“In life we must know what is good and what is evil. Yes, we are commanded to remember that there is evil in the world, and not only are we allowed to celebrate when it is destroyed, we must.”
—Mrs. Lori Palatnik, in an essay today entitled “Is It Proper To Celebrate Osama bin Laden’s Death?”
Writer David Sirotka at Salon, among others, has sharply criticized the jubilant reaction of most Americans to the terrorist’s death. He found the chanting crowds in front of the White House and Times Square disturbing, symbolizing a gleeful embrace of violence as the way to address problems, an instance of becoming the enemy in order to defeat it:
“This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.”
This seems to me to be a grand example of someone projecting his own feelings and values on a culture where they never held sway, and, I suspect (and hope), never will. When did the American culture ever see violence as “regrettable” when it results in the Bad Guy getting his (or her) just desserts? From the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West, to Rooster Cogburn putting the reins in his teeth and shooting down Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang, to the revenge of Inigo Montoya, who skewers the evil Count Rugen in “The Princess Bride” after delivering the courtly warning, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” American psyches have always appreciated it when good triumphs with guns blazing, swords flashing or bombs falling. It is a well-rooted component of the American character, and the one which has spurred this nation in the real world to take risks, court international anger to protect our ideals, and often rescue other nations, when the Bad Guys have the upper hand.
I know that the staff of Salon, as well as the editorial staff of the New York Times and The Nation, the faculties of Harvard and Yale, and a lot of other Americans don’t like or respect that aspect of the American character, the rough, “enough is enough,” Teddy Roosevelt, George S. Patton, John Wayne strain of American utilitarianism that sometimes goes too far. I happen to like and respect it a lot, recognizing that while it is capable of great wrongs and terrible mistakes and has to be watched and controlled, it is a necessary component of our nation’s history, strength, courage and greatness.
America tracked down and killed a mass murderer, who did terrible harm to our country and who was determined to do more, on his own turf, in a fair fight, after ten long years. Feelings aren’t unethical, and expressing joy is both natural and harmless. There are, fortunately, not many instances when it is appropriate to cheer a death, but this was one. There is no moral ambiguity here, nor are cruelty and killing for the sake of killing being celebrated. Nor is it satisfaction in vengeance being expressed, though that is certainly in the mix. Something evil is gone from the world, and there is nothing wrong with celebrating it.