US/ Reactions to the Death of bin Laden
People celebrating the death of bin Laden outside the White House (photo Ansa)
There is no doubt that for those suffering the most intimate connection to the 2001 terrorist attacks, news that Osama bin Laden finally was dead proved to be an experience of a kind of “emotional salvation”. We can see this in the reaction of Lee Lelpi, a former New York City firefighter who lost his firefighter son in the destruction of the Twin Towers. As he told Politico web magazine, “there are no words; I am sitting here crying. I was worried that this day would not come …but justice prevailed.”
I can sympathize with this reaction when I think of the relatives of the Hispanic members of the parish where I volunteered who died in the terrorist attack.
What bothered me was another kind of reaction.
As the news of bin Laden’s execution spread late Sunday night, a chanting and flag-waving throng massed outside the White House.
The impromptu gathering was an ecstatic expression of patriotic joy and pride that many compared to the grief that united all Americans on September 11, 2001. At New York’s hallowed Ground Zero, another crowd gathered, also in celebration. As the night passed, the same behavior was seen around the nation, especially near college campuses, including at the military academy at West Point. As someone told me, “it was like winning the football game against Navy.”
New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, sought to explain this public reaction as follows: “The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation. New Yorkers have waited nearly ten years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
The problem with this explanation is that the participants in this public celebration were college students who were 10 to 12 years old at the time of the terrorist attack. It is difficult to imagine that they were waiting 10 years for this to happen.
Consider the reaction of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also served as Bush’s national security adviser. She called the news “absolutely thrilling.”
“The demise of Osama bin Laden is a tremendous victory for the American people,” Rice said “Nothing can bring back bin Laden’s victims, but perhaps this can salve the wounds of their loved ones.”
Still, for U.S. officials who served through the devastating attacks, especially those from New York, the death of bin Laden was hailed as a triumph — but never an equal exchange for the lives lost through his acts.