On Killing and the Death of Osama Bin Laden

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

*** We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog to bring you this post on the killing of Osama bin Laden ***

Warning: This post depicts graphic scene of war and should not be viewed around children.

If you haven't heard about the death of Osama bin Laden by now, then you must be living under a rock, that or you're holed up deep within a cave somewhere in the Afghan/Pakistani border region in which case you can come out now. I had just changed the channel to watch one of my favorite shows, The Unit, which ironically is based on the Army's Delta Force commandos, when the news anchors interrupted and President Barrack Obama announced that U.S. personnel had killed the most notorious terrorist in modern history.

Like most people probably did, my mind went back to when I first learned of the attacks on September 11th. I was at a company team-building day when one of the managers walked in late, babbling something about a plane hitting the Trade Towers. Our company president dismissed this as an unfortunate accident. I think we all did, believing it to be a small plane, not a jumbo jet. That notion was impossible. Minutes later, after someone informed us that the second airliner had hit the remaining tower, suddenly the mental barrier that separated the impossible from the possible, crumbled into confusion, mixed with a low level panic.

The World Trade Towers burning on Sept 11th
Given the second-hand nature in which I found out about the these attacks, there was a added sense of vindication in being able to see the President deliver news of the 911 mastermind's death live. As the crowds began to form in front of the White House, at Times Square, and other locations, I could feel a patriotic pride swelling within me, and it felt good.

This country has been hampered by division for literally years to the point we have accomplished little to nothing in charting a definitive course to recovery. So, to see so many people, that otherwise might be shouting at one another across protest lines, now gathered together in one place waving flags and chanting, "U-S-A. U-S-A." in unison, caused me to choke up with emotion. I am an unabashed patriot. 

However, I'll admit to having more than just a cynical bone in my body, and I knew, come morning, TV screens, websites, and social media channels would be filled with negative criticisms, criticisms such as Bryan Palmer's, "When Did We Start Chanting U-S-A"? on Slate.com--that site alone is a trove of derogatory rhetoric that, like most news commentary outlets, over-analyzes a situation to death in the same way a heard of bulls tramples slow, uncoordinated runners in the streets of Pamplona. 
Celebration of Osama bin Laden's death outside the
White House Sunday night. Right or wrong?
Last night my wife turns to me in the van and asks, "Did you see the big debates going back and forth on Twitter of bin Laden?" She angled her Blackberry in my direction as she named off a slew of people we know and which camp they were in. Based on her recap, the argument seemed to center on the appropriateness of celebrating bin Laden's demise.

Sanctity of life. I get it. After my grandpa died, my dad had the unenviable task of shooting his decrepit, old dog. I remember watching that dog as it trotted, then walked, then sort of limped up the steep hill behind Grandpa's house as Dad followed at an even pace, a Winchester rifle swinging in his right hand. Five minutes after they were out sight, I heard a loud crack that echoed throughout the valley the way gunshots do in John Wayne westerns.

I am a patriot & would've joined the crowd Sunday night
For some reason I took this as an invitation to investigate, despite Dad's orders that came somewhere from behind the trees not to come any closer. In retrospect, I probably should've obeyed as it has since occurred to me that Dad, who was kneeling reverently next to the limp heap of black and white fur, was having a private moment with one of the last living ties he had to his own father. At the time, though, I didn't recognize this. Instead I was transfixed by the surreal sight of Grandpa's dog lying at my feet, its eye bulging from their sockets, its tongue draped unnaturally from the side of mouth the way cartoons depict dead animals. I used to feed that dog dry food and table scraps from a dented tin bowl every Saturday afternoon, and now it would never jump up on me in excitement as I waded into the dirt patch that dog had worn into the earth after years of pacing in a circle.

As I stood there, looking down, I was struck by the power of how precious life was even for an animal. So, if I can appreciate the sanctity of life for a mangy mutt, how much more esteem do you think I hold for a human being. Killing Osama bin Laden is different--maybe not in the eyes of moral purists, but, frankly, I don't expect this bunch to understand my position, especially if they've never worn a uniform in the service of this country. 

War is a horrible, horrible thing. There is no glory in the act itself, and the ironic tragedy is that wars force even the most civilized of nations into situations where they must step outside of the very moral parameters that define their society's heightened civility in order to protect this way of life. This requires difficult decisions, and I'll be the first to concede that the United States's leadership has not always made the best of choices in this regard (the fabricated justification for our invasion of Iraq comes to mind--just saying). In any case, though, these decisions shouldn't overshadow what a country and its citizens stand for.

My father displaying his plaque
as SOF Soldier of the Month
This applies at a personal level too. My father was a Green Beret and member of the elite MAC-V-SOG commandos in Vietnam. Once I grasped the significance of this at around age 11 or 12, I asked him if he had ever killed anyone during the conflict. Other than the occasional funny story, Dad never talked much about the real side of things, which may be why it shocked me when he responded with, yes, and then went on to tell me the story of shredding a North Vietnamese soldier standing mere yards away with a burst of machine gun fire. There were other instances too. 

Eyes wide open, I still recall being slightly terrified of my father after this because it was difficult for me to reconcile that the man I called dad could be capable of such violence. Eventually, though, I came to recognize that this was just a period in my father’s life when he had to do what needed to be done, but, like America and what it represents, this wasn't who my Dad was as a person.

Later, this was something I had to come to grips personally when I enlisted in the Army and then earned a commission as an Infantry officer. After years of being told, “Thou shalt not kill,” I was now training to, as one commander put it, “Kill mass quantities of bad guys at close range using large caliber weapons.” Furthermore, I knew I had better be able to carry this out, not just pay it lip service; otherwise, I would be jeopardizing the lives of others. (Did I get to put this into practice? No. I left active duty three months before September 2001, and to lead you to believe I had would dishonor the service and sacrifice of many, like my friend Major Cecil Strickland, who as a company commander, had to lead his soldiers in the face of unthinkable adversity chronicled in the book, They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq by Kelly Kennedy.) 

What angers me about those who use their sanctimonious keyboards to quote MLK out of context from behind the shield of a computer screens, is that they do so in ignorance of what war really is. War is about imposing the will of one collective ideology over the will of another through violent means, which in basic terms boils down to one-upmanship. Some of you may recall the famous scene in the movie, The Untouchables, when Sean Connery’s character gives that famous bit of advice to Kevin Costner about if the Mob put your guy in the hospital, you put their in the morgue—yeah, it’s like that but much, much worse. In other words, human life becomes a form of currency, and if I can take more of it or do it in ways more horrific than you can to the point you finally lose your resolve to continue, then I win. 

In our world, and more specifically this little parent blog niche (military families excluded) where the biggest concerns are high fructose corn syrup and Nestlé’s chocolate, a decade of war thousands of miles away seems to have become white noise that plays unnoticed in the background as we denounce in 140 characters or less the expressions of victory over a heartless terrorist’s death. However, if your world was another day of pulling the charred remains of your friends out from under the smoldering hull of a Humvee after it hit and IED detonated by some faceless enemy you will likely never find, then I’m betting you’d feel differently upon getting word that the person who started all of this bullshit, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed. 

Human history is marred by a torrent of evil people. I’ll never forget reading John Toland's The Last 100 Days: The Tumultuous and Controversial Story of the Final Days of World War II in Europe, in the 8th grade, and how passages such as those recounting the Russian advance towards Berlin and their fondness for gang raping Polish and German girls that they then dragged in chains behind their tanks until reaching a fresh batch in the next town, stripped away the glossy veneer of World War II as it had been presented to me in middle school textbooks. (To be fair, Bob Jones University’s Beka school curriculum left a lot to be desired when it came to presenting something known as “facts.”) 

A Nazi soldier shoot a Jewish woman & her child at
point-blank range
Adolph Hitler exterminated an estimated 11 to 17 million people, 6 million of whom were Jews, a quarter of which were children under the age of 15. Hitler eventually committed suicide before the Russian could get to him but that didn't stop them from dousing his body in gasoline and burning it. Want a more recent example? During the early 1990’s Bosnian Serbs under Slobodan Milošević killed nearly 100,000 people in a mass genocide while raping anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 women and girls (Catholics and Muslims apparently were their favorites.) Although captured in order to stand trial for these war crimes, Milošević died before the trial could conclude. None of these heinous individuals and their armies possessed any regard for the human life and neither did Osama bin Laden.

On that September morning alone, bin Laden's terrorist attacks were responsible for the death of over 2,800 innocent people, 8 of who were children between the ages 2 and 11. Staggering as these numbers may be they still fail to convey the gruesomeness and personal anguish. According to NYMag.com, of those casualties, only 289 intact bodies were recovered, 1,717 were never found, and the rest could only be accounted for via the 19,858 body parts that were collected from the ashes. By the time the dust settled, over 3,000 children were either orphaned or left with one parent. 

Alleged death photo of
bin Laden (Likely a hoax)
In light of this and the ensuing aftermath, do I feel it wrong of me to be outwardly glad this man is dead and to cheer along with other Americans? No. I’m glad the son of a bitch’s corpse is rotting in a watery grave. Why should I extend to sympathy to a murderous bastard intent whose goals in life included killing people like you and me without conscious. Do I care that other feel differently? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t rankle me, but then again, it is their privileged right to hold to their position. 

We live in a cruel world, and we do ourselves and our children a disservice if we pretend otherwise. This being the case, sometimes it is necessary to remove the perpetrators of this cruelty through extreme measures. We may not like it. We may not agree with it. But whether we’re willing to admit or not, our families are safer because others are putting their lives in harm’s way on our behalf to carry out missions that result in a notorious terrorist’s brain matter being splattered across a wall in Abbottabad. For that we should at least be thankful. 

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