Today is complicated. On the one hand, one of the greatest enemies not only of the United States but of peace and equality and justice everywhere is finally dead. On the other hand, he was executed by a sovereign nation acting at least in part on illegally obtained, coerced intelligence and through a covert mission on another sovereign nation’s soil. Not to mention a person, heinous though he might be, is now dead — and that always seems like an odd reason to celebrate.
I imagine I’m not the only person feeling happy and dirty at the same time.
I’m a New Yorker. I vividly remember 9/11. Walking the length of Manhattan to get home as buses passed covered with debris from the collapse. Watching with confusion as people who had clearly been near the World Trade Center and looked like dusty ghosts walked past the restaurants and stores and normalcy of a world that now seemed a million ages ago. Showing up a Red Cross center a day later, not sure really how to help, and finding a few thousands of my fellow citizens standing there too, hoping to do something useful.
And then I remember the suffering of those who died and our national suffering and fear in general being exploited for war. A war Afghanistan and then again in Iraq that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Twin Towers or Osama bin Laden. Wars that, it turns out, had nothing much to do with anything except oil and military expansion. It was as though our tragedy was nothing but a convenient excuse for violence. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.
But it got worse. “Extraordinary rendition” to secret CIA detention camps. Unthinkable torture of human beings held by our government at Guantanamo Bay.
Yes, I am instinctively brimming with national pride today that our military, under the guidance of our government and Commander in Chief, executed one of the world’s worst criminal masterminds and homicidal maniacs.
But I don’t believe in the death penalty. I don’t believe in the illegal, unconstitutional and either way immoral detention practices that apparently contributed at least in part to bin Laden’s whereabouts. I don’t believe that sovereign nation’s should invade the territory of other sovereign nation’s without at least the legitimacy of the international community.
There are moments when our values are a hard fit with reality. Those on the Right are experiencing the same sort of disconnect right now — as the would-be cheerleaders for any action to take out a character like bin Laden are twisting their moral fabric to wrap heroism around George W. Bush while denying victory to Obama. Those who can, even in a great moment of national history, practice the ugly politics of division instead of the deeply American tradition of unity, so should seriously question their patriotism.
But I’m more unsettled by my fellow progressives.
Perhaps it’s acceptable to attack the means while celebrating the ends in a complicated situation such as this. Perhaps….
Perhaps, whether we admit it or not, we’re putting aside our preferences for peace and non-violence because we see the political importance of rallying around our previously-beleaguered President. Perhaps….
Perhaps we don’t believe as deeply in diplomacy, international law and human rights as we like to think we do. Perhaps….
I honestly don’t have any answers myself right now. Just questions.