midst of wedding parties.
There are hundreds of incidents like this on record, but these war crimes are not held to be as terrible as those of our enemies. Why? Are these actions justified by bin Laden’s actions? The answer, of course, is no. Anyone who claims to value human life must recognize that these crimes are as vile as anything al-Qaeda ever did, and condemn them in turn. That is why bin Laden’s death rings hollow. It has not brought justice. It has resulted in the death of thousands more innocents, and we have turned into the evil empire that bin Laden claimed we were.
The crowds that are chanting “USA! USA!” and singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” should not be encouraged or celebrated. To cheer on Osama bin Laden’s death is to cheer on the measures we undertook to kill him. It is to cheer on a massive military-industrial complex, an Executive branch that has no regard for the law, for a culture that celebrates death and destruction as long as the dead are not “ours.”
If America is to ever be a true beacon of liberty and justice, its citizens must acknowledge these facts, and demand accountability from or stop supporting a government that carries these actions out every day.
We have won a pyrrhic victory in a war that has made all of its participants into war criminals. We can only hope that we will never face justice for our own atrocities committed in the name of catching a murderer, because it would force us as a nation to look at our bloody hands and wonder what we have done.