Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama and Obama

I had an interesting discussion with my Tuesday/Thursday section of ENG 100 this week about the significance of Osama Bin Laden's death, and so I thought I would write some follow-up thoughts about the issue here, and see if I get any responses from students.

When I first read about the successful raid Monday morning, I was a little disturbed to hear that spontaneous, patriotic celebrations had taken place in Washington and New York the night before. While the knowledge that a known mass-murderer can never again harm innocent lives is undoubtedly good news, it still seemed somehow inappropriate to view his killing as a moment of national triumph--as a joyous occasion of sweet revenge fulfilled. However, at the same time, I became conscious of my own impulsive, elevated feelings, no less inappropriate. I felt somehow lighter, oddly relieved, vaguely proud. But why? Then I thought--hey, this could be great for Obama's re-election campaign. That seemed like a totally inappropriate response. But that's what I thought.

As I thought some more, and as I read some more of the press's coverage, questions began to arise. Why was Bin Laden killed instead of captured? Reports acknowledge that he was unarmed, yet he was shot in the head by troops. Does this mean that the order was to kill, not to capture? If so, why? Because Obama feared the messiness of detaining him, figuring where and how to have a trial? Because an assassination would be simpler, both legally and politically, for the U.S.? These are disturbing, but likely, possibilities.

Is there any significance to "international law" when there is no clear place to try an international terrorist, and no authority to check a state-sponsored assassination? Or, because it was Bin Laden, is everyone willing to grant an exception to the legal norm?

The one thing that I am hopeful for is that this will spur renewed demand to bring home our troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After nearly 10 years, the "hunt" is over. Maybe that's not what the war is really about, but then what is it about? Does anyone really know anymore?

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